Category Archives: leadership

Coach O, LSU and Job Matching

Coach O is the walking, Cajun talking, living example of what it means to have the right person, in the right job, at the right place, at the right time.  He is the definition of Job Matching.  Ed Oergeron led LSU to the College Football National Championship, and along the way has demonstrated leadership, fortitude, wisdom, drive, passion and spirit, but above all, the critical aspect of “fit”.  People and organizations achieve the most when there are synergies, when there is the right fit; when the job matches the person and the person the job.

College football has always sort of been my guilty television vice.  It is the only sport I actually make a point to follow, and the only games that sometimes I will schedule around, that I will actually sit down and watch.  As for going to games on campus – anytime, anywhere.  I love game day on a campus.  LOVE IT.  Living around the country, it has been the constant lens into regional culture.  How the sport is consumed and the passion around it tells you a lot about the region.

I was very attuned to USC football and Coach Oregeron during their tumultuous 2013 season.  He was promoted from Defensive Coordinator to interim head coach midway through the year.  It was wildly clear from the outside that the players and students loved him, but it was equally clear that he was not the “right fit” for USC.  There is so much more than “the X’s and O’s, Jimmy and Joe’s” that goes with being a college football head coach, especially at a major program.  It is literally running a multi million, if not billion, dollar business.  The coach builds a staff, runs an operational program, recruits and trains his players and coaches, and above all sells his program.  He literally has to raise money and sell tickets.  Boosters, alumni, television, radio, youtube videos, all of it.  The head football coach is the face, and voice, of the football program, and more often than not, the athletic department, if not the university.  Coach Oregeron was many things, but the optimi of USC was not one of them.  He was not retained.  He was without a job, again.

Coach Oregeron had been a head coach before, and it did not go well.  He took a relative demotion to be the Defensive Coordinator at USC, and earned the chance to be an interim head coach in 2013.  He did well.  However, it was not the right fit.  The job did not match the man, nor the man the job.  Coach Oregeron elected to take a demotion, and certainly less income, to go to LSU as their Defensive Line Coach in 2015.  The man knew LSU was the right place – the job was a match, and potential future opportunities and promotions would come if he performed.  Clearly they did.

Above all else, the story of Coach O is also about learning from failure.  His path to the National Championship was paved with challenges and setbacks, failures, firings, being passed over, parodied and some could say mocked.  He took demotions to keep working.  He moved for opportunity.  He hired people who were smarter than him; experts in their fields, and then gave them the freedom to execute.  He led with heart and emotion, energy and passion.  He put others over self.  He did not let his ego get in the way.  But above all, he never gave up.  When he earned the chance, that one opportunity to get the perfect job, at the perfect place, at the perfect time, he took it.  He was never shy about saying LSU was the job he wanted, and today LSU, Louisiana and Cajuns everywhere are better for embracing Coach O.

Dare I say we are all just a bit better for knowing of Coach O.

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Tom Brady’s Professional Humility

Humility might be a bit strong.  No one rises to the top of their profession without a healthy dose of chutzpah, self-confidence and above all a relentless desire to win.  That said, one who accepts help, guidance and coaching has some degree of humility, or at least a very solid handle on their ego.  It takes just as much strength to lead as it does to follow, to teach as it does to be taught.

Tom Brady is without question the best at his trade currently, if not ever in the history of football.  But after over 20 years, realistically 30 years, of throwing a football at the very highest level, he still has and uses a throwing coach.  He pays someone to work with him on the most basic, foundational element of his profession.  Conservatively he has thrown a football over a million times, yet he still has a coach who’s sole focus is to work with him on his throwing motion.

During his playoff bye week, Tom Brady worked with his throwing coach Tom House, and the results of the last two weeks speak for themselves.  Yet again the Patriots will be in the Super Bowl and Tom Brady, at the age of 41, is throwing the football as well as ever.

“I have done it quite a few times,” he said. “I don’t know if it is every year, but it is something I always think about. I am always trying to be really sharp with my technique and fundamentals. Again, I just love spending the time doing it.” 

Professionals ask for, and often pay for, help.  They do not wait for their companies to tell them to seek help or coaching, they do not expect others to pay for it, arrange for it, or otherwise direct it.  Professionals realize and embrace the timeless fact that fundamentals matter, that the core behaviors, the little things, the basics, the boring details, are the true keys to long term success.   While the cumulative sum of everything is what truly ensures success, none of it is possible without the foundational basics, and sometime we all could use some refresher training, and enforced accountability.

It takes enormous resilience, drive, dedication and raw effort to be the best.  It also takes a degree of humility and self-awareness to ask for, sometimes pay for, but certainly accept help and coaching.   If the GOAT can do it and benefit from it, we all can.

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Saban or Swinney – “Process” or “Family”

The game.  The moment.  The “field of competition”.  There is nothing as clarifying as the culminating event, the defining moment, that line of demarcation between winning and losing.  Sports is such a great provider of those clearly defined outcomes, and nothing more so than the penultimate “championship game”.  Monday evening again provided one of those moments.  Clemson did not just win the game, they absolutely dominated Alabama.  It has been an interesting four years watching those two programs compete for the National Championship in college football, each having won two.  What makes it all the more interesting is that by definition, the teams to some degree change on an annual basis.  While there is some player continuity on a year to year basis, but after a few years the players completely turnover.  The only true consistent is the head coach.  Unlike their NFL counterparts, the head football coach in college create the programs, the cultures and the environments.

What has become clear is that Nick Saban and Dabo Swinney stand at the pinnacle of their profession.  While Nick Saban has clearly been at the forefront of the college coaching world for well over a decade, the last four years has seen a clear emergence of Dabo Swinney as a truly special coach.  While both share a unique position at the top of their profession, each man clearly has a different leadership style.

Nick Saban is renowned for his focus, his process, his relentless attention to detail, for creating a system that has turned Alabama football into a true dynasty.  A factory producing championships, coveted coaches/coordinators and a host of NFL players.  To a degree his style is coldly professional, results oriented, absolutely committed to excellence, and very clear in that everyone plays a part to ensure the greater team goal is achieved.

Dabo Swinney has created an entirely different culture at Clemson.  His style is open, warm, focused on creating an environment resembling a family, where having fun, maximizing the goals of the individual, and above all instilling a sense of love and passion for the game and for teammates is paramount.  The result has seen Clemson clearly rise to the top, winning two of the last four National Championships while also producing a host of NFL players.  Dabo Swinney’s style has created an environment which from the outside appears to be the antithesis of the Alabama “factory system”.

Thus far, both leadership styles work, just as various leadership styles work in all aspects of life.  The interesting piece is that upon closer examination, Coach Saban and Coach Swinney teach us that their respective styles are not all-inclusive.  There are clearly aspects of each style within the other program.  Early in the season Dabo Swinney made a quarterback change.  He replaced the well liked and respected senior Kelly Bryant with the freshman Trevor Lawrence.  While love, faith and family feel are hallmarks of Dabo Swinney’s leadership style, quantifiable facts and commitment to the overall goal have to take precedence.  He made the hard but right decision.  He made the change, and the rest as the cliché goes, is history.  Conversely, for all the portraits of Coach Saban as detached, cold and strictly process driven, snippets leak out of him taking players water skiing, of he and the staff playing hoops over lunch, of a warmth and personal relationship side to the process driven leader.

Both styles work, but neither works in totality.  Each draws upon the other in various degrees, at different times, and for different reasons.  While consistency and tone are critical components of successful leadership, there will come a time when flexibility and  adaptability are critical traits for the leader and their team.

The leadership style, the feel and culture, the environment and tone are different, Nick Saban and Dabo Swinney absolutely share a relentless work ethic.  They are consummate professionals who are committed to their profession, their universities, their players, their coaches and the attainment of the ultimate goal.  While they might have a different approach, style is nothing without sweat equity.  Leaders have to put in the work.

 

 

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Commitment – Rockets, Tom, Olympics and Teddy

There is something almost reassuring in seeing those who put in the work, who took the chance, who totally commit, succeeding, or even failing.  Just this month, we have seen a rocket take a car into space, a privately owned, designed and produced rocket and car.  Seen an older athlete return to the top of his sport, beating folks half his age.  An entire stream of unknown athletes burst onto the world stage, taking gold in events that require the skill, daring, joy and reckless abandon of youth.  Oh, and witnessed the most accomplished quarterback in football yet again lead his team to the Super Bowl.  But what we also saw in these events was failure.  The main rocket missed its remote recovery point, the quarterback lost the Super Bowl, and scores of Olympians melt in the heat of the moment.

“Far better it is to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs even though checkered by failure, than to rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy nor suffer much because they live in that gray twilight that knows neither victory nor defeat.”

  • President Theodore Roosevelt

Watching Shaun White, Chloe Kim and Red Gerard fly, to witness a private company launch a massive rocket, a test launch, complete with a privately produced car as the payload, broadcast live, oh and recover perfectly their booster rockets – all amazing moments.  It was equally rewarding to see Tom Brady slow the hands of time, but lose a game.  Or to see all the success of SpaceX and the Falcon Heavylift not include the perfect recovery of the main rocket.  Witnessing Mikaela Shiffrin win gold in her first event, then be edged off the podium in her specialty, or Lindsay Vonn to settle for bronze in her first event.  All incredible achievements, but not perfection.  Yet they all, in sport or business, have encountered great success, great failure, but through it all, none have never wavered.  Elon, Tom, Lindsay, Shaun, Chloe, Red and Mikaela continue pressing forward.

It takes courage to fail.  It takes commitment to try.  But it takes faith to try again, and again, and again until the moment of truth.  Winning is great, but getting back into the game after the crash, after the loss, after the defeat or just coming up a bit short, well that is the domain of the champion

Again, it is Teddy Roosevelt who said it so much better:

“It is not the critic who counts;
not the man who points out how the strong man stumbled or where the doer of deeds could have done them better.
The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena,
whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood;
who strives valiantly;
who errs and comes short again and again;
who knows great enthusiasms,
the great devotions;
who spends himself in a worthy cause;
who at the best, knows in the end the triumph of high achievement,
and who, at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly
so that his place shall never be with those timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

 

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The Example – The Garage Guy

Never assume.  Like all cliches, it is all too true.

Originally it was “Pride, Professionalism and the Shoe Shine Guy“.  Those special, random few who teach us so very much about life and business.  Sure, there are the obvious role models and examples, the speakers, the leaders of industry, the thought leaders everyone has heard, but then there are the folks that are right there, living the day-to-day grind, that are possibly the greatest teachers.  Several years back there was “The Shoe Shine Guy”, and now to that special list I am proud to add “The Parking Garage Guy”.

We all have known those folks, we see them almost every working day, year after year, toiling away in anonymity.  Sometimes we are fortunate enough to slowly build a bit of a passing relationship, a morning greeting, a smile, holiday wishes, and maybe even a quick chat from time-to-time.  And then every so often, a little nugget of information slips out that slowly starts to reveal there is a special person sitting in that security booth.  It took years, and finally his sharing that he was retiring at 81 (stunning…would have maybe guessed 65…maybe) to finally bring the entire story, all the lessons, into sharp focus.

To know Amha is to know a true professional.  He was always present.  He took pride in his work.  He ran a tight ship.  He knew who was where, in what car, where the good spots were, who might need a different spot and why.  That garage was his domain, and nothing got by him.  He was sharp, smart, respectful, polite, kind, but also no nonsense.  It took a couple years to realize what was there every morning, the lessons that were being shared.

Amha is the classic American story.  He came to this country almost 20 years ago from a “rougher” part of the world.  I knew the neighborhood he and his family had left, I suspected why, and it was sort of our “secret”.   I had traveled in those parts of the world in the early 90’s – it was not a good area or time.  Always liked to think that he enjoyed the fact that there was someone here that just knew “where there was”.  The other day as he shared the news of his retirement, he also shared more of the story.  He confessed that after not being well received here as an engineer in his early 60’s who wanted to work, he elected to not just ride out his years on the couch.  He chose to become a parking garage attendant.  An Electrical Engineer who had already had an incredible career, was a man of means in another part of the world, willfully and apparently happily, took on a thankless, anonymous job.  It all clicked into place when he shared the full story.

Professionalism and pride do not stem from a title.  They are not contingent upon a level of authority, a scope of responsibility, the number of people led, the industry, the company name, level of education, or even the actual work.  Everything and anything can be a profession.  Being a professional is a state of mind, it is entirely our choice.  Pride and professionalism comes from within and it is absolutely our responsibility to carry ourselves as such in all facets of life and business.

Pride and professional do not preclude being nice.  That was the real lesson that did not fully register until yesterday.  Genuine kindness.  Doing the little something extra for someone.  A greeting.  A smile.  Being present.  Lending a hand without being asked.  But above all, referring to someone as “my friend”.  It seems so obvious, but it is so often forgotten.  You see both the Shoe Shine Guy and the Garage Guy – they were nice people.  They were good people.  They work hard, they take pride in their work; their profession.  But they glowed, absolutely glowed, when they spoke of their family and friends.

And with the kindness, the pride and professionalism, went gratitude.  Being grateful for the opportunity to work, the place you live, the opportunity to help others, to build relationships, to be a friend.  We owe it to ourselves, our families, our friends, to our clients and our co-workers, and to the Garage and Shoe Shine folks, to try just a bit harder, to be just a touch more professional, kind and grateful.

 

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NFL playoffs and Leadership…It Matters

The beauty of sports is it’s crystal clear definition of success. Games and matches are played, points are scored, finish lines crossed, a winner is determined. Moving into the heart of winter, there is no better illustrator than the NFL, the playoffs and ultimately the Super Bowl. It is without question the most American of sports institutions. The hype, the media, the corporate money, the halftime show, the commercials, the pre-game shows, and even post-game shows. It is an absolute spectacle. Yet it is all about determining a winner. A champion. While coaching and leadership matters in all sports, there is something about football that seems to magnify the impact of leadership.

Tom Coughlin was the head coach who built the Jaguars. He lead an expansion franchise from concept to the most successful expansion team in league history. The Jaguars of the mid to late 90’s were a perennial contender, culminating in two AFC Championship game appearances. They were a standard of what a franchise could be, and at the center of it all was an old fashioned, hard-nosed, detail oriented, disciplinarian. It was a no-nonsense organization, and the results were clearly visible on the field.

As the cliche goes in sports, the window closed. The players aged, injuries took their toll, salary caps and retirements all changed the team. The leadership message grew stale, and Tom Coughlin was fired after 8 years in Jacksonville. The next 15 years would not be fun for the Jaguars.

After a year away from football, Tom Coughlin was hired by the New York Giants in 2004. His demeanor, approach, attention to detail and style were exactly the same. He immediately set the tone for the Giants. “Colonel Coughlin” had arrived and it was all business. The first few years were a rough transition, but the next several seasons saw the Giants earning multiple playoff berths as well as two Super Bowl titles. But with time, the message and leadership style of Tom Coughlin grew stale, and by the end of the 2015 season he “retired” from the Giants. It was a graceful exit, but everyone knew the truth; it was time for all parties to part ways.

Sunday the Jaguars will play in the AFC Championship game. It will be their first since 1999. Tom Couglin will not be coaching, but it is clear his return to Jacksonville last year as an executive leader has set the tone. He changed the morale of the organization. He instilled a sense of pride, professionalism, and winning. The Jags have went from “worst to first”.

While leadership alone will not make a winner, a lack of leadership can certainly ensure failure. The Jaguars are a team and organization of hundreds. But the right leadership has set the tone, and that has made all the difference, at least for this season. Unfortunately, they face the Patriots. Within the confines of the NFL, the Patriots are the gold standard when it comes to leadership, organizational culture, and winning. At the center of the Patriots stands Bill Belichick, who outwardly appears to be the same sort of gruff, “old school”, “my way or the highway” type of leader as Tom Coughlin. However, Belichick has been at the helm for 18 years with the Patriots.

Clearly, leaders set the tone, but those leaders who make lasting change are not tone deaf. Leaders have to evolve, adapt, temper their message, alter their presentation, all while never losing their followers and above all, without sacrificing the core message.

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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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