We Need More Bell Cows

We Need More Bell Cows

memphis • 03.18.20

In a week destined to go down in infamy, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver, on March 11, 2020, after consultation with his advisors, player representatives, and team owners drew a deep breath, whistled pro basketball action to a hard stop, and instantly put the league’s teams in what could be a season ending time out. Like an ice water bath, the announcement served secondarily as a clarion call that focused the minds of millions on the seriousness and immediacy of the Coronavirus threat rapidly invading North America. In essence, in an instant, Silver became the “bell cow” that so many others, both in sports and elsewhere would soon follow. 

While he may not have intended to lead beyond his professional NBA role, thankfully he did. As reported in USA Today, Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr said, ”It took some time for everybody to come to grips with this. But the NBA coming to a halt helped a lot of people come to grips. It was one of the tipping points where society at large knew how serious this was.” At the end of the day, there’s little doubt that his prescient decision saved lives, suffering, and money.

Adam Silver wasn’t appointed the nation’s bell cow, but in a moment that was crying desperately for leadership, he provided it. That is not unlike what actually happens in herds or flocks of animals. There is no application or interview process by which animals become the informal, undesignated leader. Rather, they emerge, thru their behavior and force of will. But just as surely, the others soon know who that leader is, and they turn to them as a beacon for the path home.

Beyond viruses, the longer term issue for us is, who are the emerging bell cows, ‘er leaders in your organization? Do you even know who they are? Is somebody keeping an eye on them, talking with them about their future, helping them prepare for next steps? Too often the answers to those questions are, “I don’t know” and “No”x4. It’s always someone else’s job. No, it isn’t.

As we’ve seen of late, particularly on the national stage, the game is played at too fast a pace, for too many marbles to trust leader development and selection to chance. Three suggestions:

  1. Regardless of technical knowledge or skill, do not (repeat, do NOT) put anyone in a leadership role, at any level, who lacks core leadership ability (or immediate potential). And, if you’ve got someone already in the role whom people simply won’t follow, coach them up, or move them. Excepting those in healthcare, the current business downturn could be a perfect time to do that. 
  2. If you look down your leadership bench and see nothing but male faces and a few empty seats, do something about that, soon. You’ll be glad you did.
  3. With the average career stop averaging about 4 years, many organizations have effectively given up on trying to grow their own leaders. Don’t. Having your own leadership talent farm can  be a valuable competitive weapon. Done right, it will lead to improved levels of worker engagement (read, productivity), retention, and your CFO will be happy about the Benjamins.

As always, if you have a specific need in this arena you’d like to talk about, we’d be happy to hear from you, at a range of not closer than the recommended 6 feet.

P.S. We spend better than half of our time working in the healthcare sector with some of the finest, smartest, hardest working women and men we’ve ever met. As you might imagine, things have gotten real serious for them of late, and the sky is dark for as far as the eye can see. Let’s all show them a little extra kindness in whatever way works for you, be it a smile, thank you note, gift card, freshly mowed lawn when they come home, whatever. These folks are working their glutes off to keep us alive.

book richard or bill to speak for your meeting