What the 8 Disqualified Olympians Teach us About Management

Originally posted to GovLoop

Around the world, one of the more surprising stories from the Olympics has been the disqualification of eight badminton Olympians. The disqualifications were for attempting to lose games to play lower ranked teams. I thought this story was perfect to start a conversation on leadership, and as managers, the importance of not enabling poor behavior.

The badminton scandal is a classic example of enabling poor behavior. Everyone believes in the spirit of the Olympics, but in this instance, Olympians gained a competitive advantage by losing early matches. With big money tied to Olympic medals, and many of these athletes struggling to earn a living from their passion, tossing a match to keep your competitive advantage, may not be the worst strategy.

An article on CNN highlights the controversy:

“The debacle has prompted wide debate on social media, with opinion divided on whether the players were exercising tactical nous within a poorly designed system or were guilty of failing the Olympic spirit and bringing the game into disrepute.”

Badminton is not the only sport where this happens. Think about in the NFL when a team has locked in their playoff position, they rest their stars and work for the seed that provides the best match up. In both instances, you cannot simply just blame the athletes for throwing in the towel, they are operating within a structure they did not create, and have learned the best way to reach their desired goal.

On the other hand, the point of competition is never to lose. If you are a star athlete, you should be excited to face the next opponent, and the next big challenge. If you want to be at the top of your field, you cannot back away from competition. Whatever your sport may be, you should be committed to always doing your best. This is a valid argument in support of the disqualification ruling.

The dichotomy shows that organizations and leadership need to define the behaviors, attitudes and results they desire to see in their employees. Not only do these behaviors need to be defined, there also must be organizational structures that include incentives for proper behavior, and reform processes for poor behavior.

Without ever realizing it, managers often enable behavior. Changing and curbing behavior that has been enabled is painfully challenging, and often, does not work. As an organization, enabling poor behavior can make deep, and negative, impacts on trust within an organization, performance, and morale.

I wrote a post a few months ago about fairness in the workplace. Just like fairness is critical to morale, so is behavior. People run on good energy and positive energy. When poor behavior is enabled, or not effectively dealt with, accountability does not rest in just the employee. By being proactive, documenting everything, and have clear distinct policies and rules of behavior, behavioral changes can made for organization.

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