…well firing. While some rejoice, some wonder who will replace him, and others just revel in his public downfall, I found myself thinking of what we can learn. Not about football, play calling, or recruiting, but about leadership, hiring and organizational behaviour. Lane Kiffin came from a “football family” and had an incredibly rapid rise through the coaching ranks, becoming the youngest NFL head coach in history, as well as one of the youngest head coaches in college. And with that rapid rise went an equally rapid rotation of coaching jobs…a series of quick changes and job transitions as a head coach.
So what have we learned:
Sustained Success. When it comes to the whole hiring process, the basics still matter. You need to meet people face-to-face. Where folks went to school matters. Candidates are a sum total of their experiences. But above all, continuity matters. “Sustained superior performance” is a phrase that really means something. Someone who has been in a job for several years and has really impacted an organization, that is the true testament of their abilities. Someone who has bounced around, “caught lightning in a bottle”, been a “flash in the pan”, or more simply a job-hopper, are living on luck and timing. Much like Icarus, they fly too high too fast only to crash and burn. Beware those who frequently change jobs. They always have a great reason, but in the end the question has to be “have they really had a lasting, positive impact”.
The Non-Quantifiables Matter. There are things that just cannot be measured, and leadership is one of them. And in that same vein goes confidence. Confidence of the organization in the leader is a very real issue. It cannot be measured or quantified, but we know it when we see it, or do not see it. Never overlook the non-quantifiables. How a person acts, speaks, carries themself; their presence, their bearing, their communication, it all matters. HR and Legal might not like it, but leadership is more art than science, and thus more about behavior than technical competence.
Decisions Demand Action. Once a decision has been made, one must act. Avoiding the inevitable helps no one. If it is time for someone to go, make the call and move on. It is better for them, it is better for you, and above all it is better for the organization. An organization can withstand a degree of uncertainty during a leadership transition. What it cannot withstand is an unending period of internal strife and division due to poor leadership, lingering doubt and general lack of confidence.
All of the above said, it might not all be Lane Kiffin’s fault. The man obviously has great technical acumen and did well earlier in his career. Promoting the “hot runner” too far too fast is a common issue. Folks who are doing well want to excel, and often that means moving up. As leaders, we want to reward those folks via promotion and recognition. However, as a leader one must recognize when someone is truly ready for that next step. I really wonder if Lane Kiffin was ready to be a head coach. Three times other folks thought he was, and all three of those times something went wrong. It cannot be all his fault…they gave him the job.
Though I have no idea how technically competent Lane Kiffin is, or rather was, as a football coach, I do know he was not a good leader…you could just tell. I am no student of the game, but even as a casual fan you could tell the team, the fans, and even the administration just did not have confidence in him. Pat Haden as the Athletic Director at USC had to make a call, and credit to him, he made it. When a leader has lost the team, the customers and the confidence of the organization’s leadership, it is time to turn the page. Just be sure you hire the new leader for the right reasons.