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Note: This article post is in accordance with an element of a doctoral class assignment. We were tasked to create a leadership theory. I conceptualized Morale Leadership. See the Theory’s matrix below.
I began articulating the Morale Leadership Theory (yes, morale and not moral) as I noticed that there are two critical behavioral elements that allow each leader-follower relationship to flourish. There should be a good balance between mental health and inclusivity. No one is perfect, so no one masters this process entirely, but some leaders are incredibly gifted in these areas, while others need improvement. To articulate this theory in a relatable fashion, I thought there was no better way to articulate this than to personify different styles of coaches that you may have played for, or you may have watched during your lifetime.
Low Inclusivity, Low Mental Health—Everyone Has Had One of These
Have you ever had a coach in youth or high school athletics that was hard to play for? Most people have had a coach who is often unbearable. On top of the coach’s demeanor, the team may very well be in last place, and there are not many friendships being built. The coach is not being considerate of either building team inclusivity or caring for the individual’s wants and desires on the team. One could question, why are the team dynamics this way? Is it because the coach has had a rough work or home life that he or she is spilling onto the team? Is it possibly because the coach has anger issues and does not know how to accept a loss? Or is it because the coach feels that anger forces response and results? Many situations may have led the coach to act in this particular style. Hopefully, you have not faced these scenarios too often.
High Mental Health, Low Inclusivity—Your Local NCAA Basketball Coach?
When it comes to finding a coach that will shower praise on his or her stars to the ultimate level, look no further than your local NCAA Division I basketball coach. The last decade has featured the “one and done” model. Players are often courted to college basketball to profile themselves during their “gap” year between their high school graduation and their admittance into the NBA. It is easy to feel that the heart of college basketball has been compromised since this new philosophy has entered the sport. It is not an issue of the coach’s morals or the ability to sustain a positive attitude. However, the nature of this “one and done” model does not encourage team-based unity of X’s and O’s tactics. Due to the need to cater to specific stars, it is very difficult to promote comradery and team play within this system of college coaching, which could lead to several individuals feeling not included in helping the team in the overall goal. In the business world, this would be considered unequal delegation. However, the downside of sport is that often not everyone has an equal opportunity, which means that this style of coaching is often prevalent at all levels and all styles of coaching.
Low Mental Health, High Inclusivity—The Long Slog of Baseball
Most professional baseball leagues play at least 100 games in their regular seasons, which is by far the most of any major North American sport. I would argue that baseball is the ultimate sport of delegation as it needs at least nine players to be somewhat equally skilled (outside of the pitcher) for a team to be effective. Coaches and management strive to give the most opportunities to their best players. Still, a power hitter can only bat once out of every nine opportunities, and a lights-out starting pitcher can only throw once every five days.
For baseball managers it is arguably more important to keep their players sane throughout the season than to worry about effective delegation. An underperforming baseball manager cannot break through the pride or perceived “masculinity” of all of his players and figure out how to have each of his players in the right headspace. If a star player, or heaven forbid, the entire team is in a season-long funk, then the team performance will dwindle.
High Mental Health, High Inclusivity—Friendly Culture
Every athlete has his or her favorite team that they played for during their careers. Some players may say they were able to bond well with their teammates. Others will say it is because they love their coach. There’s always a contingency that would say it is due to the team’s success on the field. All three of these reasons can be attributed to the coach’s culture in the program. The team’s leader needs to encourage bonding between fellow team members and the coaching staff. Sometimes, it is simply the coach’s personality to feel as if they are part of the team. In other scenarios, they step back and let the team become cohesive without their influence. Either way can be effective, depending on the situation. If a team succeeds in emotional health and can be productive in their sport consistently, then you have a scenario that is life-giving, and memories will be certainly made.
There are plenty of lessons for an athlete or a person who participated in youth-organized activities and from the sports we watch. These scenarios can be prevalent in group settings that we face today. We want to avoid being the leader who does not care for our team’s mental health and inclusivity. Instead, we should focus on how these scenarios have shaped us into becoming the best morale leaders we can be.