the wrong “right thing”

September 29, 2008 at 11:15 am | Posted in Business, Professional Development | 1 Comment
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How long do you fight the good fight, when you realize that things need to change, but that you are not going to be able to change them? When do you stop trying? How do you know success isn’t just one month away? How long do you fight to be an agent of change when you can’t control all the changes that are made? The bigger the company, and the lower you are on an org chart, the more interesting those questions become.

When I left coaching at Trinity, a top-25 nationally ranked school, I had a set of ideas on what was the “right” way to do things. And, I *was* right given my surroundings. When I went to CAL, a brand new program with 1/5th the players, it became quite a different story. I had to abandon what I knew was “right” at Trinity in lieu of what we could “execute” at CAL. We spent the first year crawling; spoon feeding them everything. We spent year 2 walking. In year 3 we started to jog, and in year 4&5 we were able to run. But it was a long process of education, building confidence, trust, and putting in things a little at a time.

I was just starting at CAL and meeting with an older coaching buddy of mine who had retired a few years back. I’m whizzing away on the board with the schemes and style I wanted to implement. He sat back and said, “Looks fantastic. Now put player names above the x’s and o’s.” So I did. Then he asked, “Can those names do what those lines are telling them to?” They couldn’t. That’s when I realized I needed to start by teaching them to crawl before we did anything else.

What’s “right” in theory can get screwed up really quickly when the reality doesn’t give you the tools you need. Maybe the most philosophically sophisticated saying of all applies here: “Don’t try and teach a pig to sing. You just frustrate yourself and irritate the pig.” Know your environment and adapt accordingly.

unity and diversity – part 2

September 23, 2008 at 3:10 pm | Posted in Business, Professional Development | Leave a comment
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Continuing on some earlier thoughts on trying to be diverse and maintain unity…

With college football now in full swing, I can’t help but turn to my beloved sport for yet another analogy.  Football, to me, is the greatest example in sports of unity and diversity.  One team, one objective, but many different sub-teams, each with their own unique battles, all working together for a win. I think it’s pretty clear why diversity is imperative to success.  Having one person try to run everything just doesn’t work in a fast moving game — or fast moving business for that matter.  You’ve got to trust the people you put in place to make good choices.

But what of unity?  Unity avoids anarchy, inefficiency, and unhealthy internal competition by getting all those parts moving toward a common direction.  When they *know* the common direction, it actually adds a ton of morale to the individual efforts.  I’m not a big fan of hidden objectives unless they are absolutely necessary.  So the head coach needs to inform, inspire, and evaluate each of the individual units to ensure the overall objectives are being met, then work with the position coaches to make the necessary changes.

This stuff sounds so easy, but it’s anything but.  Take it for granted and odds are you will end up with inefficiencies all over the place.  Moreover, internal competitions can shred morale.  Here again, I think we’re back to people.  Communication, cooperation, energy, passion, teamwork.  These are the things that are incredibly difficult to sustain at maximum levels.  Throw in a distributed team and it can get even more challenging.  But like most things that are difficult to do, the rewards are great.

unity and diversity

September 11, 2008 at 4:54 pm | Posted in Business | 2 Comments
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Being someone who takes a passionate (albeit EXTREMELY novice) interest in philosophy, I recognize that the relationship of unity and diversity is an age old philosophical question.  Science, too, with its search for a unifying theory wrestles engages it as well.  But one of the books I’m currently reading, D-Day by Stephen Ambrose, also has me thinking about it from a business perspective.

In one chapter, Ambrose juxtaposes two of the main leaders surrounding D-Day, Eisenhower and Rommel.  For all of the alleged “order” imposed by the Nazi’s, according to Ambrose, their command and control structure was one of “divide and rule”.  Hitler never wanted any of his commanders to be too powerful, or to have too much knowledge.  Conversely, it was stated the Eisenhower was given far more comprehensive control, which meant that he didn’t have to face many of the logistical and coordination challenges that Rommel did.  OK, made plenty of sense to me and seems rather intuitive.  Then I got to the part about how the Allied forces were planning the actual invasion.

At higher levels, the temptation to reach down to solve lower echelons’ problems was great, but it was overcome.  General de Guingand explained, “At first we tried to discover a school solution to the composition of the assault waves … but after the first training rehearsal we decided the notion of a single formula was nonsense and we let the particular assault section solve its own problem.” -p.108

So when given total control, Eisenhower and his team were smart enough to realize it was necessary to have independently running divisions making their own decisions based on their own challenges to achieve their own objectives.  In business, we face this strategical problem over and over and over again.  A lot to unpack here, but too much for a single post.  More later…

be ready to walk alone

August 14, 2008 at 7:33 am | Posted in Business, Professional Development | 2 Comments
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Having friends and a support network is great. The benefits are too many to list in simple blog post. But today I was thinking about the opposite situation. The times when you simply need to be prepared to walk alone.

I’ve often heard folks get very disappointed when nobody “has their back” during a controversial decision or discussion. Just recently, I sent out an email in response to something from our CEO. He initially sent it to about 20 people. I responded to the entire list with my thoughts, and five people supported me. Privately. That is, they responded to me directly with things like, “Way to go, big man!” or “I couldn’t agree more” but nobody posted that to the group. Within a day, I had the exact same thing happen to me again.

My first thoughts on them not backing me publicly were probably pretty typical, but then I realized, hey, it’s OK. In fact, it’s an opportunity. Along with the 1,304,102 other cliche’s coaches use is the one that says “Great accomplishments never come without great adversity.” It is risky to walk alone sometimes, but like most things, that risk can bring great reward — or great failure. Either way, if your convictions are strong, sometimes you can’t worry about who’s willing to do step out there with you.

one bad apple

August 12, 2008 at 9:09 pm | Posted in Professional Development | Leave a comment
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About five years ago I was coaching against a guy who, quite frankly, I just flat out disliked. I thought he had no class, was living vicariously through his kids, and was teaching his team things that were antithetical to what I wanted to teach our high schoolers. Over time, I projected that same attitude towards his players and fellow coaches. I learned how wrong this was when a week after the game I got a letter from one of their players. He wrote to say that he wished he could play on a team like ours and what a struggle it was to play under his current coach, and that he wasn’t alone. It was humbling. And it was a good lesson.

My three daughters are from China. Through the course of their adoptions, we’ve gotten to know dozens and dozens of Chinese people on a fairly personal level. Trust me when I say that I have my issues with China’s governmental policies on many levels. Some more personal than others. Yet when I got to know the people, I realized again how wrong it was to lump the masses in with the leadership.

I know from experience the same is true in business. It’s easy to label someone as “the same” as their departmental stereotype or their leadership.  Evaluating each person, as a person, and on their own merits is very time consuming and painstaking, but I have been reminded in many times, and many ways, that it is the right thing to do.

when the boss parachutes in

August 6, 2008 at 7:35 am | Posted in Business, Professional Development | Leave a comment
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Here is something that I both do, and hate, depending on which side of the org chart I happen to be on at the time: the parachute mission. I haven’t been involved with the details of a product for several months and then suddenly, for any number of reasons, I want to use it so I download it and dive in. I immediately have about 500 things I would like to see done differently and I can hear the collective sigh of my team from around the globe. Everyone from developers to PM’s to marketing folks are likely muttering, “here we go again.” Why do I think that? Because I often have that same initial reaction when our CEO packs his chute and descends into something I’m working on!

Here is a great one that you may have already seen by Bill Gates. I’ve tried over the last year especially to not let my first reaction be defensive. I try to look at as if it was direct user feedback, but a user who is not in our typical profile. I find that more often than not, there is something really valuable in the parachute mission.

is apathy a personality type?

August 5, 2008 at 7:53 am | Posted in Professional Development | 3 Comments
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Lately me and some coworkers have had several conversations around those personality profiling tests (like DISC). I found it interesting that one of the attributes that it listed for my personality type was something to the effect of “gets frustrated when others circumvent or disregard authority.”

That would explain my utter disgust at things like being on an airplane and watching folks totally ignore requests to turn off electronic equipment. Or, just the other day I hit one of my favorites. We landed in Dallas, Tx, and it was 105-degrees. They asked that everyone put down the window shades to keep the plane cool for the next flight. About 60% did. Then they asked AGAIN when they saw how many were still up. Maybe another 10% acted. I reached over people and started closing them myself in the rows I could reach.

OK, so if that’s my personality type, I guess that explains it. But the question I’m asking myself is, “who WOULD be OK with that?” Is there a personality type that says, “This person is OK with everyone doing their own thing and not being civil to each other or obedient to authority.” At first I answered, “well, obviously those people!” However, I’ll bet dollars to donuts (which with today’s weak dollar might not be a bad exchange rate!) that there are things that utterly fry those people who choose not to turn off their equipment or shut the windows.

I do know this, it’s these kinds of differences in people that keep life interesting in the business world as well. Despite the many similarities, this is one area where coaching is different than work. I don’t think many HR departments in most countries would condone responding to a rebellious attitude by running the person until they threw up.

found a problem? fix it.

July 30, 2008 at 12:07 pm | Posted in Professional Development | 2 Comments
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Was listening to an interview with Michael Dell the other day (can’t find the link now) where he was asked about the best advice he had ever received since starting his business in high school.  He said that it was from a college professor who told him, “When you find a problem, fix it right away.”

Sounds pretty simple.  Almost too simple.  But I know from personal experience how difficult it can be.  Recently I’ve had a couple of situations in my personal and professional life that caused me to wonder how things might have been differently had I acted to fix the problems I found immediately.  Of course, there’s no way to know for sure, but all things considered, I think I will win more than I lose by following the advice.

It’s not always easy though, because sometimes fixing problems have ramifications.  Sometimes serious ones.  Fixing a broken door handle and fixing a situation where, say, you know that a friend is being dishonest at work, come with very different sets of baggage.  That’s what makes the choices hard.

In coaching, I fell prey to delayed action many times.  Maybe I liked a kid and didn’t want to yank him from a starting role.  Maybe I didn’t want to hear the gripes of a parent.  Maybe I didn’t want to fight the red tape of the school administration.  There were plenty of things that delayed what I knew deep down to be right.  I’ve recently had to remind myself that they rarely, if ever, end well — in coaching, business, or life.  Take ’em on as early as possible.

does bottom-up leadership work?

July 23, 2008 at 10:52 am | Posted in Professional Development | 5 Comments
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Over lunch today, I read an interesting story that talks about how former college football powers Florida State and Miami are both trying to recapture their dominance, and how both are doing it with player-led committees.  The idea is to get players to take responsbility and become an active part of the plan for success.  All sounds great.  But from my personal experience as a college player and a high school coach, it doesn’t seem to work.

When things get to the point where players are forming committees, there is an underlying message there, which is “our leadership is no longer relevant.”  I wish it wasn’t the case, but again, from 5 years of college ball and 13 years of coaching, it almost always seems to fall short of the goal.  Something — and it’s hard to put my finger on just what — but something has gone wrong with the leadership when things like this happen in a way that appears to be a REPLACEMENT FOR, not an COMPLIMENT TO, strong leadership from the top.

The strongest teams I’ve been on, coached, or played against, have had a combination of both, but in every case, it was FAR more tilted to the top-down leadership being the stronger pull of the two.  Within that framework of strong top-down leadership, it was a privilege to be allowed to form a smaller, sub-leadership team to help the cause.  That’s the “compliment to”.  But you never doubted the ultimate source of your teams strength.  Paradoxically, acknowledging that strength actually strengthened the individual players. 

This one has caused me a moment of pause to think about how (if) this concept applies to the business world.  Would be interested in any comments here, publically on the blog, or emailed to me privately.

Authority vs Leadership

March 30, 2008 at 5:55 am | Posted in Professional Development | 2 Comments
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There is one universal truism in football practice. Coaches will make players run. A lot. It’s just part of what needs to happen to get into shape, and near as I can tell, no player is very excited about it. When I was playing college football, we had a coach who was “old school” and believed in intense conditioning, so we ran. And ran. And ran. Then ran some more. In defense to what we clearly saw as oppression, we had a saying:

“You can run me long, but you can’t run me hard.”

That is one of the clearest ways I know to illustrate the interplay (or lackthereof) between Authority and Leadership. The first part of the saying, “You can run me long”, was an admission that we were, in fact, under their authority. They controlled our scholarships and had the power to kick us off the team if we ever became too insubordinate. But the last part of the saying, “but you can’t run me hard”, was a pledge that they could not break our will. We would find a way to adhere to the letter of the law, but never allow them to get out of it what they really wanted, which was to run us HARD, as well as long.

This is about the best (or the worst, depending on how you look at it) example of Authority without Leadership. Many times in our careers, we long for authority. Most people believe if they just had the authority to do things they way they wanted, success would surely follow. But not so fast. Just because you can tell someone what to do, doesn’t mean they will do it they way that you intend. While you may get someone to follow you to the letter of your law, you will likely none of what you expect in terms of commitment, creativity, energy, and passion.

That is the cold world of Authority when it is absent its compliment: Leadership.

If I had to pick between the two, I would choose to be a Leader rather than one in Authority. First of all, I believe that’s simply the way you should treat people. Second, I think it’s more rewarding. Third, and maybe most important, I believe it is tons more effective. And in terms of career aspirations, true Leaders rarely are out looking for a job. I’ve seen those in Authority get cut at the drop of a hat during a budget crunch. Leaders are usually far too valuable to let go.

When I became a football coach, like all coaches before me, I had to run my kids. But I never forgot the saying we carried around with us when I was a player, and I never wanted my players to feel that way. Unless they were insane, they would never *enjoy* running, but I wanted them to trust me that it was for a reason that would ultimately lead to their benefit. I wanted their hearts as well as their obedience. It takes time and a lot of work to build that kind of relationship. But that is the kind of relationship every leader should strive for, whether in the locker room or the executive meeting room.

How we can work toward building those kinds of relationships will be the subject of many discussions in this forum.

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