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Coaching a professional basketball team is not different from managing a team of corporate employees. You have stars, utility players and bench warmers, all of whom thrive when their coach tailors his approach to their unique talents, weaknesses and contributions to the team. Bare Knuckle People Management speaks directly to managers who have been frustrated by the notion that all employees need to be treated equally and with kids’ gloves.

—Mike D’Antoni, Head Coach of the New York Knicks

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The Outlaws

Outlaws

We recently returned from a family vacation on a perfectly beachy place called Block Island, RI, where, for the past 4 summers my brother-in-law and his wife rent a massive beachside house and graciously invite practically everyone they know to stay there, most of whom apparently accept.

The lion’s share of the bed space is claimed by my wife’s family, the Swifts: my wife Erin and her 3 siblings, their spouses, 9 kids ranging in age from 19 months to 14 years, and my mother- and father-in-law. Dozens of others come and go throughout the week, but the Swifts dominate the house.

For years now, those of us married to a Swift have cheerfully banded together and loudly and proudly declared ourselves “The Outlaws.” Whenever we get together with the Swift tribe we go to great lengths to plan an Outlaw meeting, and we take great pleasure in mentioning said meeting frequently and loudly enough to remind others that we stand strong and united as a distinct minority group.

We delight in our Outlaw tag. We find comfort in knowing we’re not alone. We don’t in fact share any blood relations or collective family memories with the Swifts. We constantly forget the names of the cousins and second cousins and great uncles. But we don’t care. If we need some support, we can always saddle up next to a fellow Outlaw and share a memory of our own and a giggle.

Most interesting to me is the Swifts’ amusement of The Outlaws’ nonsense. The Swifts never act threatened or annoyed by our separatism or need for recognition as a distinct group. They don’t try to drive us apart or force us to fully integrate. They love us. They love each of us for who we are and who we’re not, for what we each bring to the proverbial family picnic and what we don’t. They love us even if we drink too much or rip a fart. They’ve accepted us as their own and yet give us license to do our own thing.

The funny part is, we never actually manage to have an Outlaw gathering – we just talk about it a lot. Perhaps that’s because we don’t really need one. We just want to remind ourselves that we can have one if we want, and that we have each other to lean on even if we don’t.

Without trying to overthink this, I’m quite sure there’s a lesson in here for business leaders: Those who might feel new or different or even insecure as part of a larger group might long for the comfort and validation that comes with being a member of a discreet group within the group.

And perhaps the Swifts have a lesson for us too: Rather than try to break up cliques and force their members to integrate fully into the company culture, value them for who they are and what they bring (and try to overlook the excessive drinking and farting).

About Sean O’Neil

Sean O’Neil is a workplace and team dynamics expert. He is also Principal and CEO of Bare Knuckle People Management (www.bareknucklepeoplemanagement.com), a sales and management training firm with clients that include the National Basketball Association, Major League Soccer, News Corporation, First Data, ADP, Royal Bank of Scotland, and the Oakland Raiders. Sean and John Kulisek co-authored Bare Knuckle People Management: Creating Success with the Team You Have – Winners, Losers, Misfits and All, which was published in May 2011. Sean has contributed to or been featured in, among others, The New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, Selling Power Magazine, CNBC.com, HR Morning Magazine, Leadership Excellence Magazine, Training Magazine, the Dallas Morning News, the Sports Business Journal, and Incentive Magazine. Sean appears regularly on radio and television programs, including Fox Business Network and Imus in the Morning, mostly about workplace communications and management issues. Sean is a nationally-recognized speaker on everything concerning people and the way they interact with each other. He can also frequently be seen pacing the sidelines of a youth team he’s coaching.

 

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