Radja Nainggolan plays a great season as midfielder for AS Roma. He’s also been drafted regularly for the succesful Belgian soccer team and scored recently in a qualifying match against Bosnia-Herzegovina. Great was my surprise when I read that he never has had a personal meeting with the trainer of the “Red Devils”: “Some coaches talk with their players, he doesn’t. I know that I can not expect an explanation from him.”
“How is this possible?” I thought. “Marc Wilmots is paid to be 100 % committed to a group of +/- 24 footballers and he hasn’t talked with Nainggolan?” And yet, Marc Wilmots is a succesful coach. He coached the Red Devils to the quarter finals of the World Championship in Brazil. Since his start in 2012, the team climbed from #21 to #4 in the FIFA world ranking. The team receives international praise and a lot of its players reach higher performance levels, as e.g. Nainggolan. And all this without spending a lot of individual time with his players?
“What about the legions of people managers in our organisations?” I started thinking. A lot of their work consists of paying individual attention to their employees, e.g. through objective setting, feedback meetings, career talks… Their self esteem depends on it, I notice again and again in workshops. And is “individual consideration” not one of the four pillars of transformational leadership, the most evidence based leadership model out there?
But still. Nainggolans quote made me also remember what Frans Colruyt said to me during an interview. He talked about “working with the tip of the knife, not with the whole blade”. And Dirk Beeuwsaert focuses on creating contexts for collaboration. For him it is a structural flaw if people come to see him personally to solve a problem.
I tend to agree more and more with them and authors as Hackman (2002), who also states that team leaders have to be minimalistic in their people management. People managers can gain success by paying less extensively attention to their people, more to the structures and processes, and leave team work and leadership to the team itself.