The Leaders Notebook

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Ryder Cup Win: Managing Starpower

September 23rd, 2008 · No Comments · Leadership Lessons from the Links, Team Notes

What is a captain (or team leader) to do when the crowd screams “BOOOOOOOO” and Boo loves it?  Managing the effect of star power lets the team shine brighter.

The Ryder Cup competition is complete and for the first time in 9 years, the cup will return to the US.  So, what made the difference? Much has been made of an American team that shone not with bright individual stars but more with the more even glow of competitors that knew they were the underdogs.  In subtle and important ways, the leadership of the captains really showed in this competition.  Even many of the European bloggers and commentators are arguing that Faldo was just “out-coached.”

So how do we make sense of a team being “better” without the contributions of the best player in the world?  Can that possibly make sense?  There is a lesson here for leaders and teams.  The challenge with having a star on the team is that even if the star does nothing to encourage it, you also get the major distraction of star power.  The hoopla of crowds and the attendant anticipation of the major star’s performance can be a distraction to everyone- including the star performer.

Sales teams and sales managers know this.  Most of us have encountered that star performer who outsells everyone else on the team.  But how and at what cost?  When their tactics and style are sufficient to create discontent, then the added volume revenue comes with a high expense cost for turnover, distraction, politics and often juvenile bickering.  So what to do.  Fire the star?  Of course not.  Instead, manage the impact of the star’s presence.

Azinger gave us a quiet example of star management.  Boo Weekly became a crowd favorite early in the event.  Whether it was to joy of shouting “Boooooo” or his good-old-boy approach to the press and galleries, his presence was enough to distract everyone, including the European team.  And his love of getting the crowd revved up was like gasoline on a fire.  Lee Westwood’s reasonable request that Boo allow fellow competitors to finish putting before egging the crowd on was met with little grace by many US fans and Boo himself, at least in comments to the press.  But it was presumably captain ‘Zinger who intervened to keep the issue from distracting from the golf.  No one can say for certain what would have happened had Boo continued on day two- except perhaps Justin Leonard whose previous Ryder Cup experience also warned him about the potential for disaster.

Two years from now it is safe to say that Tiger Woods will be ready to return to the Ryder Cup team.  And it would be silliness to not include him because of the distraction of his star power.  The next captain would be well served to begin thinking early about how to let Tiger’s competitive record and mental state speak softly and not create a distraction for him and for the team.

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