Greg Kasarik

"Act with Empathy"
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Gary Ablett is no "Traitor"

As a Careers Advisor, I am glad that Gary Ablett has decided to relocate to the new AFL club, the Gold Coast Suns. But I am saddened to see him criticised by some who say that he has failed to show “loyalty” to the team that has made him great. Some have even contrasted him with James Hird, who after playing an entire career with Essendon, will now return to take on the role of Senior Coach. Apparently Hird has been loyal.

The loyalty brigade censure Ablett for not sticking with the town and the club that have “made him great”. They seem to believe that he owes something to the club purely because he is successful. Rebecca Wilson, writing in the Herald Sun, noted that “in Geelong, being an Ablett carries certain responsibilities, even burdens”. Apparently one such burden includes sacrificing one’s career aspirations on the altar of other people’s expectations.
It is a shame that much of the focus of his critics has been on the millions he will be paid, rather than seeking to understand Ablett’s needs as an individual.
Experience tells me that the truth is likely to be much more complex than the simplistic cries of “disloyalty” would have us believe. As the contrasting experiences of Ablett and Hird show, different people need different things from their careers. Some crave the stability and certainty offered by working in a single job, or organisation. They value working in a structured environment and the sense of security this brings. They can be confident that they will achieve all of their life’s aspirations in due course. These people will often be goal focused and get a great deal of pleasure from achieving these goals.

Other people crave variety in their careers, and may find the urge to change jobs after as little as a year, or even a few months. Forever getting bored with jobs they’ve mastered, the short term and often unstable employment that these workers love would cause others to be ridden with anxiety. But unlike those who prefer security, they thrive on the continual challenge that new opportunities offer.

But there is no right or wrong way. Everybody is different and organisations need both types of people to be successful. Each brings certain talents and strengths to the roles that they take on. More structured people often have a great work ethic that will see them through even the most difficult tasks, whereas their less structured colleagues are often more creative problem solvers, with a talent for innovation that can resurrect a floundering organisation’s fortunes.

The real issue occurs when people act in a way that doesn’t suit their temperament.

People who value career stability will feel as if they are losing control and become overwhelmed if only offered short term roles. They will often remain in a less enjoyable position rather than risk losing everything by moving into the uncertainly of a new job. Like James Hird, they are often regarded as loyal.

If forced to remain in the one position, those who enjoy change will feel as if they have been trapped in a cage. They are stifled by the thought that tomorrow will be just the same as today, which was the same as yesterday and the day before. Fear of stagnation will often force them to leave what might seem to others to be a perfect job. Like Ablett, they might seek to leave a solid position with well established organisation for a smaller, riskier startup where they can have a greater impact and feel themselves tested to their limits.

It is not disloyalty, but a burning need for new challenges and fresh opportunities that drives so many to move from position to position. In his comments on Thursday night, Ablett has said as much, saying that he wants to be “really challenged again” and that he looks forward to being an independent role model for younger players, rather than just his father’s son.

Over the years, I have lost count of the number of people who have sacrificed this need out of fear of being seen as disloyal. As if somehow a resume with more than one position for every three, five or ten years is career suicide (it’s not - mine lists eight just for the last decade).

Certainly, more than a few employers play the “disloyalty card” on staff that might otherwise leave. They hope to save themselves the hassle of having to find and train someone new. Wise employers refrain from this, recognising it as a short sighted ploy that will only delay the inevitable, while harming the business as the employee’s productivity plummets.

But when it comes to profit and the bottom line, loyalty is a one-way street. Even good performers get shown the door during lean years. Certainly if Ablett had not been producing the goods, he would have been dumped years ago, irrespective of who his father was, or how promising his early years may have been.

So, after having played for Geelong for the last eight years, it should come as no surprise that Ablett has come to the conclusion that he “needed a fresh new challenge”. I can’t help but wonder how many other players find themselves in a similar position. Desperate for change but feel constrained by a culture that favours “loyalty” to a particular club, rather than their own career aspirations and goals.

Ultimately all professional players are where they are not because of their club, or team mates. They have the honour of playing week after week in the public eye, because they have had the passion and dedication to put in the hard work required to master the diverse range of skills required to play modern football, while maintaining the enthusiasm to keep in peak condition all year round. Only they can, or should decide how to enjoy the fruits of their labours, including who they play for and for what reward. To pretend otherwise is to ignore that each player is a unique individual with hopes and aspirations that may not match those of others. Only once this is recognised and we engage with them as players, not team assets will they be able to break the shackles of “loyalty” and manage their careers in the best interests of both themselves and the clubs they represent.


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