Tag Archives: football

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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Kaepernick and the Importance of “All The Other Things”

Yesterday’s hero is tomorrow’s bum.  It is a sad fact of life, regardless of industry, sport, volunteer organization or community group.  Rarely does one person succeed or fail alone, however it is far easier to lay the blame on one individual than to take a hard look at an entire organization.  Colin Kaepernick was able to reap the glory and the rewards as an NFL quarterback when he was the face of the 49ers in their Super Bowl and NFC Champion teams.  Less than two years removed from such heights, he is paying the price as the franchise struggles, finding himself benched.  How quickly things change.

Colin Kaepernick’s fall from grace parallels the 49ers slide from the top echelon of the NFL.  As with most things in life, there is plenty of blame to go around, and the truth tends to lie somewhere in the middle.  It is highly doubtful that Kaepernick suddenly forgot how to play the game, that his talent suddenly evaporated.  Conversely, the organization did not suddenly implode.  The other players did not suddenly forget how to block, run, catch and defend.  However, this story is a great reminder that there is a lot more to career decisions than just money.

There tends to be 5 criteria or “buckets” that enter into the decision-making process regarding jobs and/or job changes:

  • What is the job?  What is it you will be doing?
  • Who will you be working for and with?
  • The culture/environment/dynamic of the organization, industry and team
  • Are you set-up for success? Do you have the resources, support, etc.
  • What is the compensation and how are you paid?

There is actually a rank order to that list, and while the middle three can change in relative importance, the first and last items are and should remain where they are, first and last.  What you will be doing trumps all else, and compensation only matters if the previous four items are in alignment.  While most folks agree with the 5 items, many disagree with the relative order.  Most folks place compensation above all else, and that is where most problems start.

Looking at the above list relative to Colin Kaepernick, it is easy to see how the first item did not change – he was a quarterback and his job did not change.  Did he fail to develop his professional skills?  Did the competition improve their game? In both cases, probably yes, but in the end, he did not suddenly forget how to be a quarterback.

Who he is working for and with changed dramatically.  Jim Harbaugh left as head coach, and with him went the entire coaching staff.  The individual players who make up the team also went through massive change.  While the job did not change, his leadership, his coaches, his coordinators, and his co-workers all changed.  That is an enormous issue.

With leadership change comes cultural and organizational change.  Sometimes it is good, sometimes it is bad, but it does change.  By all accounts, the 49ers were a well run, professional, no-nonsense organization before.  Now, well they seem to be struggling to find an identity; they are not the organization they were when they were winning.

Change the members of the team, change the leadership, and change the culture, and the result is you change the very things that enable one to succeed.  Talent, hard work, dedication, and passion can only get one so far.  To borrow a phrase, to one degree or another, it actually does “take a village”.  For Kaepernick, the talent around him on the field, on the sidelines, in-game planning and preparation, the culture of the locker room, in the front office, everything changed.  Apparently not for the better.  Regardless, it is not a scenario where one is set-up for success.

In less than 2 seasons, he and the team have become a glaring illustration of how there is much more to the debate than just compensation.  Kaepernick, based on his earlier success, was able to secure a lucrative contract.  Good for him.  It is not healthy to begrudge someone getting paid.  However, his level of compensation impacted what the organization had available to pay others.  The team around him slipped in talent level.  There was a conflict in leadership, and his coaching staff changed.  The culture around him and the general work environment changed, and the support and tools to succeed went away.

When debating that next promotion, that great new job with the great pay, the new bonus potential, the corner office, the sweet benefits, the next contract, stop and think about Colin Kaepernick.  Pro Bowler, Super Bowl playing, NFC Championship winning quarterback, huge new contract, to the bench in less than 2 years.  Sure, he gets some of the blame, but just as his success was not a one man show, neither is his failure.  Take a hard look at that offer, make sure what the job is, who you will be working for and with, do you have the resources, is the corporate culture good, and then worry about the money.

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GameDay on Leadership

Most Saturday mornings in the fall, College GameDay is on in the background as we go through the usual morning rituals.  It is not a “sit and watch” sort of thing, but it is a streaming commentary that provides an easy way to stay somewhat connected to all that is college football, pop culture and even current events.  The stories, the drama, the games, the rankings, the conversations around playoffs, suspensions and above all, the passion of the fans.  But what I have really noted this year, College Football has to be the greatest, most visible, easily comprehensible to the masses, case study in why leadership truly matters.

Though college football tends to be a fairly consistent parade of the same schools at the top, there is a pretty noticeable trend of how programs tend to rise and fall based on coaching changes.  Part of it is recruiting.  Part of it is organizational skills and management, and some of it has to do with hiring.  But what is abundantly clear, leadership is the core issue.  The great “coaches” are great leaders.  They attract the best talent, hire the best staffs, and they build the best, most efficient organizations.  Thankfully, in our highly scheduled and information saturated worlds, the simplicity of wins and losses makes for a quick and easy way to quantify the results of good leadership.

On the downside, take Michigan, Texas and Florida.  They all have the talent, the facilities, donors, boosters and the support of the school, yet the wrong coach…down they go, and quickly.  Yet, great leadership also has an immediate impact in the positive direction.  Texas A&M, Stanford and Oregon, have all found the right coach, or coaches.  They have taken average teams with inherent disadvantages to the heights of college football.  Nick Saban and Urban Meyer are clearly the best examples of what a difference good leadership can make for a program.  Each has resurrected floundering programs, quickly having major success at more than one school.  Nick Saban has been incredibly successful at both LSU and Alabama, while Urban Meyer was instrumental in taking Florida to multiple championships, and has rapidly turned Ohio State back into a perennial power.

Leaders get the right folks in the right roles, then let them perform. The best coaches have the best staffs  They are NOT afraid to hire good people. It takes a strong leader to hire a talented subordinate, or to take a risk when hiring.  There has been no better example of that adage than Nick Saban’s hiring of Lane Kiffin as his Offensive Coordinator.  Kiffin had issues as a head coach, has a fair bit of baggage, but clearly knows what he is doing when it comes to running an offense.  He might not be the best head coach, but he is certainly really good at what he does.  Saban hired him, has let him run the offense, and thus far the results speak volumes.

Just as Lane Kiffin is a “technical expert” when it comes to offense, it was clear from his tenures at Tennessee and USC, that he was not a head coach and leader.  Technical expertise does not always equate to good leadership.  Charlie Weis was just fired, again, from another head coaching job.  He might be great with an offense, but he is clearly no leader.  Will Muschamp at Florida, a defensive “genius” is standing by to be fired, as are several other technical experts who became head coaches.  It is such a common pitfall. Good salesman – make him the sales manager. Disaster.  Technical skills are not leadership skills.

Sure, College Football is just a game, and extrapolating leadership maxims from head coaches is a dicey proposition, but there are some themes that hold true.  It is tough to argue when the results are binary…someone wins, some loses.  Everything is leadership. The rest matters, but without the proper leader, it is abundantly clear, the team just does not jell and the organization founders.

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A Super Reminder…Passion and PMA

It is that classic American of spectacles, Super Bowl Sunday.  The game, the pageantry, the parties and the food.  Only in America.  Everything about it is bigger, louder, flashier and fattier.  This year was no different.  From the Peyton hype, the NYC centric weather debates, to the Richard Sherman loud mouth or genius arguments, it was a constant stream of media hype, gobbled up by the American public and washed down with Bud Lights by the millions.  The big screen HDTV was invented for just such an occasion.

Other than being reminded of the all too often SEC drubbing of Big Ten/ND teams in BCS bowls, watching the Seahawks out run, hit, swagger, flash and fun the Broncos, I found myself reminded of why I have often viewed Pete Carroll as a great example of leadership.  It was 5 years ago this month I wrote about the then USC head coach and an interview he gave on 60 Minutes.  What struck me then was his passion.  Nothing has changed in those 5 years (maybe my writing has become more concise).  The guy is still as passionate as ever, and that message resonates as strongly as ever.  The results speak for themselves.

It is clear Pete Carroll loves, absolutely loves, what he does.  He loves coaching, he loves his players, he loves the game, the competition, and certainly winning.  The guy has a blast, you can just tell.  He is one of the oldest people in his profession, yet appears and acts as one of the youngest.  His energy and enthusiasm is infectious.  In a profession typified by hyper stressed coaches glaring and screaming, Pete Carroll seems to be having an absolute ball.  Yes his players make mistakes, yes discipline is not absolute, but the lapses are made up for ten fold…mostly.

And for all his fun-loving, good time nature, he is very open about the fact that competition is the driving factor.  Anyone can take anyone’s job.  Every practice, every play, every training session and meeting, it is absolutely about competing and winning.  He holds people to account.  If you are the best at what you do, you play.  If you are complacent, you sit.  It is not mean-spirited, but it is reality.  You play like you practice.

A great many things go into success.  Though passion and a positive mental attitude alone are never enough, things sure are easier with them.  Plus, the pursuit of success tends to just be a whole lot more fun when one wants to be there and is enjoying what they are doing.  It has become cliché, “the NFL is a grind”, but from here, Pete Carroll seems to do it differently, and everyone seems happier and more successful.

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Leadership and Organizational Culture…How It’s Not Done

Bullying. Hazing. Harassment. Call it whatever one wishes, but the story out of the Miami Dolphins locker room is without question a glaring example of leadership failure. What has happened between Richie Incognito and Jonathan Martin is plastered throughout the media and there is no need to rehash the details, but there is certainly a need to look at the leadership aspect of the story.  Not just leadership at the top, but all the way through the organization, from the front office, to the head coach, to the position coaches and team captains, and even the players.  Leadership sets the culture, and clearly there is a massive problem.

I have never been an NFL player.  Played a good bit of team sports, been in a locker room or two, shared the banter, the laughs, the jokes, and traditions.  However, if there is one thing football players at all levels tend to love wrapping themselves in, it is the warrior culture.  This story has reminded me of the journey I, and the military in general, shared from the late 80’s to the later 90’s.  To say the military underwent changes in those ten years is an understatement; it was the pre and post Tailhook era.  It was a time when the entire military organization, and the Navy and Marine Corps in particular, underwent a very dynamic shift.  The pre era had its own culture of hazing, harassment, and various “isms”.  It was an interesting time to say the least.  It was needed…we can leave it at that.  As a junior officer, we were right there in the midst of leading that cultural shift.

If there is one thing that the military instilled in us as leaders, especially during that period of change, it is that we all are responsible for the culture of the organization.  We set the tone through our actions and our inactions.  It is a formal aspect of leadership as well as an informal, peer-to-peer, senior to subordinate, and institution wide issue.  We were all responsible for each other, how we are perceived, and the culture we fostered.  We had a responsibility as both leaders and as members of the team, to implement the changes.  We were also, above all else, responsible for those we led, our Sailors and Marines were the most prized, precious item in our charge.

What baffles me as a leader is that the Dolphins as an organization completely failed to provide the leadership needed for their players.  From the front office all the way down, their actions, and especially their inactions, created an environment that has certainly impacted their ability to perform as a team.  Martin left the team and Incognito is suspended.  That is just the obvious.  What other issues will hit them remain to be seen, but I highly doubt they will be performing at a high level.

From a leadership perspective, it all starts at the top.  The Dolphins organization has ownership, general managers, front office Presidents, Vice Presidents and who knows what other titled leaders.  They all to one degree or another set the culture.  The head coach is ultimately responsible for the players.  Did he know exactly what was going on?  Who knows, but he certainly created the leadership team of coaches below him and he set the overall tone for the team.  Should his junior leaders, his position coaches, have known?  Probably so, and I would argue absolutely the Offensive Line Coach should have, he worked with these guys every single day.  Did the player leadership know?  Well, Incognito was a Team Captain, so that answer is obvious.  But above all the other leadership failures, it is the peer-to-peer leadership that truly failed.  Not just as leaders, but as fellow players, the players that make up the Dolphins locker room allowed things to happen to their teammates that are just inexcusable.

The whole story is sad.  There is no other way I can comment than to use the phrase “leadership failure”. The entire culture of the organization, at least in Miami, is a mess.  In an attempt to look for a lesson in all of this, it is the lesson of poor leadership that keeps coming to mind.  Often times we are asked for positive leadership lessons, but sometimes the best lessons are found in failure.  The cultural fiasco that is the Dolphins locker room is a lesson on how not to lead.  That is about the best that can come of this ongoing story.

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Recruiting…Saban Style

Heard an excellent interview earlier today.  It lasted less than 7 minutes and captured so many great insights into leadership and recruiting.  Granted, it was sports talk radio, but the lessons for business are absolutely clear, timely and completely translatable.  It was Colin Cowherd interviewing Colorado State coach Jim McElwain.  Not too impressive to the average person, however the conversation centered on McElwain’s 4 years working with Nick Saban at Alabama during a stretch when they won 2 National Championships.  Regardless of what one feels about sports, college football or Alabama, there is no question Nick Saban is one of the best leaders, recruiters and coaches in any field.

Paraphrasing of course, but these were the main themes when it comes to recruiting:

Recruit to the Position.  Know what the role you are recruiting for is, what that role requires, then hold to those requirements.  It is a timeless issue in recruiting and the war for talent, people wanting “the best person” for the job, yet having no real handle on what the job is, what it entails, what skills are required, what behaviors it demands, how success is defined, and what role emotional intelligence plays.  When a client starts off by saying “let me tell you a bit about the role”, it is a pretty good indicator that the search will go well.  However, when it starts with “here is what we want”, it raises concerns.  Know what the position requires, then go find the player.

Get them BEFORE they peak.  It was the best line in the interview, “don’t want the kid who peaks his sophomore year of high school…we all knew that kid”.  Harsh, but true, and frankly the most common pitfall we have seen over the years, companies wanting to go after the person who is already at the height of their profession.  Yes, you want the folks who are really good, but you want them to have runway.  It is about what they will do, about how the person can continue to grow, improve, learn and develop.  If they have hit their ceiling, then the best you can hope for is more of the same.  Do not hire someone for what they have done, hire them for what they will do for you in the future.  The competition is always working to get better…they will catch and pass those who have plateaued regardless of how good they were.

Have an extensive process that involves multiple people.  Do not “fall in love” with a candidate too early and avoid the myopic notion that only one person can truly evaluate talent.  Make the interview process extensive and evaluate equally throughout the process.  Candidates should get better throughout the interview process.  If they start strong and fade, that is a warning sign.  If you identify flaws relative to the position requirements, make the call and move on to other candidates.  But above all, have multiple people involved, and allow them to give their input.

It is a great interview, and it clearly shows two keys to organizational success – leadership and recruiting.  Will visit the leadership piece tomorrow, but for now the lesson is recruiting.  Granted, they were talking in the world of college football, but the evaluation of talent is universal.  Know what you need, find those who can do what you need when you need it, and then have a team of folks you trust evaluate the talent.  Simple really, and clearly one of the reasons Nick Saban is at the top of his field.

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