When you’re winning, nothing hurts.
The Law of High Morale might ring a bell because it was inspired by the words of Joe Namath, the quarterback who helped the New York Jets win the Super Bowl in 1969. Like any champion, Namath understood that there is an exhilaration that comes from winning. The feeling can be so strong that it sustains you through the discipline, pain and sacrifice that are required to perform at the highest level.
Perhaps that’s why George Allen, who coached the Washington Redskins in the early 1970s, said, “Every time you win, you’re reborn. When you lose, you die a little.”
If the team is winning, then morale is high. And if morale is high, then the team is in a position to win. So which comes first, high morale or winning? High morale usually comes first. Why? Because high morale magnifies everything positive that happens for a team.
In order to get high team morale, players need to:
- Have a good attitude
- Always give your best
- Support the people on the team—players and leaders alike
If you have little influence, then exert what influence you have by modeling excellence. However, if you’re one of the team’s leaders, then you have an even greater responsibility. You need to model excellence, but you also need to do more. You need to help the people you lead to develop the kind of morale and momentum that helps create a winning team. These steps are in the three stages of morale:
Stage One: Poor Morale—The Leader Must Do Everything
Nothing is more unpleasant than being on a team when nobody wants to be there. When that’s the case, the team is usually negative and lethargic.
To create morale in this situation:
- Initiate belief. The only way for a team to change is if people believe in themselves. As the leader, you must initiate that belief. Show people you believe in yourself and in them.
- Create enthusiasm. The desire to change without the enthusiasm to change just frustrates people. If you bring a greater level of enthusiasm long enough, someone on the team will eventually join you. Then, another person will. Eventually, the enthusiasm will spread to the whole team.
- Communicate hope. The greatest need of players at this stage is hope. As Napoleon Bonaparte said, “Leaders are dealers in hope.” Help them to see the potential of the team.
In stage one, the only way to get the ball rolling is to start pushing it yourself. As the leader, you can’t wait for someone else to do it.
Stage Two: Low/Moderate Morale—The Leader Must Do Difficult Things
Getting the team together and moving is an accomplishment. But where you’re going matters. To change from simply moving the team to moving the team in the right direction, you have to begin doing the difficult things that help the team to improve and develop high morale.
- Make changes that make the team better. Leaders are responsible for minimizing the damage any team member can do because of attitude and for maximizing the effectiveness of all team members by placing them in the proper niche. Often those actions require tough decisions. The Law of the Bad Apple applies here.
- Receive the buy-in of team members. It’s one thing to cast your vision to the team. It’s another to get your teammates to buy in. Yet to build higher morale, that is what you must do. The team must buy into you as a leader, embrace the values and mission of the team, and align themselves with your expectations. If you can do that, you will be able to take the team where it needs to go.
- Communicate commitment. Part of the process of getting people to buy in comes from showing them your commitment. The law of buy-in says that people buy into the leader, then into their visions. If you have consistently demonstrated high competence, good character and strong commitment, you have laid the foundation for your people to buy in.
- Develop and equip members for success. Nothing builds morale like success. Most people are not capable of achieving success by themselves. They need help, and that is one of the primary reasons for anyone to lead them. If you invest in your teammates, then you help them and the team succeed.
The two toughest stages in the life of a team are the first stage, where you try to create movement in a team, and stage two is the make-or-break time for a leader. If you can succeed in stage two, then you will be able to create high morale in your team.
Stage Three: High Morale—The Leader Must Do Little Things
Stage three of your job as leader is to help the team maintain high morale and momentum:
- Keep the team focused and on course. High morale leads to winning, and winning maintains morale. That’s why it’s important to keep team members focused. If they lose focus or get off course, then they’ll stop winning.
- Communicate success. One of the things that helps people stay on track is to know what they’re doing right. You can indicate this by communicating the team’s successes. There’s nothing that boosts morale like winning and then celebrating it.
- Remove morale mashers. Leaders see before others do, so they need to protect players from the things that will hurt the team.
- Allow other leaders to lead. When a leader prepares other team members to lead and then turns them loose to do it, it does two things. First, it uses the momentum the team already has to create new leaders for the team. It’s easier to make new leaders successful if they are part of successful team. Second, it increases the leadership of the team. And that makes the team even more successful.