The end of the season is my favorite part of the season, at least when it comes to sports. In particular, I love the end of the NFL season. This clearly puts me at odds with the majority of American sports fans. The NFL is far and away the most watched, followed and money-making business in sports. It is a monster in ratings and revenue. But to me, it is a wonderfully public reminder of the impact of leadership and organizational culture.
One of the greatest things about sports is the clarity of record. You look back on a season and the record is there for all to see…who won, who lost, who improved and who is falling behind. And now in our ESPN, internet and talk radio world, we all are bombarded by the firings of head coaches. It even has a name: Black Monday. It is almost comical in a way, there is a degree of consistency in which teams are in the playoff hunt, and which teams are firing their coaches. Clearly, leadership matters, and sports illustrates that very clearly and publicly.
A few years ago we took a look at the Pittsburgh Steelers as a model for effective hiring and leadership. This year that theme holds more true than ever. The Steelers started the year 0-4. At a time when most organizations could have panicked, the Steelers regrouped, focused on the fundamentals, stuck to their plan and continued to do what they do year after year. They ended up finishing the season by going 8-4 and found themselves in the playoff picture by the end of the season. No knee jerk reactions, no panic, no second guessing, no organizational crisis management, just solid leadership.
Then there are those teams where the coaching carousel never seems to stop spinning. The Cleveland Browns just hired their 7th new coach in the last 15 years. The Redskins are moving onto their 8th in the last 15 years. The Lions just announced their 8th new coach in that very same time period. And of course there are the Raiders – who knows where they are in the count. Same goes for the Cowboys. There is one other theme that runs through these organizations beyond just coaching turnover: organizational culture. The leadership issue is not just with the coaches, it literally starts with ownership and has permeated the entire organization. Knee jerk reactions, micro management, fear mongering and meddling owners have left the franchises an absolute mess.
Call it old school business, but there is certainly something to be said for stability. Good organizations foster, attract, and above all develop good leaders. People evolve, they move on, they advance, they change jobs for a host of reasons, but a strong organizational culture weathers the changes and continues to succeed. Players and employees come and go, and there are good and bad seasons. “Stuff happens” as the saying goes, but good leadership and a strong organizational culture make all the difference.
Attracting, hiring and retaining talent, and especially leadership talent, is a relentless pursuit. The best talent in the world cannot overcome poor leadership. Just look to the NFL, the worst teams get the first draft picks, yet the problems persist.