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That Leadership Bench Won’t Grow Itself

by Bill Catlette

7/4/18

 

Better than half of newly appointed, first-time business leaders fail in their first two years, resulting in their removal from position, either voluntary or otherwise. I hesitate to wonder how many more are left to quietly and more slowly drown on their own.

 

If new doctors failed at that same rate, hospitals might find it necessary to build larger morgues to temporarily house their mistakes. In the business world, we wonder about persistently low employee engagement levels and why, in an era when there are more microchips deployed than ever, our national productivity growth rate remains mired in the basement. Subprime leadership from ill-prepared managers has a lot to do with it.

 

By the time a new physician is allowed to practice medicine on their own in the U.S., they will have completed seven to twelve years of post-grad medical education, complete with certified, hands-on training, medical residency, and strict licensure protocols. By contrast, elevation to a leadership role in most organizations (including healthcare) is a lot quicker. It often goes something like this: When there is an entry level management position vacancy, the job will often be awarded to a team member who is recognized by virtue of their production, seniority, or butt kissing skills, not necessarily in that order. Overlooking the fact that moving from individual contributor to leader is one of the hardest career transitions to make, the promotee is often informed of the good news on Friday, and told, “You’ve got all weekend to get ready.”

 

Though I am a strong proponent of promoting from within, we owe these people more, a lot more than simply blessing them with corporate holy water before we put them in charge of a significant chunk of our business, and ten other humans. Aside from seeing to it that they possess requisite factory-installed leadership qualities like judgment, courage, resilience, and humility, there are at least four other things that they need to be working on from day one (preferably before).

 

  1. Learning to be a good listener. Many new leaders want to work on their presentation skills (likely the result of having endured some really crummy presentations), and they should, but far more leaders flame out because of bad listening skills.
  2. Becoming a master of their time and priorities. First and 2nd level leaders spend most of their day drinking thru a firehose, with more stuff coming at them then they can ever digest. If they don’t quickly become a master of their priorities, they will drown. Part of the battle in managing one’s priorities pertains to having the courage and the wisdom to say “No” to things that belong on someone else’s plate or whose time has not yet come. At the core, managers get paid to think, and if there is no thinking time available to them, they cannot succeed.
  3. Realizing that leadership is not about them. Repeat, it is not about them. Rather, it’s about the mission, and the team. “First, you feed the troops.”
  4. Developing good methods by which they might properly recruit, select, and coach top quality teammates. For some crazy reason, most of us seem to assume that these skills are factory installed. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Two thoughts about meeting this need: First, when pinned down about things that keep them awake at night, CEO’s invariably list the relative shortness of their leadership bench, to wit, if an honest review of your learning and development strategy and associated budget doesn’t reveal serious attention being committed to leader development, you’ve got real work to do.

 

Second, and more immediately, please don’t let another day pass without shoring up the support mechanisms for newly promoted leaders. Make that one of your priorities. If, like many you lack the internal resources to deliver even the aforementioned modicum of new leader development at the point of need, seriously consider pairing emerging leaders with professional leadership coaches, who can act as their Sherpa for portions of the journey.

 

Whatever path you choose, get on with it. Time is not your friend, that bench isn’t growing by itself, and competitors are gnawing away at it.

Leadership Is About Blood, Sweat, Fears, and Occasional Tears

by Bill Catlette

Memphis 6/21/18 

In the time that I’ve served in a leadership role, in both for profit and non-profit venues, I have tried mightily to operate with a short list of simple, understandable maxims, like…

 

  • Take pains to hire adults, and treat them as such
  • Ensure that, from day one, everyone on the team understands and shares our mission, values, and priorities
  • Set high expectations for everyone (especially leaders) for conduct and performance
  • Care about people, and act like it, even when the wheels are coming off

 

Do these guardrails completely preclude making mistakes and hitting bumps in the road? Of course not. Every successful journey involves some potholes, but also a lot of unmitigated joy at being able to do great work while in the company of capable and Committed (capital ‘C’ intentional) teammates. Here are a handful of ideas that make that a little more possible:

 

Leaders Need to Be Blood Donors

Part of my deal with teammates is that as long as you’re behaving lawfully, as an adult, and doing what you genuinely believe to be “the right thing”, I will have your back, period. More than a few times I’ve had to back that up and endure a visit to the corporate woodshed because we made a mistake, and someone above me in the food chain wanted to see some blood. Fair enough. I believe that leaders, at every level, should be frequent blood donors for good causes. But in return, over the years I have gotten the full measure of effort and Commitment from hundreds of people who otherwise might not have been so generous. As a result, we’ve generally earned a reputation for getting more done, and had fun (mostly) doing it. If as a leader you’re not operating with at least one warning letter in your file, you’re probably not risking enough skin. 

 

Sweat

Leadership is about sweating the little stuff, like:

 

Finding out how your people learn best - Out of respect for the different adult learning styles, I suggest strongly that leaders make it a point to learn early on (pre-hire) what the career / developmental aspirations and preferred learning style are for every potential new hire. Understanding (really understanding) how people learn best is just as important as knowing what they need or want to learn. Do they want to take in new information via the ears, the printed word, a demonstration, or a concrete experience? Paying attention to this small point will enhance the learning experience for everyone, while accelerating the process.

 

Getting new people engaged in their work ASAP - For two decades, our employee surveys have given credence to the notion that new employees often lose a lot of their verve during the first year on the job, so getting the on-boarding thing right is vital. Beginning on day one, if not sooner, give people the opportunity and encouragement to learn by getting immersed in what they were hired to do. Don’t immediately throw them in the deep end of the pool and walk off, but the sooner they can be meaningfully involved in their new job, the better. The same goes for quickly getting them up to speed on the ways and means of the organization, the cultural indoctrination if you will. Show them the secret handshakes a little sooner, okay? Check in with them regularly, not only to gauge how their experience is going, but also to learn about anything that might be slowing them down, and conversely, who, if anyone has been especially helpful to them. Make sure that their early initiation is being guided by your best and brightest, not just whoever happens to be available. One of the absolute worst things you can do is to put a new hire under the tutelage of someone who has mediocre skills and /or a rotten demeanor.

 

Coaching More, Bossing Less - One of the best ways to develop and retain A-players is to make sure people get frequent coaching, right from the start. Unlike most bosses, who tend to focus primarily on mistakes, a good coach focuses first and foremost on identifying and optimizing the player’s strengths, and then on mitigating weaknesses. Leaders who take a sincere and abiding interest in the development of their teammates are much more inclined to get the benefit of loyalty and discretionary effort.

 

Fears

It takes courage to be a leader, and that courage is a commodity that can neither be bought nor obtained in a course at your favorite university. Showing courage is not about an absence of fear. Rather, it’s more about recognizing a dangerous or uncertain situation for what it is, and then deciding to saddle up and face it. You’re scared, but you go anyhow. Courageous leaders…

 

  1. Speak truth to power. Smart leaders know when, where, and how to do that.
  2. Realize that waiting until all the facts are known causes a lot of lost opportunities.
  3. Take pains to earn and maintain a reservoir of goodwill, which stands them in good stead when an exercise of courage fails or backfires.

 

Each of us must find our own mechanisms for putting fear in its proper place and demonstrating the courage that our work requires. Absent that, no one is going to follow us for very long.

 

Tears

People don’t always live up to their promise, their capability, or the standards imposed by the organization. In other cases, we at times discover that the individual and the organization simply are not cut out for one another. Either way, it becomes the leader’s duty to recognize the matter and deal with it, fairly, affirmatively, and sooner rather than later.

 

Saying goodbye to someone in a work relationship is seldom easy, on either side of the fence. Yet, experience suggests that better outcomes will be achieved when we act with consideration, decency, and pace. No one’s interests are well served by avoiding a difficult conversation. Have it.

 

 

 

If you've got more to add on this subject, or care to take the discussion further, we would be glad to hear from you.

 

Convention season is in full swing, and if the groups I've been invited to speak for are any indication, one of THE heaviest concerns weighing on the minds of employers almost everywhere is this: Where, and how, am I going to find enough qualified people to grow our business? (Or in some cases, just to maintain the status quo...)

One association member, in a pre-event phone call with me, was pretty succinct: "The people who are applying...aren't qualified. And the ones we want...they already have jobs. It's not easy."

Of course it's not easy. And with unemployment running at historically low levels, and with many (as in MANY) of the most talented people opting out of the traditional workforce to do (quite successfully, thank you), their own thing, it's not going to get any easier.

And yet, some employers ARE able to find, retain, and engage the best. If you're not one of them, there are probably some reasons.

And so, with apologies to comedian Jeff Foxworthy of "You might be a Redneck if" fame ("You might be a Redneck if...you have ever financed a tatoo"), I'd like to offer some possible explanations as to why you, and/or your organization, might be struggling to get the best people to come and work for you:

You might be struggling to find and keep good people if...

  • You're longing for the good old days when your applicants were born between 1946 and 1964. This just in: They're not making any more Baby Boomers! Production on that model has shut down. While more experienced workers are a tremendous (and too often overlooked) resource (see our post on this), the truth is you're going to need to stop whining about Millennials (and the generations yet to come) and figure out how to create an organization that gets the most productivity from the available resources. Some of your competitors have. So get with it.
  • You value attendance over performance. If you're going to ask people to account for every minute they're "in the office" (wherever that is anymore), rather than prioritizing getting the job done, they're going to ask you to pay them for answering that text you sent them at 10pm. Just use your head. You can't have it both ways.
  • You're running a boys club. Over the last 30 years, companies have spent billions on diversity and inclusion training, and we're still having to talk about this. It's not just about whom you're hiring and promoting. Face it. If your culture doesn't work as well for women as it does for men, you're cutting off about 50% of your air supply. You'll never be able to compete effectively against companies who listen to input from everyone, not just the guys in the room.
  • You're relying too much on technology, algorithms, and keyword screening to do the hard work of populating your workplace with talented, committed people. Read the damn resumes. It's your job.
  • You're giving too much consideration to specific experience and narrowly defined skills, and not enough to the question, "Is this person a good match for our organization and this team?" Be honest. How many times have you hired someone for skills and experience, but then they left (voluntarily or otherwise) because they simply weren't a good fit?
  • Your website is pathetic. The "careers" section anyway. At most, it lists job openings, rather than doing what it should do - helping to create your employer brand, and giving potential stars a look inside your workplace. Oh, and if your website tells people not to submit unsolicited resumes, and you're still complaining that you can't find good people, you might be beyond help.
  • You are in denial about your Glassdoor ratings and reviews. You've bought into the myth that because some of your reviews are unjustified, nobody puts any credence in these reviews. In which case, you would be wrong.
  • You fail, on a regular basis, to tell the people you work with how much you appreciate them and what they do.
  • And finally, you MIGHT be struggling to find and keep good people because people just don't want to work for you. You've confused high standards with being obnoxious. Find someone you trust - someone who has the courage and character to tell you what you need to know, but may not want to hear.

If you ARE having trouble finding and keeping good people, and could use an objective look at your organization, get in touch. We have lots of ways to help.

January 25, 2018

"Wad some Power the giftie gie us,

To see oursels as ithers see us,

It wad frae mony a blunder free us..."

OK, so if you don't speak Scots, you might need a little help with that. What Scottish poet Robert Burns, whose 259th birthday is being celebrated today by Scots and their descendants around the world*, was telling us is:

Wouldn't it be great if some Power would give us the gift of being able to see ourselves the way others do? It would sure save us from a lot of blunders.

In fact, we already have that gift: Self-Awareness. Although most people seem to have returned the gift to the store, or perhaps not yet opened the package. They barely recognize themselves in a mirror. The particularly pernicious nature of hardcore lack of self-awareness is, by definition, self-reinforcing, and therefore self-defeating, as was pointed out in a Facebook post I saw recently (by a guy who thinks he's funny):

self awareness

 

Some, though, either naturally, or by paying attention to feedback from others, have a pretty clear idea of how they come across. These people, according to Tasha Eurick, author of the 2017 book Insight, account for only about 15% of those she studied. And yet, according to Eurick, those who are more self-aware tend to perform better at work, get more promotions, and lead more effectively. And companies with more self-aware professionals perform better financially.

Imagine that...

In 25 years of observing people in successful... and more blunderous organizations, I've known and observed a few keenly self-aware people (Dr. Eurick is probably pretty close with her 15% assessment). Based on what I've seen, here are some prescriptive ideas for those who want to develop their self-awareness:

With employment markets in the U.S. continuing to tighten, labor-intensive businesses are seeking candidates on the margins, and in some cases outside the mainstream, in an effort to fill current openings without getting into an all-out bidding war for talent. Recently, there has been considerable discussion around H1B visa hiring strategies, increased PT to FT conversion, and the growing number of employers who are now willing to hire non-violent criminal offenders, some of whom are still behind bars.

There is another, even larger market available, which is essentially untapped, and that is the strategic use of retirees and alumni as a source of candidate referrals or contract labor.

I got fairly snarky recently with a colleague who runs HR for a large (400,000 employee) company and was whining a bit about having a dearth of candidates.We discussed the fact that they have about 40,000 employees who leave the company annually, probably 80% of whom are classified as retirees or other regrettable turnover. When asked what measures they use to maintain contact with those people, the answer was. “none.” So, “You’ve got about 100 people with whom you are on perfectly good terms leaving here every day, and you do nothing to maintain a relationship or goodwill with them?” Sadly, the same is true for many of us. Yikes!

As but one example of how this can pay off, consider the case of 71 year-old Tom Coughlin, the original head coach of the NFL Jacksonville Jaguars circa 1994 who rejoined the team this season after a 15-year stint with the NY Giants, where he picked up two SuperBowl rings. The guy clearly knows football, and he knows leadership.

Though Coughlin likely wanted to resume a head coaching role with the Jags, team owner, Shahid Khan managed to convince him that his best role, both for him and the team, would be to sign on as EVP, Football Operations where his coaching would mainly be with head coach Doug Marrone and the team’s young GM, David Caldwell. As evidenced by the fact that the Jags made it deep into the 2018 NFL playoffs for the first time in a long time, it’s apparently working.

A few ideas from the cheap seats:

  1. Expand your base of applicant sources. I continue to be amazed at the number of otherwise well-run companies that rely almost exclusively on passive, single-source recruiting via walk-in, type-in sources for non-executive roles. That is akin to being in a sales role and waiting all day for customers to come find you, unaided by any effort whatsoever on your part! Aside from mining referrals from incumbent employees and alumni, consider doing things like co-sponsoring recruiting activities with business partners, taking on a larger presence in schools and colleges (I do b-school guest lectures as a way of getting a sneak peek at the talent farm), and sponsoring student activities.
  2. Use Longer Lead-times and Always Be Looking. Unless you’re just incredibly lucky, recruiting that is done purely on an as-needed basis is a terribly inefficient process. You’re much better off keeping your nets in the water, and establishing a relationship with viable candidates in advance of an actual need, or preemptively hiring them in some cases.
  3. Get More Adaptive With Women and Graybeards. Already this decade, about 4% of prime working-age women have removed themselves from the American workforce, and, as we speak, about 10,000 people “retire” daily. In each case, that’s not necessarily what people want to do. Rather, it’s often our clunky HR policies and methods that drives them prematurely from the workforce. Let’s get better at listening to these folks, and adapting to what they are trying to tell us.

In April, 2008, as part of a Fortune Magazine segment in which notably successful people were queried about the best advice they had been given, Pepsico Chairman and CEO, Indra Nooyi volunteered a nugget given to her by her father: “Assume positive intent.”

At its core, Mr. Nooyi’s knowing advice to his daughter capitalizes on the positive expectancy  theory that we get what we expect to get. Good expectations seem to beget good outcomes. Conversely, if you go  thru life, as I did until my mid-twenties, fearing that if I didn’t effectively wall myself off from strangers, I would most assuredly be taken advantage of, you miss out on a lot of opportunities and relationships with those who don’t particularly enjoy being frisked upon first meeting.

To be sure, there are times when it’s necessary to keep your distance or display a clenched fist, but experience suggests that, far more often, a warm smile and an extended open palm win the day.

As leaders, we’re expected to win new business, build relationships, and to get the daily wash out without fail. Given that charge, I’m betting on three little words that have profoundly impacted Ms. Nooyi’s life, and when faithfully executed, can similarly improve the arc of our own careers… Assume. Positive. Intent.

Becoming a Two-fer Leader

As managers we are responsible for seeing to it that the right things go well. That involves keeping extraneous things off our team’s plate, putting more W’s than L’s on the scoreboard, and finding ways to identify and correct (or prevent outright) the things that contribute to team losses.

Looking back over my career, and at the habits of some of the leaders I’ve coached, there have been unmistakeable periods when we’ve allowed ourselves to get too mired in the mud, concentrating on errors of the past, present, and future.

It’s easy to understand how we get in that mode. Mistakes and losses sting, sometimes a lot. A couple of really big ones, or a long losing streak can take us out of the game, or at least bring beatings from on high. Yet, when we get stuck in “Loss-Prevention Mode”, we’re often doing so at the expense of clear and present opportunities to get some things right. As importantly, when we get stuck for too long in firefighting mode, it has a negative impact not just on our own outlook, but the people around us as well. They don’t want to be in the same zip code (never mind the same boat)  with us.

Here are four suggestions for maintaining an appropriate sense of balance:

  1. Always be looking for opportunities to create a win, even little ones.
  2. Don’t become a negative person, and don’t let negative people (or thoughts) take up rent-free residence in your head. As Australian businessman Robert Tew, put it, “Raise the rent...Kick them out.”
  3. Make it a point to always have some truth-tellers on your team, people who care enough about you and the team’s mission to come in, close the door, and level with you… to tell you, for example, that you are in need of some attitude adjustment.
  4. Become a two-fer leader by trying, as a general rule, to always be feeding at least two opportunities or identifying things done well for every problem you’re working to smother.

If you've got more to add on this subject, or care to take the discussion further, we would be glad to hear from you.

Make This Your First Business Conversation in 2018

 

Lots of people are now deep in the process of resolving to do a few things differently over the coming New Year. Many are resolving to join the growing crowd of Americans who are quitting their jobs (about 100,000 daily) and taking their talents elsewhere. A few of them perhaps work for you. The question is, which ones? Rather than waiting to find out, my suggestion is that you take a proactive measure to let some of your very best people know that you truly appreciate them. Try this:

 

Make a list of the three best people on your team. Do it today. Then, adjacent to each person’s name, write the answer to the question, “Why does this person stay… with me, with our organization?” If you’re like most leaders, coming up with the three names is the easy part. Figuring out what keeps each person where they are is a bit more difficult.


Having done that, quietly have a conversation with each person individually to let them know that they mean a lot to you and to the organization. Tell them that they are special - not privileged, special. Then, go ahead and ask them what makes them stay with you, and the organization. (This wouldn’t be a bad time to take a few notes.) Ask them what, if anything, they need more or less of in order do their best work every day, and to feel appreciated for doing so. Listen, really listen, then, as best you can, make sure those things happen. 

This just might be the most beneficial thing you've ever done to start a New Year. Godspeed!

***

Make this the year that you take solid steps to improve your leadership skills, by working with a coach. I would be happy to hear from you.

I read with interest a recent NY Times piece about the growing Brexit-inspired labor shortage spreading throughout Britain, as foreign workers across the breadth and depth of the workspace are deciding in droves to take their services where they feel more welcome.

Something similar is happening in the U.S., as borders are tightened, nationalist interests are rising, and key talent reservoirs are shrinking in the face of a warming economy.

My business partner, Richard Hadden recently keynoted for North American dairy farmers gathered in Las Vegas for the MILK Conference. How cool is it that a guy who has spent the last 20 years writing and speaking about “Contented Cows” gets an entire room full of dairymen and women, as an audience?

Guess what their #1 concern was. Not unlike the Scottish fruit farmer profiled in the aforementioned piece, they were concerned about the shortage of labor, and the concomitant difficulty in getting the wash, ‘er milk out daily at a cost they can afford.

You’re Fired

by Bill Catlette

12/9/17 Memphis

Everyone who accepts a role with responsibility for providing leadership to others must accept the reality that it will eventually be their duty to tell someone, “You can’t work here anymore.” Let’s accept the notion that doing so is a solemn but necessary part of the deal, and if you can’t or won’t do it, you need to find something else to do for a living. Similarly, if the day ever comes when this stops being gut-wrenching for you, get another job.

Following are four premises that I have worked my way to over a forty-some year managerial career and more corporate executions than I care to think about.

About forty years ago, before anyone had heard or even contemplated the term, “FedEx”, Federal Express marketing guru, Vince Fagan worked with the company’s ad agency to create one of the most effective brand tag-line’s in history:  Absolutely, positively, overnight. In just 3 words, they focused like a laser on the very essence of what the young, startup company meant to convey to the world:  Speed, reliability, and Commitment with a capital “C”. This tagline was used successfully in a series of hilarious commercials that brought the firm out of the shadows, and created a new term and an idea: FedEx.

What they didn’t envision was the impact that having those 3 words plastered on television screens everywhere would have internally on the purple-clad FedEx workforce. You see, what people inside the company knew was that our still meager assets and operating systems were capable of doing the overnight thing usually, but with seemingly uncontrollable factors like weather, mechanical breakdown, and shipping capacity, the Absolutely, Positively part was a real push.

There's No Hacking Leadership

One of my new least favorite words (along with “handcrafted” and “curated”, but that’s another post altogether) is the word “hack”. Not in the old sense of a taxi driver (remember taxis?), or even the newer sense of criminals who steal our online stuff. Or the even newer meaning, as in the Russians, and the, well, you know…

I mean hack, as in shortcut. How to make the inherently difficult easy. Or as one online source put it “A quick job that appears to produce what’s needed, but not well.” (By the way, that’s not real research. It was just a hack.)

I’m hearing it all the time. Ten hacks to make better coffee. How to hack your abs workout. Conversational Spanish hacking (which is a good way to say the wrong thing in the streets of Buenos Aires. I speak from experience.) Even Dr. Oz touting health and nutrition hacks.

Well guess what. When it comes to Leadership, there are no hacks.

And yet, in a day and age when leadership development at work is more likely than ever to be a do-it-yourself job, we’re seeing more and more people in leadership positions failing to do actual leadership.

For Better Leadership Communication, Put a Different Device in Your Hand

The fact that each of us has continually at hand, if not in hand, devices that practically beg to announce our every thought or emotion immediately upon conception represents one of the greater latent dangers to our reputations, if not careers. Put simply, the fact that we can emote nonstop doesn’t mean we should, particularly if we occupy a leadership role and have others looking to us for guidance and good example.

Though we have more communications capacity at our disposal than ever, most of us do a poorer job of actually making meaning. This occurs at a time when institutional knowledge is leaving our organizations at an unprecedented rate. (According to the BLS, about 100,000 Americans quit their jobs daily!) And it shows.

For a small proof of concept, ask a representative sample of your workforce to list the organization’s three (3) top priorities. Then, compare their answers. They won’t match!  To wit, how are you ever going to accomplish those things if people don’t know what they are? Your people want to read mysteries, not live them! We can, and must do a lot better.

Good Leaders Delegate Into Their Weaknesses

At the risk of adding fuel to a fire that’s burning pretty much out of control already, I will submit that, for those interested in learning, there are a plethora of leadership lessons currently being taught daily on the national stage. Some of the lessons come from good examples, while others involve some pain, ‘er tuition. One of the more recent ones involves the President, and it relates to areas where managers (any of us) lack skill, or perhaps sufficient interest in a given aspect of our job function, even a vital aspect.

It’s no secret that President Trump frequently runs into difficulty when he ventures anywhere near tragedies, people who feel aggrieved, or nationally sensitive moments, and the need to console or be appropriately respectful of people who are hurting. There are often live wires just beneath the surface of those situations, and he has demonstrated a remarkable propensity for finding and stepping on them through poor word choices, bad optics, poor preparation, or the felt need to add too much value to the situation.

Before anyone gets their red or blue knickers in a knot, let’s stipulate that we ALL have our own demons and shortcomings. In fact, this happens to be a shortcoming that I share with the President. Lucky for me, my job doesn’t require regular presence near disaster scenes, Gold Star families, or flag-draped coffins. If it did, at an age that is within a pitching wedge of the President’s (that’s two things we share), and some pretty well-worn habits, I likely would lean a lot harder on my Vice President to represent me / the Nation in such matters, not just because he’s available, but because he’s better at it than I will ever be.

Making No Decision Is a Decision, and Usually the Wrong One

Last week I spoke for a group of college students in a management course. Corresponding with a chapter of the text currently being studied in class, the subject of my remarks was,  “You Get Paid to Think.” 

As a contemporary template for encouraging the class to do exactly that, I challenged them to assume the position of the San Francisco 49’ers head football coach, team CEO, and NFL commissioner at the precise moment in the 2016 season when the team's quarterback, Colin Kaepernick first chose to sit rather than stand for the singing of the National Anthem. Despite a somewhat nervous look from the professor when I lit this candle, the students took the challenge in stride and put forth a variety of fairly thoughtful options ranging from talk, make that listen to the player (AFTER the game) to discussing with the team potentially more effective and less incendiary ways of making the point.

The most impressive part of their response was that no one argued for doing what the team, and subsequently the league have essentially done over the last year… nothing. As a result of this inaction, the demonstrations have spread to other teams, sports, venues, causes, a good portion of the league’s fan base is inflamed, @VP saw fit to fly 3200 miles round trip this past weekend purely to do his own demonstration, and you-know-who is practically wetting his pants.

Borrowing a lesson learned thirty years ago from FedEx founder, Fred Smith, we then discussed the fact that leaders don’t just get paid to think, we also get paid to decide, and we must bear in mind that the failure to decide is in itself a decision, and quite often the wrong one. All in, it was a great experience and, as usual, I probably learned more than the students did. (Thanks, Dr. T)

One thing I would ask you, our readers, many of whom hold pretty senior leadership positions to do is to encourage your teammates to thoughtfully react to episodes like this in a timely manner, pursue a reasonable decision process, and, in a work environment already too beset by fear, to pull the trigger, knowing that if they’ve done all those things, you will support them regardless of the outcome.

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