Tag Archives: oprah

Lance…On Leadership…On Oprah?

“Do as I say, not as I do” or “do as I do, not as I say”.  Two of the classic, cynical expressions of leadership philosophy.  Neither are flattering of course, yet both are rooted in one of the fundamental truths of leadership…there is saying and there is doing.  And thanks to a quick 30 second exchange between Lance and Oprah (that whole “one name only” theory), we are reminded of that reality that confronts all leaders…you are always setting an example.  You are always leading.

There was a brief period during last nights interview where the topic of leadership came up, and regardless of what one thinks of the entire Lance/doping/cycling/deceit issue, his statements were a huge reminder and caution to everyone in a leadership role.

“…I was the leader of the team and the leader leads by example. There was never a direct order. That never happened. We were all grown men and made our choices. There were team-mates who didn’t dope.”

“…There was a level of expectation. We expected guys to be fit to be able to compete. I’m not the most believable guy in the world right now. If I do it I’m leading by example so that’s a problem.

“I view one as a verbal directive and that didn’t exist. I take that. The leader of the team, the guy that my team-mates looked up to, I accept that 100%.

What is not important is how believable Lance might be.  What is incredibly important is what he said about leadership.  His example set the tone.  He was very clear in what was expected – the team was 100% committed to ensuing Lance won the Tour de France.  He was also very clear in how that would be done – the team would be the most fit.  How each individual rider achieved that level of fitness – well…who knows the full truth.  And that is the leadership lesson, the message does not have to be spoken to be received.

Leadership is obviously about what you say…the vision you communicate, the positive reinforcement and encouragement, the directing and correcting, and all the other spoken, written and even tweeted parts of the verbal message.  “Just get it done”, “We have to reach our goal”, “I can always count on you to make it happen”, “I don’t want to know”, “We have never failed”.   Maybe some version has been said to you, maybe you have used some version of the phrases in a harmless attempt to motivate, inspire or convey a sense of urgency.  Regardless, there is a message there.

Leadership is also about what you do, the example you set and the environment you create.  There is the praise and reward issue…who is being singled out…for good or bad?  Are you turning a blind eye to what had to be done for the result to be achieved?  Is cutting corners okay when it is busy?  Do the ends justify the means?  Who are you adding to the team (hiring)?  Who is leaving the team, and why?  What is the vibe, the environment, the culture?

Leadership is hard.  Even when done poorly, it is not easy.  The phrase “the burden of leadership” is real.  It is real on a host of levels, but one of the very real burdens is that it is a 24/7/365 role.  What you say, what you do, how you do it, with whom you surround yourself, those you praise, the behaviours you reward; it all matters and it is all evaluated by others.  There is no perfect, all-encompassing, easy answer to how one leads.  However, there is no escaping that every aspect of a leaders behaviour and actions, and their message, spoken or implied, are all constantly being evaluated.

So, for the second night in a row, and the second time in my life, I will be purposely tuning in to watch Oprah.  Well, going to the website and streaming it.  Who would have ever imagined, leadership lessons from Lance and logging onto Oprah.com on a Friday evening.  Strange world sometimes…

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The Dichotomy of Lennon

You have to be a bastard to make it, and that’s a fact. And the Beatles are the biggest bastards on earth.
John Lennon

Interesting – we all think of Oprah, The Beatles, and all the other wildly successful entertainers, musicians and artist in the way that they wish to be thought of – benevolent and kind, caring and giving.  However, what we often overlook is that they all posses an unbridled passion to succeed.  To “make it” as John Lennon would say.  And what they ask us to forget is the bastard part.  In doing so a valuable lesson is lost.  Success requires relentless work, focus and drive, as well as a healthy dose of reality – the reality that to a degree you “have to be a bastard to make it”.  Remember – this is John “Give Peace a Chance” Lennon talking.

It is not a contradiction.  In athletes the “killer instinct” is praised.  Michael Jordan was known as the ultimate closer; Kobi Bryant “the assassin”; Lance Armstrong the perfectionist.  We demand it of our athletic champions, yet we do not want to see it or even acknowledge that it just might exist in our entertainers, business leaders and even political leaders.  Dare I say Bill Gates and Warren Buffett for all their public posturing about donating their estates have and had massive reserves of drive and a fair degree of “bastard” in them when it came to their business dealings.

It is not a bad thing having the drive and focus to succeed coupled with the ability to sacrifice and to make the tough, unpopular decisions.  That is the “bastard” trait John Lennon was speaking of from his days with The Beatles.  They had to make tough, cutting, real world business decisions – they had to sacrifice, to work literally thousands of hours, to pour in all they had to become what they became.  It did not make them bad people.  It was business.  Sometimes business and leadership, entertainment and sports, success and achievement requires a bit of the bastard in all of us.  It is not a bad thing.  It is reality.  It is sort of hard to believe – that “bastard” would have been 70 tomorrow.

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Chicago 2016 – Reinforcing the Fundamentals

The announcement of Chicago, and really the United States, early exit from the 2016 Summer Olympic voting offers at least two immediate lessons. Both are timeless lessons in life and business. Fundamentals that seem to trip-up even the most veteran, experienced professionals. Simply put – know your audience and minimize your personal downside.

Clearly I am no expert when it comes to the International Olympic Committee, its members, its mode of operation, or its inner workings and decision making.  Nor am I professing to understand to any significant degree all that goes into bidding for and/or hosting an Olympic Games.  However, what I am very sure of is that there are lessons to be learned for all of us, especially when they are fundamental issues that have just been played out on a very public stage.

Knowing your target market is critical in business and in life.  Every sales presentation, product or service that is designed or marketed, every interview, every interaction is aimed at or positioned towards someone.  It is absolutely critical that the presentation be directed to the decision maker.  One must know who your target market or audience is, what their concerns are, what factors might play into their decision making.  Being sensitive to their paradigm is absolutely critical.  Simply stated, it is about them, not about you.

A great deal was made of the “Chicago delegation” that went to Copenhagen, with special attention given to the presence of Michelle Obama and Oprah Winfrey.  A country’s First Lady – makes perfect sense, she is an individual of consequence on the international stage.  There is great significance in her participation – it demonstrates national level commitment to the ultimate IOC decision makers.  Oprah Winfrey is clearly a powerful presence in American popular culture, of that there is no question.  However – does she impact these particular decision makers?  Is she tied to the Olympic movement, is she an Olympian, a member of their community, a person who holds sway within their world?  Doubtful at best.  To an American audience she matters, but the ultimate decision makers were not an American audience.

It is critical to remember that whenever any of us are debating a decision that involves spending our personal or professional capital, there is potential downside that must be considered.  There is risk in every decision, and taking risks is a necessary part of life and business.  Knowing and honestly evaluating the downside is crucial, arguably of greater importance than evaluating the upside potential.  Managing and minimizing your risk when spending your personal and professional capital is paramount.

Obviously it is easy to say with the benefit of hindsight that the presence and personal pitch of the President to the IOC was not a winning move.  Whether he should have gone to Copenhagen is open to debate and will be critiqued to exhaustion.  Was there upside to the President’s involvement – absolutely.  Was there downside – clearly.  Was there more risk than originally considered – only time will tell. Losing now and again is part of life, part of business – everyone knows and accepts it.  Setting yourself up for big, public, resounding, crushing defeats – never wise.

Though there will never be one simple, all encompassing answer to why the Chicago bid was rejected – was it just Rio’s time, was it a poor sales presentation, was it geographic voting blocks, was it anti-American backlash, IOC bribery issues ala Salt Lake City, or was it W’s fault still – no one will ever know, and in the end it really does not matter.  What is clear is that it is always about the fundamentals.  Life and business are always about the fundamentals. Know your audience and minimize risk.

Never ask the question unless you already know the answer goes the old adage.  The same goes for spending your own political, personal, or professional capital – you better be very sure of what the outcome will be before you throw that blue chip on the table.  Take risks – absolutely.  Calculated risks are even better.  But betting big when you have massive downside exposure is foolish.  In a sales presentation, in an interview, with whatever your product or service might be, whatever relationship scenario you can imagine, it is always about them, not about you.  Ask any Olympian – it is all about the fundamentals.

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