Leadership is More Than Saying the Right Things

Whether they are a coach, the head of an organization or a CEO, almost all leaders start out by sharing their objectives with those under their charge. This is a very important part of the process of establishing what is deemed important and where you aim to go. Unfortunately, far too many people in these positions treat it as an end of the road rather than the first step in the right direction.

Stating the objectives and setting the course are essential, but they become meaningless fairly quickly if they are not followed by actions that reinforce these ideals. You must walk your talk! The biggest complaint I hear from the rank and file is that their superiors talk a good game, but rarely follow it up with action.

When Larry Scott took over as commissioner of the Pac-10 (now Pac-12) conference, one of his first stated missions was to fix the poor officiating of their referees. True to his word, he replaced 16 officials before his first season in charge. However he refused to name any of the dismissed officials publicly. Apparently Mr. Scott is unaware that how you make changes is often just as important as the changes you make. Worse still, the universally regarded worst ref in the Pac-12 conference, is still working games to this day.

A quick Google search on Pac-12 refs finds a plethora of articles and none are favorable. You can’t just make a pronouncement, follow it with one action, and expect to have any lasting change. Even good refs make bad calls in the heat of the moment, but there is a big difference between a missed call and one that is so egregious (as this one was under no time pressure at all in the recent USC vs. Stanford game) that its only explanation is incompetence. A good leader would have fired the crew at the conclusion of the game, but no action was taken at all?

I asked a friend who attended Harvard with Larry Scott and who is now a lawyer for the federal government, what would happen if he showed up to argue a case in front of the Supreme Court wearing flip-flops, white with red polka dot boxers and a stained wife beater? He said “Contrary to the belief that you can’t fire a government employee… I would be fired.” So much for stereotypes; apparently if you are incompetent you are better off working as a Pac-12 official than as a government employee these days.

A visionary makes changes when things are going well – these are known as improvements. A reactionary only makes changes once problems force them to take action – think finger in the dam. Two pertinent examples of this would be UCLA head football coach Jim Mora, who in the midst of coaching the highest ascending Bruin team in years, firing one of his assistant coaches this week. Meanwhile, Texas coach Mack Brown made the rare in-season move of firing his top defensive coach after one really bad game.

Two important components of any successful organization that go hand-in-hand are fairness and accountability. When you hold everyone accountable, your operation is viewed as being fair. Without accountability and fairness, cracks within the organization will eventually show.

Organizations are like dams. Dam breaks start with a few cracks and cause floods. As any engineer will tell you, it is much easier to maintain a well built dam than it is to repair one when the cracks start to show. I believe that the same is true with any organization, if you wait for the cracks to appear it is usually too late.

Leaders must remember that the people underneath them want, need, and expect them to take decisive actions. When you take action in an effort to make things better, people are very forgiving of any mistakes along the way. These same people are angered and filled with resentment of leaders who vacillate and rarely act.

I sincerely hope you either work for a leader who walks their talk, or are a leader who walks their talk!


You can follow Sam on Twitter: @SuperTaoInc

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