I believe that leading by example is a great form of leadership, in business or otherwise. When the leaders give it their all, it’s inspiring. When they don’t, it has a negative effect on the team as a whole. That’s another part of why I was concerned by the Cleveland Cavaliers apparently trying to coast into the playoffs this year.
As I’ve said before, their strategy appeared to be to do just well enough (which is good for them because of how talented they are) to make it into the playoffs, thus conserving their energy and playing it safe. They want to put the absolute minimum in so that when they get to the playoffs, they’ll be well-rested and in good shape, ready to turn on their incredible talent. I’ve also said that while what the Cleveland Cavaliers are doing is cause for concern, their basic strategy would be sound in some circumstances.
Holding back is a great idea, sometimes. It’s also a very risky strategy. Here’s why.
Say you’ve decided, for whatever reason, not to play your best, not to give it your all. Maybe you have sound reasons for doing that, and your intention is to flip the switch later, turn on the greatness you know you have, and win. But what if the switch doesn’t flip?
You’ve been painting this picture that the little things don’t matter as much, that excellence doesn’t matter, that it’s ok to lose even when you don’t have to. And you’ve been teaching the rest of your team to do business in that same, half-hearted way. You expect them to turn around and change when you tell them to. What if they can’t? What if you’ve taught them too well not to be excellent? Even if your team still has the potential for greatness, turning it on just isn’t that simple. Ever go on vacation, relax, enjoy, and then come back? That first day can be extremely trying because your body and mind need to adjust to their new surroundings, and those surroundings aren’t as easy as sitting by the pool.
You don’t need to insist on perfection. Every team, in sports or in business, has off-days. But don’t manufacture off-days by taking it easy when work is needed. Don’t risk teaching your team that it’s ok to be mediocre.
If you’re going to use the hang-back-and-rest strategy, find some way to do it that does not encourage laziness and doesn’t sacrifice your role as a leader. Keep your whole team strong and ready so that when it’s time to flip that switch, the switch will flip.