Tag Archives: team

Leadership…Saban Style

“Will visit the leadership piece tomorrow, but…”

Dropped the ball on that one, well at least the tomorrow piece.   Ironic really, two of the traits brought up in Colin Cowherd’s interview of Coach Jim McElwain last week were follow-up and efficiency.  Though I am demonstrating follow-up, I am clearly lacking in efficiency.

On the topic of efficiency, it is the first 2 minutes of the interview where they discuss leadership.  Pleasantries and chit-chat aside, there is so much said about leadership in 90 seconds.  The topic centers around what Jim McElwain learned working for Nick Saban during his 4 years at Alabama.  The tact is more about the misconceptions of Nick Saban as a leader, things such as “workaholic”, “grinder”, “micromanager”, and how Coach Saban actually utilizes some of the classic tenants of effective leadership.

Work Hard.  Notice, it was not “work long”, “live at the office” or some other code phrase for putting the job ahead of everything else in the world.  Coach McElwain even said there is a misconception about Nick Saban as a “grinder” or someone who “works until 2:30 in the morning”.  Working hard is an ethic, it is a manner of conduct, it is an atmosphere that is fostered, and it is something a leader instills in an organization.  It is also something a leader looks for when hiring and building a team…people who have the desire and ethic of hard work.

Be Detailed.  Have a vision.  Have a plan.  Set a calendar.  Pay attention to all aspects of the organization; the large and little things all matter.  Above all, do not waste time.  So simple yet so critical.  A leader can have a great vision, but without detailed planning and execution a vision is nothing more than an idea of what could be, of hope.  The devil as they say, lies in the details.

Be Complete.  The misconception is micromanagement.  There is a massive difference in a leader being complete in what they do, in following-up, in reviewing lessons learned, and in holding people accountable.  Being complete is all about learning what everyone can do better, what is new in the industry and market, where efficiencies can be increased, of being professional.  Micromanagement is about fear, intimidation, and above all lack of trust.

Though the above three traits are classics of leadership, it was the timeless adage of leadership that really caught my ear:  Surround yourself with great people, set the vision, and then trust your people to be creative in their execution of the vision.  The leader does not, nor should not, do it all.  Vision, communication, efficiency, culture and trust.  Those are the things leaders do, and when they do them well, organizations thrive.

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So You Inherited a “Tebow”

As was pointed out by more than just one person yesterday – more often than not you inherit a “Tebow” vice hire a “Tebow”.  The person who made the hiring decision is long gone.  As leaders we typically are in a position to “play the hand we are dealt” vice picking and choosing.  And when one looks at Tim Tebow and the Denver Broncos that is the exact scenario.

So what does one do when they inherit someone else’s project?  It is a huge question – arbitrarily firing someone is typically not an option.  Letting them succeed or fail on their own has a direct impact on you.  Usually a dramatic impact.  As in lose your job impact.  Then again, providing the support, time, mentorship and training might not be entirely viable – the resources just might not exist.  It is a touch situation for all.  There is simply no right answer.

Fortunately most of us do not have to play this situation out on a national stage in a very binary fashion.  However, we must confront the issue.  Ignoring the inheritance is neither prudent nor fair.  The individual is on the team.  How they got there and why is not your issue.  How you and they will work together to find the best scenario for all is the issue…in a timely manner.

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The Dog That Caught Car

Being the outsider, the opposition, the one with the better idea is always easy. The good idea fairy. The one with the great sound bite, the novel approach, the wisdom that can only come from not being the one in charge.  We have seen it all too often in business, the team member who just always knows the right answer…always.  The sports team where the owner, the players, the fans – they all know better than the current coach.  And of course, in politics, entertainment, and just in life in general.

Muslim Brotherhood, GOP or Nancy Pelosi. Ask any of them – it is easy to declare how incompetent and misguided the current leadership is; how terribly wrong things have gone. However, when the pendulum swings, which it always does, the reality of how hard it is sets in…leading is much harder than it looks.

Being the font of “good ideas” and a “better course” are easy roles to take on, and roles in which you will always look good and be loved. Quite literally you can say whatever it is people want to hear. But be warned – someday circumstances will change; the opposition becomes the leader.  It is then that everything gets much harder.

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Addition by Subtraction

Even the most casual observer of the NFL is aware of the Patriots and their blowout of the Jets last night.  After a great deal of hype about “the epic” Monday night match up, the absolute pummeling of the Jets, though impressive, was rather anti-climatic. One thing that was readily apparent is how much better the Patriots have become since they traded away Randy Moss.  It was quite the reminder that sometimes addition by subtraction really does work.

Randy Moss, the future hall of famer and game changing wide receiver, was traded by the Patriots only 4 games into the 2010 season.  No one argues that the man still has loads of talent, skills, and abilities.  What did become very clear was how he was not good for that team.  And in football, as in life and business, Team trumps the individual. No matter what their talent level, their skills, or their production, no one is above the team.  We have been able to watch this lesson play out over the course of this season – the Patriots are thriving and Randy Moss is onto his third team of the year.

It is not the right answer in every scenario, but sometimes addition by subtraction is the right course.  Doing what is best for the team has to be paramount.  If the person with the best sales numbers, the highest rankings, the most visible role, is not bought into the culture and making the team better, it might be time to make a tough choice.  It is a slippery slope, addition by subtraction, but when done for the right reasons, done well, and done with forethought and wisdom, it can be a game changer.

Of course, all of the above said, it sure helps to have one awfully good team already in place, with people ready to pick-up the slack.  Yes, having Tom Brady at quarterback, a host of strong players on the team, and Bill Belichick as head coach does make a difference…just a bit.

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The Spirit of St. Louis…Success

Charles Lindbergh, Lucky Lindy, the Spirit of St. Louis. It seems more the stuff of myth than history.  Especially so in our world of instant communication, just in time inventory and air travel for the masses. However, in 1927 the very idea of flying over the Atlantic was fraught with danger.  It had never been done; was considered impossible by many. One man, alone, in a single engine plane did the impossible.  He did it with less than 6 months of planning.  He found financial backers in a midwest town.  Engaged an unknown firm to design and build the plane. Had little to no press coverage, a relatively minimal budget, and no marquee names involved.  It was an absolutely astonishing achievement and an outstanding lesson in business and life.

So what can we learn from a flight that was done over 80 years ago, from a book that was published almost 60 years ago?  Foremost, keep it simple.  Lindbergh’s project checklist was in effect 5 items – a reliable engine, enough gas to get there, a plane that could lift the engine and fuel, a course to steer, and financial backers. Done.  Incredible, and so telling. Think about bringing that thought process back. Everything is so over analyzed. Lindbergh kept it simple, focused on what really mattered, and quite literally scrapped the rest.  No extraneous noise, no distractions.

And the team – what a perfect group.  Lindbergh was the pilot – he dealt with all the plane stuff – make the decisions based on what was required to do the flight. The business leaders and backers in St. Louis, they raised the money and trusted in Lindbergh.  So amazingly simple and so effective.  Trust those on the team to do their job.   And contrast that with the other teams who were competing to be the first to fly the Atlantic.  They built behemoth albatrosses for planes and organizations that were highly political and driven by committees and egos who all fought for credit.  They all failed.

The Spirit of St. Louis” won the Pulitzer Prize in 1953 and is considered a classic tale of aviation and adventure; that alone make it a must read.  However, it is above all a tale of what a person can achieve when they have a dream, a plan, a team, and focus.  It is a lesson for everyone in business, for anyone that has a project to manage, a team to lead, a goal to achieve.  In the end it is a reminder to keep it simple.  Focus on what matters.  Ignore the nay sayers and doubters, the so-called experts and their egos.  Surround yourself with good people – people you trust and who trust you.  Basic, simple, tried and true lessons – lessons for business and lessons for life.

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An Even, Steady Strain

The excitement of the crowd – the very large and animated crowd – was infectious.  There were bands, people in costume, casual fans and zealots.  There was even the classic “devil” running along the course, complete with cape and pitch fork.  The riders were quite literally caked in mud, riding over hills, running up stairs, leaping over barricades, jumping over curbs, slipping, sliding and wrecking along a wet, icy and technical course.  They were generally putting themselves and their machines through every sort of physical stress possible with reckless abandon and unbridled passion.  It was a sight to behold, and one full of lessons in leadership, business, life and relationships.  It was the Cyclocross National Championships in Bend Oregon.

It became clear as we watched multiple races throughout the weekend – chains would break and components would fail.  Make no mistake, these bikes and components are built to withstand an incredible amount of pressure and force.  They literally can go for tens of thousands of miles under the most demanding situations and never fail.  However, when the chain and components are placed under excessive AND abrupt strain, there were failures.  Dramatic, entertaining, and glorious failures with riders and bikes strewn about the course.

It is easy to spot the person with a broken chain – they are running along the course with their bike hanging over their shoulder.  Riders zipping past and one person running along looking less than happy.  It seemed to always happen at points where the course became very technical and physically demanding, but was preceded by a section where the rider had been able to relax, for the chain to go slack.  A point where maximum force was harshly applied to the drive train.  If things were not aligned properly and slack not taken out of the chain evenly, the system would quite often fail.

Abrupt, harsh, excessive strain will quite often overload the best system.  Teams, people, software, processes, relationships or the drive train on a cyclocross bike – too much demand applied too quickly is never good.  Sometimes the system can take it, but called on too often to perform in extremis, failure often results.  Steady strain on the chain is clearly a key to success in bike racing.  Those who won the races never had mechanical failures.  They raced the course in an aggressive and focused manner, always mindful of their equipment.  Always aware that a well-maintained and prepared machine can withstand a steady strain, but too harsh of a demand can result in catastrophic failures.

And so it is with teams and processes, leadership and relationships.  Ask for too much too quickly without thinking about the consequences, and even the best system can and will fail.  Allowing the system or team, relationship or process to build up too much slack is never wise.  Maintenance and nurturing, focusing and thinking ahead – it avoids putting yourself and others in extremis.  Cyclocross racing and broken chains – a lesson in the value of an even, steady strain.  Besides, who wants to run several miles with their bike, though the fans clearly appreciate the effort.  Especially the guy in the devil costume.

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