Just the Facts, Ma’am

Anyone remember Dragnet?  Sergeant Friday would interview witnesses of some sort of crime and was simply looking for what happened in fact and now what was based on assumption and hearsay.  This classic show was a staple of my entertainment when was very young.  In the sports world there is a growing trend toward focusing more heavily on the facts, the statistics.  In the movie, Moneyball, Oakland A’s general manager Billy Beane is portrayed as an executive who analyzed past stats as a way to put his team together in a methodical, logical way.  He focused on the team’s needs and used what would become termed “sabermetrics” to put his team together.  He tried to take some of the emotion and assumption out of his decisions for the betterment of his franchise.

Some teams in the National Football League follow this practice.  The Dallas Cowboys under Tom Landry used computers years ago to analyze players and their contributions each Sunday.  There has been some talk that Doug Marrone and Doug Whaley of the Buffalo Bills have moved in that direction.  Many organizations, agencies and businesses as asking for the same thing…just the facts.  Evidence-based practice is a critical component to the success of many businesses and non-profits.  Any statistician would tell you that the facts tell stories.  In fact, the numbers often tell THE story.

Does this mean that intuition and instinct play no part in decision making? Of course, not.  Humans will always make decisions based on feel.  The issue at hand is not whether executives and managers should ignore their feelings when they make decisions.  That will never and should not happen.  The bigger question is whether anyone has taken the time to research the facts surrounding their decisions.  Are they asking questions like, ‘Is this an outdated form or procedure?’  How are they defining success?  Are certain forms no longer serving their intended functions?  If so, why?  The biggest questions can often be answered by analyzing facts and numbers.

When you miss the facts, you put your organization in jeopardy. Doing things “the way they have always been done” without asking the critical questions regarding efficacy and understanding what the facts are saying and defining success is asking for failure.  Evidence-based practice is here to stay.  Sergeant Friday would be so pleased.

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All That Glitters is Not Gold

There is this temptation to believe that the grass is greener on the other side of the fence.  We peer over and it sure looks nice.  It is bright green and neatly mowed.  We ask ourselves why our grass is like hay; brown and unruly.  This vilification of what we have and romanticization of what we don’t have affects so many parts of our lives: our relationships, our buying habits, where we want to live, and our career choices.  If I could land this or that job, then…   If I could only work for that boss or have that employee, then…  It really never ends.

In the workplace, we take a new job with rose colored glasses.  This will be our last job until we hang up our calculators.  Then, what happens? The bloom falls off the rose.  That ideal boss is weird.  That great hire takes 90 minute lunches.  That lucrative sales’ territory dries up.  Then, it happens, the attitude shift.  Our job stinks.  Our boss is a turkey.  Our new hire…  We are at it again.  We look for something new, something better, something with glitz.  We vilify our current situation.  That previously well-manicured lawn looks burnt and dead.

This does not happen to everyone, but it happens enough to give cause for concern.  Contentment seems one better choice away.  Here’s the deal.  There is a reason that you have your current job, maybe the person before you stunk.  Maybe your company wanted to shake things up and you’re the test dummy.  Maybe some great person retired.  Maybe the company was growing and they needed someone to take all the difficult accounts.  No matter what, you are going into a difficult situation and you don’t know why at first.  You show up with your Pierre Cardin tie in place and shoes shined, but in the minds of everyone else on the job, you are the new guy.  You are walking into an organization made up of imperfect people.  Welcome to humanity, newbie!

Instead of stepping on the bloom that just fell off the rose, try improving the place you were hired to support in some way.  They wanted you because they knew that they couldn’t do it alone.  Expect imperfection and be part of the solution instead of just adding to the problem.  All that glitters is not gold.  Sometimes it’s just shiny stuff.

 

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The Big Book of Management, An Excerpt

I am a contributing author to The Big Book of Management.  Here is part of my contribution.  Contact me about ordering today.

 ”Management has been defined in many ways. It can mean supervising or guiding a group of people to a desired end.  It involves systems and resources and is ultimately about producing results.  This, of course, makes sense to anyone who is familiar with the topic.  Whether someone is a shift manager at the local mini-mart or part of an upper-management team in a multinational corporation, management is about engaging and empowering people, the most valuable resource, to succeed.

My understanding of management and leadership comes predominantly from the fields, courts, gridirons, and rinks of America.  I have been involved in sports since I was in elementary school in Orange County, California, with the South Sunrise Little League.  I had coaches that could convince their players to run through a brick wall for them.  I had other coaches that couldn’t convince a parched person in the desert to accept free lemonade.  For some of us, our earliest examples of how to lead and manage others were parents, teachers, or troop leaders.  I understood management and leadership in terms of coaching.  Coaches guided people, managed resources, and got results.  Management IS coaching.

 Coaches come in many shapes and sizes.  Some only speak when they see mistakes.  Others are like cheerleaders who never seem to run out of compliments.  Some expect perfection.  Others are satisfied with great efforts.  Sadly, the worst just don’t seem to care either way.  As a parent of a teen who has played sports for years, I have seen it all.  I remember the first time I saw my daughter play softball for a certain coach.  Before she came to bat, he said, “Come on, I believe in YOU!”  I thought he was very encouraging. This coach was going to be especially supportive of my daughter and bring out the best in her.  As the game progressed, I realized that he said this to every girl as she came to bat.  “Come on, I believe in YOU!”  Game after game, it was the same.  Parents started mimicking his patented line.  The poor coach lost his team early on because he did not vary his tune.  What seemed to be so encouraging had become trite and overused.  Coaching can be very frustrating.

As a former chaplain in the National Football League, I experienced four coaches who could not have been more different.  From 1995-2005, the Jets went from the bottom of the barrel to consistent playoff contenders.  Four coaches guided the franchise from great ignominy to respectability.  Each had his style and experienced various levels of success.  Through it all, I kept mental notes.  The NFL is one of the most highly competitive businesses in the world.  Each year the League crowns one winner and has a host of also-rans.  Millions of people evaluate a team’s performance in real time.  The League is about winning and losing, and losers don’t stick around long.  Good coaching is at a premium.  Highly talented teams with poor coaching do not win.  Teams with average talent and superior coaching can win it all.  This was never so true during my time in The Big Apple.”

 

 

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Unequally Yoked, When You Find Kinks in Your Chain of Command

When one thinks of chain of command, it is usually in the context of the military.  You know, the private reports to the corporal and so on.  In the corporate world, the usual vertical chain of command has been replaced in many cases by a flatter model that emphasizes the task rather than the reporting relationship.  Yet, the vertical model still is in use by many companies and organizations and most likely will never become extinct.

The vertical chain of command can be very effective, most notably in any industry where immediate decisions must be made.  When it comes to where to place troops on a battlefield, or what play to run during a game, consensus building will never work.  Someone has to make the call…now.  The chain of command model has its drawbacks, particularly when it comes to unequal relationships.  This means that often subordinates are required to work cross functionally with those who are above them in pay grade, status, and unfortunately, ego.  Teams don’t function well when those in charge can pick and choose when to “call rank” during a given project or initiative.  Often these subordinates are also more capable and competent than their upper level counterparts because promotion is too often based on seniority and not ability.

This creates an uneven playing field that kills creativity and productivity.  The key is to promote those who are most competent and do not create teams with equal responsibility but unequal authority.  Does this mean that senior and junior level executives never work together? No, but it does mean that when they do work together, they see themselves as equals in the process.  The end goal must be the driver and not the egos, titles, and protected self interests of those with rank.

Leading others is not about directing missives at the minions, but rather coming alongside those in a righteous pursuit.  Leaders and followers are equal in value, but carry different roles.  Ask yourself, am I the kind of leader who intimidates others by my rank or the type that engages others as valuable members of a winning team?

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Leading with Boundaries

Two days ago I was riding my mountain bike through our local eleven mile bike path and saw a young child riding toward me with her father behind her on his bike.  As I pedaled closer to the child, I noticed that she was drifting in front of me.  I had to swerve off the path to avoid her.  Thankfully, I missed her, but her dad said an interesting thing to her.  He said, “Now, you will have a time out when you get home.”  It was as if her drifting toward me caused her to be disciplined at home.  I felt badly for her.  I got her in trouble?

My guess is that her father had been reminding her to stay on her side of the path and was finally tired of it.  It reminded me that so much of leading is setting boundaries for those we lead.  Setting goals and motivating others can only go so far if people go off course and stray.  I see this all the time.  I see people who either don’t know their job description or know it and simply ignore their role in  their organization.  In football, it takes just one person to veer off course and cause a play to blow up.  Employees who ignore boundaries duplicate services, cause division, and create distractions.  Some must be continually refocused.  They exhaust those to whom they report.

We had a saying with the Jets. “Know your role, do your job.”  Overstepping boundaries may appear assertive and diligent, but it actually destroys teams.  Two cornerbacks covering one receiver leaves another receiver wide open.  Find people in your organization who are team players and who can stick with the plan without squashing their ingenuity and creativity.  Winning teams do this.

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Is the League in Decline?

The events surrounding the arrest of Aaron Hernandez brings up an important point.  Is the National Football League in decline because of the behavior of its most cherished resources, its players?  Hernandez, the Patriots star tight end was released shortly after his arrest last week in Massachusetts on murder charges.  Once again the police blotter surrounding off-season activities is full. Seems as if half of the teams have one or more players in legal trouble.  How will affect the League in the midst of the rebirth of the NBA and the growth of the NHL?

The League has always had its share of dubious characters.  In the past, players were chided for gambling, womanizing, and using foul language.  Yet, the “me” culture so prevalent today has produced new types of citizens, even those who play on the gridiron.  Allegations of assault and murder are becoming more common among NFL players.  Whether this is the simple byproduct of a more violent society is up for conjecture.  The fact is that the League has an image problem because its players and coaches have behavior problems.  They have  behavior problems because they have character issues.

You can’t fudge on character.  Either you are the same person around everyone or in secret or you are not.  Of course we are all flawed in some way, but great leaders help those with noticeable, catastrophic flaws. They help them create behavioral boundaries and hold them accountable to develop the needed skills to deal with those flaws in character.  I don’t know Aaron Hernandez, but I do know that the League must address the character of its characters and it starts at the top.  Great leaders make great leaders.

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Stakeholder Theory and NFL Referees

As a graduate student I am bombarded with theory that makes sense on paper, but I wonder how it plays out in the real world.  Stakeholder theory is simple to understand and it works in practice.  It makes sense in the library and on the street.  It says that  businesses need to consider everyone who has a stake in the company’s success or is affected by the business.  Businesses can no longer just be concerned about what customer’s think, but they need to care about their employees, the community, etc.  The NFL seems to have forgotten that they have a whole list of stakeholders that they must cater to.  The current labor situation with the referees is a prime example of this.  I was watching the game Monday  night and the replacement referees seemed to have lost control of the game.  There were long periods of inaction.  Frankly, I was about to turn the channel to watch “I Love Lucy” reruns.  It became tedious watching grown men stare at each other.

The NFL needs to understand that the game IS the product and that there are multiple stakeholders that need to be satisfied:  the players, the referees, the owners, the fans, the television networks.  These referees are hurting the brand and alienating a broad spectrum of constituents.  This is not just about labor issues.  It is about upsetting most of their stakeholders.  The NFL needs to realize that alienating fans and players for the sake of a few bucks is not worth it.  As fans turn to ME TV and the ratings go down and the advertising revenues go down and the profits go down, the League will realize that the quality of the brand is the most important thing.  OOOPS!

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Curtis Martin, Hall-of-Famer, Servant Leader

I had the great pleasure of attending the Hall-of-Fame Enshrinement Ceremony for Curtis Martin in Canton, Ohio, a couple of weeks ago.  What a great experience!  It was one of the highlights of my professional life.  Curtis Martin gave a memorable acceptance speech that you should watch http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lQ8urqSGCQg.  Curtis certainly deserves the be in the Hall, but not just for what he did on the field.  He was the ultimate leader, on and off the field.  He was always putting others ahead of himself.  He was the guy who would help the team staff pick up laundry after practice.  He was the guy who would shake everyone’s hand before the game.  He was the guy who led our prayer group just before games.  He was the guy who gave to charitable causes like it was going out of style.  He was and is a servant leader.  He led by example and by word.

Robert Greenleaf first coined the phrase “Servant Leader” years ago. For centuries, people have led from the heart and influenced others to accomplish great things.  Curtis is one of those people who serves first and then leads.  His leading is not a call to action based on threats or diluted promises, but is founded in humility and service.  Congratulations to Curt for his inspirational message, his words and his life.

 

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Job Satisfaction and Affirmation

With the beginning of training camp I am reminded of the precarious nature of life in the NFL.  There are so few spots for so many players.  I recall one high draft pick who was a star in Division 2.  He never played much for the Jets and he was always complaining that the coaches were out to get him and that they did not like him.  I never understood this.  His coaches wanted him to do well out of self interest.  If he played well, they would look good.  They didn’t want him to fail because when he failed, it would look bad for the coaches and team executives.

He just was never satisfied.  He was very sensitive to criticism.  Don’t try to play in the NFL with thin skin!  As his short career in New York continued, he became more dissatisfied with his treatment.  He was the type of person who needed to be affirmed and valued constantly and the NFL is not a place of mutual care and concern.  It is a highly competitive business.  The coaches would have been better served to understand the personal needs of this player.  He was extremely talented and widely regarded coming out of college and could have helped the team win more games.

The lesson to be learned here is to understand your subordinates.  Take time to get to know each one personally.  The more they believe you care about them personally, the better workers they will be.  If they believe that you care, then they will be less likely to look for other employment and will have lower rates of absenteeism.  They will be more productive.  Support your employees and they will support you.  Treat your employees like you would all important stakeholders.  They are an extension of your leadership.

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Hurdles

In April, I was diagnosed with blood clots in my lungs and in my leg.  I had not felt well for almost a year.  I am ready to begin blogging again about leadership issues.  I am more than halfway through my master’s studies in Management and Leadership.  I am feeling much better than I have in months.  Life has taught me so many lessons lately that I am eager to share.  Life is full of hurdles and as a leader you will face many challenges.  You will be remembered as much for your victories during turbulent times than you will for anything else.  As you consider your career and the challenges you face, remember that it is your resilience that will define you.  We work in an environment of constant change in both the business environment and in society as a whole.  How you handle these changes will determine the success of your leadership and career.

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