Category Archives: leadership

The “Too Valuable” Fallacy

“To every thing there is a season” or so said Pete Seeger and the Byrds, or the Book of Ecclesiastics in the King James Version of the Bible, depending on one’s preference.  And in keeping with the ends of the personal preference paradigm, Fox News has shared a classic business lesson.  No, not “those” kinds of lessons.  This is one of those timeless lessons of business, of life, of organizations and leadership.  Ford did it with Lee Iacocca.  The 49ers traded Montana and the Colts let Peyton go to Denver.  The Today Show let Katie go, ESPN has lost almost everyone, and even MJ and the Bulls came to an end.  And every company in history has parted ways with their top sales person.  Eventually, there comes a time when those “too valuable” are simply not that valuable.

Fox News as an organization has demonstrated that maxim that “no one person is more valuable than the overall organization”.  Everything else about Fox News aside, there is no denying, they have put the good of the organization above some of the most “valuable” personalities in the infotainment industry.  For various reasons, which we will not discuss or debate, Fox News has parted ways with two hugely successful personalities in Bill O’Reilly and Megan Kelly.  Vastly different scenarios, but the fundamental truth remains:  the organization was placed ahead of the individuals.

It is quite easy to fall into the leadership trap that the team, the organization, the business, the company, cannot survive without the “top performer”.  While it is true that great talents, performers, sales people, operations leaders, analysts, skilled craftsman, or the uncounted millions of committed team members are all special, there are some that just seem to have more of an impact.  They apparently are the one generating the lion’s share of the revenue, that are the driving force in innovation and change, that are the glue that holds the team together, that are simply “too valuable”.  Yet eventually, there comes a time.

It was a key component of military life, no one is indispensable; the mission and the team come before the individual…no matter whom it might be.  The same holds in sports, entertainment, and business.  Sure, those special “stars” can have an enormous impact, but the Bulls remained relevant without MJ, the Broncos have won after Elway (thanks Peyton), the Today Show is back on top, ESPN marches on, and Ford has continued to build cars.  And the country carries on regardless of who is in which office.  In fact, quite often organizations and individuals flourish after the split.  “A time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing” as the lyric or verse reminds us.

It is challenging for leaders to take the long view when the decision is at hand, but while the temptation is there to make “just one exception” for that great talent; to retain and profit from that special person a little longer, let Fox News and Bill O’Reilly pass through your mind.  He was a ratings and revenue goldmine for the network, and while his particular scenario made for a relatively easy decision, most are more of the Megan Kelly variety – tough calls, but in the end no one is indispensable.  Ever.

 

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Filed under Business, Coaching, Current affairs, Hiring and Interviewing, leadership

Being Correct and Being Right

There are accidents, mistakes, “missteps” and “misspeaking”, errors, glitches, oops, oversights, old fashioned screw ups, and then there are just complete debacles.  United Airlines and their CEO Oscar Munoz are in the middle of an ongoing series of self-inflicted mistakes.  They have moved from a comedy of errors that will literally cost them tens of millions to becoming pop culture icons…for all the wrong reasons.  They are the butt of jokes, memes, hashtags and certainly in the crosshairs of countless law firms.  In short, they are in a real mess.

None of us will ever truly know the whole story, and in the end it does not make one ounce of difference.  The damage to both the company and Mr. Munoz has been done.  They will be living with this mess and its fallout.  While not inclined to pile on, I am reminded of an old leadership adage:

“You do not have to always be correct, but you should always be right.”

It was a phrase, well actually a sentiment, while phrased differently depending on the situation, but a leadership maxim that was repeatedly drilled into me over the years.  The idea that doing the right thing is always the proper decision.  While not often, but there will be times that the “right thing” might not be the “correct thing”.  The spirit of the law, the intention of the law, trumps the letter of the law.  That sometimes sound judgement is more important than “going by the book”, that being a compassionate leader is more important than being a by-the-numbers manager.

Were the gate agents, the crew, security, etc. all doing what the manual said? More than likely the answer is yes.  Was doing exactly what the book said right?  Clearly not.  While we can all acknowledge that policies, procedures, “the book”, the law, etc. exist for tried and true reasons, not the least of which is to avoid mistakes, but there still exists the need for logic and good judgement, and it is incumbent on leaders to both exercise said logic and judgement, and to empower their people to exercise the same.  And when it comes to working with other people, there is no more critical time for sound judgement and logic.

In an era where automation, binary decision trees, micromanagement, 360 reviews, quarterly reports, litigious fear and corporate policies drive the daily decisions making, it is wise to sometimes pause.  A leader, and everyone, need to take a look at the bigger picture, consider the message, the audience, and above all the individuals involved, and then make a decision.  It was an old adage of an earlier life, “don’t do anything you do not want to see on the front page of the paper”.  The same idea applies…do not do anything you do not want on FaceBook Live, Instagram, Twitter, etc.  Everyone has a phone, which has a camera, a video function and instant connection.  Screaming after the fact “I was just following the rules” will not be a message that resonates.

Sometimes it is better to be right than correct.

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Anonymous, Random Acts of Kindness

We have all read the stories, the tab paid by some stranger.  The super tip left behind.  However, it is the small ones that sometimes go unreported that can make all the difference.  This morning was one of those times you stumble upon one of those small things that just might make a difference…

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There were a dozen odd chalk messages scrolled on the neighborhood sidewalks.

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Some were whimsical and quite cliche, and others were straight to the point.

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But all were positive and uplifting, they brought a smile to your face, but above all were simply “just there” for everyone to read.

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The real beauty is that we will never really know who did it, and we are all better for it, the not knowing.  An all too aware adult or an innocent child?  It does not matter.  It is the message that matters, and I for one am better for it.

A thanks is owed to someone, and whomever they are, please know I am grateful and the message has been passed.

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Teams and the All Star

Kobe goes out in a shower of pop culture glory while the Warriors win their 73rd regular season game.  The NBA had quite the night earlier this week.  You have a one name super star and legendary player go out on a crazy scoring night while another team finishes the season with more wins than MJ’s Bulls.  It was the stuff of main stream news and cultural consciousness, as well as a great reminder for every leader – be careful who you have in your locker room.

The Golden State Warriors have been an incredible story, from winning the NBA title in 2015, to marching their way through this season to an unprecedented 73 regular season victories.  They have done it with aplomb, while their head coach was out for the first several months of the season, while being the reigning champions that every opponent gives their best game, and under the bright lights of relentless coverage and analysis.  They have met and exceed expectations as a team.  The players, the coaches, everyone involved have risen to the occasion.

Conversely, Kobe Bryant and the Lakers have been an absolute mess, lingering at the bottom of the NBA for years.  Though in the twilight of his career, Kobe has never once relented in his focus on being the center of the Lakers.  The ball will go through him, to him, and will be shot by him…a lot.  He was the highest paid player on the team, demanded and ensured that he remained at the top of the industry pay scale, and remained at the forefront of the Lakers marketing and consciousness.  It was abundantly clear that what mattered to Kobe, was, well Kobe.  Granted, he scored 60 in his final game, but he took 50 shots.  Yes, you have to “take ’em to make ’em” but that is far from all-star percentages.

In the end, the Golden State Warriors are a team.  Sure, they have their own star players, especially Steph Curry, an incredible coach in Steve Kerr, and a great organization, but above all they are a team.  No one is more important than the whole.  The Lakers in the Kobe era, and especially so in the later phases of his career, have been about Kobe above all else.  Basketball, more than probably any other sport, demands a team have at least one or two star players.  There are only 5 guys on the floor – one or two make a huge difference.  However, it is still a team sport.  An all time great alone cannot make it happen; just ask LeBron.  In the end, teams win.

It is incredibly tempting to hire and retain the “best player”, to make exceptions for the “all star”, the top producer, that special person.  However, that special person cannot be placed ahead of the team, the greater goal, the common mission.  Steph Curry is a special player, an MVP, an All Star, but he is also a team player.  Kobe was an MVP and an All Star to the end, but never was he known as a team player.  Even Michael, a renowned competitor and a bear of a teammate, was always known to be a teammate.  Demanding,; sure.  But always a teammate.

Yes, Kobe and the Lakers were the story of the day.  The ratings, the press, the glitz, the stars, the pop culture darlings, it was all Kobe and the Lakers that night.  The Warriors setting the new season wins record was the “other NBA story”.  That was one day, well maybe two.  Next week, the Warriors start the first round of the playoffs, and Kobe starts his retirement, and the Lakers start to rebuild their franchise.

Building a team is hard.  Finding the best talent it tough.  Hiring and retaining great people is even harder.  But finding, hiring and retaining the right talent, well that is how a winning team is built.  When given the choice, taking the very good player and teammate trumps the great individual.  It only takes one bad hire, regardless of their talent, to ruin a team.  Put aside the glitz and glamor, and find that special person that has the skills and talent, as well as the selflessness and maturity to be a great teammate.  And if you find your MJ, well provide them the leadership to at least be a teammate.  And if you find a Steve Kerr…then keep on winning.

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Supreme Friends- Scalia and Ginsburg

There is a wonderful Looney Tunes cartoon with a sheep dog and a coyote, walking to “work”, being friends, having a chat, and then being polar opposites at work.  Yet, at the end of the day, when the whistle sounds, they head home as friends.  Civility, in the context of a cartoon.  Mutual Respect.  Admiration.  Professional Colleagues.  Friends.

 

Things were never quite as good as they are remembered, but it does seem the earlier generations were a bit more adapt at maintaining a balance.  Of keeping “work at work”, of “being friends after 6”, or simply just knowing a difference of opinion does not preclude friendship.  It was a different time, but the stories of the friendship, the mutual respect of Tip O’Neal and Ted Kennedy for Ronald Reagan, after 6 p.m., were legendary.  They were able to communicate, to work together, to learn from each other, to find common ground, and maybe along the way learn a bit about themselves and others.  You know, that stuff that makes everyone just a little bit better of a person.

It is refreshing to hear the stories of the Supreme Court’s most outspoken liberal and staunchly conservative member being friends.  Sharing a love of opera, vacationing together, sharing family time, meals, and respecting and admiring the other’s legal and professional acumen.  Who knows, maybe they learned a bit more about other people, another person’s point of view, the life experiences of others.  To call someone “your best buddy” is pretty darn special.

The entire “campaign season” seems to be highlighting how resolute, absolutely righteous and completely uncompromising our potential political “leaders” are.  It is all so terribly sad, but we know at least two people still understood and believed, practiced and abided by the timeless lesson – relationships matter.  Your friends do not have to be like you.  Actually we are all probably better off if they are not just like us, if we have a whole world of relationships full of different people, with different thoughts and beliefs.

Ralph and Sam, Ruth and Antonin.  Thanks for the example.

 

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February 17, 2016 · 10:04 pm

Peyton and Being Likable

All it takes is a catchy jingle and you have a pop culture phenomena.  Well done Nationwide Insurance…”Nationwide is on your side” easily becomes “being likable makes all the difference”.  People like what they relate to, what makes them feel comfortable.  There is no question, Peyton Manning has hummed his way into the American consciousness as “a good guy”.  Of course it does not hurt that he is widely regarded as the face of his sport, one of the all-time greats, and is standing at the threshold of a storybook ending to his career.  Peyton winning Super Bowl 50 – it is the stuff of legend.

It has been called many things, with the current flavor being Emotional Intelligence or EQ.  Then there are the more traditional “cultural fit”, interpersonal skills, or empathy.  In its simplest form, being likable, a nice person, is one of the most valued traits in all of hiring.  Never, not once in all the years and the literally thousands of hiring conversations we have been privy to, has the phrase “you know, we do not like them; heck they are a real jerk, but we will hire them anyway” ever been used.  Not one time.  Countless times we have heard the inverse.  Being likable brings an enormous degree of benefit of the doubt, of a higher forgiveness factor, of being given a chance, or two, or three.  It is a classic idiom of sales, “people do business with people they like”.  Throughout his career, from college to the NFL, Peyton Manning has ensured he remains at the top of the likable list.

There is no greater illustrator of the “likability factor” than Tom Brady.  It was one of the stories of 2015, Deflategate.  The Patriots, their coaches and Tom Brady have a long history of pushing the edges, testing the lines, but also of grinding, studying, preparing, and of winning…a lot.  Tom Brady, despite all the wins, all the championships, the spotless record, the incredible story of afterthought to champion, of a relentless work ethic, of being the consummate leader and professional, remains unlikable.  He is not like everyone else, his life is not like ours, he is apparently aloof, cold and distant.  Tom and Peyton literally have the same job, live a life wildly removed from the vast majority of us, yet one is perceived completely differently based on “likability”.

An athlete, the face of their sport, considered by many to be the best of a generation, dominating the competition, setting new records, a marketers dream, giving back to the community and charities, the personification of the comeback, overcoming career ending medical challenges, returning to form and dominating.  It is a timeless story.  And when doubts and dispersion are cast, as always happens in our society, when the “too good to be true” flag is waived, being likable will save the day.

It is comically sad.   Peyton and HGH – 100% benefit of the doubt.  Disparage the source of the story, proclaim innocence, threaten lawsuits, be folksy, be hurt, be staunch yet wounded.  Peyton is righteous.  He is likable.  Looks like Peyton learned the lesson of Lance Armstrong…being nice will get you the benefit of the doubt, and sometimes that is all that matters in the court of public opinion.

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To Ensure Failure, Just Use Your Words

It is Pavlovian, hearing the old alma mater mentioned in the news still perks up the ears.  Unfortunately, like the news that typically comes from the State of Illinois, hearing the University of Illinois mentioned tends not to be followed by positive, uplifting stories.  Then add that this bit of news was broadcast during a sports segment, well one tends to “brace for impact – this will not be good”.  Sadly, what was shared was not just frustrating as an alumni, it was absolutely infuriating on a professional and personal level.

Leaders, regardless of role, scope or circumstance, have a responsibility to those they lead.  It is a professional and personal responsibility to help the organization and individuals meet and exceed their potential.  To do what is right for others, to inspire, to provide a vision, a plan and the resources to obtain that which they collectively wish to achieve.  Leadership is the core of politics, of business, of athletics, and of all things that require group effort.  And effective leaders must communicate.  They must speak as a leader.  Sadly, the quote that came from the University of Illinois Athletic Department and it’s Interim Athletic Director Paul Kowalczyk was a case study in failure:

“Obviously, it’s not ideal but for now, I don’t think it’ll put a dagger in the heart of the program,” Kowalczyk said.

Foremost, a leader must speak with confidence.  If the leader has no faith, no confidence in the decision and course of action, it is a given that no one else will.  To preface your statement with “it is not ideal but…” is synonymous with “this is going to be miserable but…”.  While acceptable when describing a lifeboat relative to the Titanic, it is not effective when speaking of a newly hired, or in this case contract extended, leader or coach.  Kowalczyk quite literally undermined the very foundation of trust, confidence and support Coach Cubit requires to have any chance of success in leading the football program.  When a leader denies their support to those they are responsible to lead, they have ensured the ultimate failure of the team.  All the financial resources, material, logistics and marketing cannot offset the damage done when moral support and confidence is denied to a subordinate.  Especially so in a public forum.

As if the first disclaimer was not damaging enough, to then set the bar just above “putting a dagger in the heart of the program” with the awe-inspiring caveat of “I don’t think” is worse than actually admitting defeat.  A leader must have the courage of their convictions.  A leader is not just there to deliver the positive message, they also must deliver the bad.  And when delivering bad, clarity and ownership are of critical importance.  Waffling and trying to “sugar coat” the bad news is worse than the actual bad news.  Kowalczyk set the standard for acceptable performance with his statement.  The only thing Coach Cubit, and by extension his players and staff, are expected to do is not “kill the program”.  For the staff and the players, there is absolutely no reason to do anything more than the minimum.  No one enjoys being a part of an organization who’s only goal is to do the minimum.  No one enjoys “working to lose”.

Lastly, Leadership 101 – know the names of your people…and use them.  It seems so trivial, so basic, so obvious, but taking the time to learn someone’s name  means you care.  A leader must care about those they lead.  If the leader does not care, if names are not important, then it is absolutely assured the subordinates notice, and that lack of personal caring will be reciprocated.  If your subordinates are simply an “it” to you, then you are nothing more than an “it” to them.

Much like the State of Illinois, the University of Illinois is going through a period of difficulty and challenge.  There is a leadership void in the university, with the “interim” title either in use or having been used over the last 12 months at the President, Chancellor, Athletic Director and Head Football Coach levels.  It is not a positive scenario for anyone, and is clearly a crucible in which strong leadership is required.  Administration and Management are not the same as Leadership.  While Interim Athletic Director Paul Kowalczyk might be a fine director, manager and administrator, he clearly could use some help on the leadership side, and especially so when it comes to speaking as a leader.

Not to be one to just throw stones, might a suggestion for Director Kowalczyk’s, or any leaders, statements take the format of stating clearly the situation, then state the vision, and lastly support those implementing the plan to attain that vision.  For example:

“It has been a trying season, yet through this period Coach Cubit has been a steady hand on the tiller, earning the respect of his players and the University.  We all are committed to moving forward and achieving success on the grid iron and in the classroom, and Coach Cubit is the man to lead this program and our student athletes.”

While not perfect, it is certainly better than “yea, it’s not what anyone wanted, but he will do for now…shoot, it really cannot get much worse”.

In the end, all the millions of dollars in revenue, all the alumni passions, all the administrator’s and coaches careers aside, it is about a group of students who joined a team.  They deserve better.

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