Management 101: How to Demoralize Your Top Performers Into Early Retirement

18 Nov 2003 /
Sanders quit because Lions weren’t winning
— ESPN.com headline

Background

Football

Barry Sanders, as you may already know, was a running back for the Detroit Lions — one of the best running backs ever.

It was shocking news — to the extent that an athlete’s retirement can be considered “shocking” — when Sanders retired in 1998 because, at age 31, he was at the peak of his career, and on the verge of breaking the all-time NFL rushing record.

Some Lions fans — to this day — still expect him to change his mind and play again.

What Sanders Said

Sanders has an “as told to” autobiography coming out, in which he says that he retired, not — as the above headline says — because the Lions weren’t winning (which they weren’t), but because of his realization that the management of the team no longer cared about winning.

Big difference.

Here’s what he says in the book:

“That realization trivialized everything I did during the off-season to prepare myself. It trivialized everything I dreamed about from the time I was a kid in Wichita . . .”

It’s very similar to something DeMarco and Lister said in Peopleware:

Most forms of teamicide do their damage by effectively demeaning the work, or demeaning the people who do it. Teams are catalyzed by a common sense that the work is important and that doing it well is worthwhile.

People want to do great work. People are dying for opportunities to do great work.

Thus spoke The Programmer.


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