Organizations aren’t Families and Leaders aren’t Parents

Football players bragged – with misty eyes – that their team felt like a family, after the Philadelphia Eagles won Super Bowl LII.

Winning impacts perception. Losers are on teams. Winners belong to families. 

Describing your organization in “Family” terms seems superior to describing it as a sports team. Both descriptions have pros and cons.

Family terms:

  1. People and relationships are a priority.
  2. We care for each other.
  3. Feelings matter.
  4. Leadership has a parental tone.

Sports team terms:

  1. Winning is everything.
  2. Coaches decide who plays. Players have little say.
  3. You ride the bench if you don’t perform well.
  4. Leadership has an authoritarian tone.

Problem of organizations as families:

When kids screw up, parents don’t cut them from the team. Families stick together. Poor performers are still part of the family.

Family style organizations find it difficult to bring up tough issues and wait too long to address poor performance. Feelings run the show.

The issues you can’t discuss limit potential and hinder growth.

Leaders aren’t parents. You want bosses and supervisors who care. But it’s degrading to treat employees like children. 

Problem of organizations as sports teams:

Coaches run the show like little gods. In organizational life, people need a voice to feel respected and powerful.

Winning or losing happens quickly. You know in 60 minutes if you won.

Officials call fouls and impose penalties with heartless precision.

Rules run the game. You don’t color outside the lines.


Both metaphors apply to organizational life.

  1. Care for each other.
  2. Allow input and flexibility.
  3. Drive for results passionately.
  4. Set high standards.
  5. Build strong relationships.
  6. Give tough feedback quickly.
  7. Commit to shared goals.

How is your organization/leadership like a family? Like a sports team?

What are the pros and cons of each metaphor?