How To Yell At Your Team (10 Ways It’s OK)

How To Yell At Your Team (10 Ways It’s OK)

As I write this, Michigan State Basketball coach Tom Izzo is preparing his team for tomorrow’s Final Four appearance. As a head coach of a top NCAA program his record, consistency and known behavior allows him to block out the sometimes silly criticism he received for aggressively yelling at, and getting in the face of, a freshman player who didn’t hustle to the coach’s standard of effort.

Coach Izzo has his way to yell at his team. More importantly, his team knows when, how and why they will be yelled at. The Freshman (victim) went on to have great performances and hasn’t failed to hustle back on defense yet. Before a business leader tries this motivational release of aggression they need to make sure they can say the same for his team.

           Like almost every viral event in American society today the dichotomy of reaction flooded the extremes, March Madness lived up to it’s name here for the wrong reasons. The defenders foolishly decry the “woosification” of our country while the offended recall images like the horror of a past Rutgers Basketball Coach abusing his players in a way that should make any parent of a college athlete cringe in horror. Sports and Business are not exactly the same but since it’s a rarity to hear any business leader lecture without some type of tortured sports metaphor I hope you’ll indulge one more.

I’m old enough to remember Olympics going back to 1972. There are several memories of American greatness never to be forgotten, Mark Spitz, Dave Wottle, Dan Gable and others. There’s heartbreak memories like the U.S.A. Basketball team’s cheated loss to the Soviets but equal in intensity in my memory bank is the story of the Japanese Women’s Volleyball team. They had dominated the sport but a Jim McKay piece on the team showed the cruel and abusive system the coach ran leaving players in physical and emotional pain in the name of excellence.

It was the moral equivalent in my mind to a slave ship being whipped to cross a finish line first, where was the glory there? Winning at their host games in 1964 they made the podium the next two games but have never medaled again since. Their style of coaching went out of fashion, why?

           Coaching, all coaching, whether guiding a sports team or leading a business team is driven by the same two factors of leadership: Effectiveness and Appropriateness.

No business I know of would find appropriateness in Izzo-style yelling in the face of a lack-of-effort-employee regardless of whether it was effective. Likewise, however appropriate a leader’s address is to a team if it’s not effective in producing results that leader’s future success is unlikely. Coach Izzo gets a pass from his players for very specific reasons.

To start, he doesn’t hide from telling anyone that’s what he’ll do. He’s demonstrated it consistently over a long career. Parents of recruits have to be fine with the notion that if their son does not commit to maximum effort the coach will let him know in no uncertain terms or they should play elsewhere. Izzo didn’t get that raspy, leather-worn voice from reciting sonnets! Obviously, it has been effective as 22 of his 24 recruiting classes have made a Final Four appearance.

It’s appropriateness is because of the same factors that can allow a business leader to raise his voice, yell at his team or generally lose it a little. (This needs to be in person, it’s not a phone or Skype strategy because it is not about the words or the volume but about the personal connection.)

You Can Yell If:

1.    The stakes must are high for everyone in success or failure.

2.    Everyone has bought in to the potential consequences of failure.

3.    The team comes together after discipline rather than is pulled apart.

4.    The emotion has to be commensurate to the consequences and the effort and appreciated as fair.

5.    It must be an honest and natural part of the leader’s behavior.

6.    Every outburst requires follow up of quiet reflection and strategy to proceed without repeat.

7.    It’s vocabulary needn’t be profane but does need to be specific to a given event rather than summing up rage built over time or “you always…”

8.    It is not personal except to specific behaviors where the expectations and results were obvious to all the team.

9.    There is a history of team members excelling after yelling.

10. It is solely for the benefit of the team with the Leader including his or herself for [some] responsibility for the lack of direction, support, training or oversight.

Since my March Madness bracket was busted weeks ago I won’t attempt to predict how Coach Izzo’s team will fair this weekend. His record and the voice of his alumni and current players are the real judges and their vote is unanimous. Timeless, however, is the reality that great leadership can have great emotion, loud voices and noisy confrontations in the name of motivation. You better have all 10 of those listed conditions in place however, or you’ll just be an ineffective leader with a big mouth.

©2019 MyEureka Solutions LLC. For more BUSINESS THERAPY insights follow Tom @TomFoxTrainer, on LinkedIn or at His recent book: Business Therapy: Ideas and Inspirations To Help Build Sales, Leadership, Management, and Personal Performance is available on Amazon.

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