Multitudes of career climbing Managers are absolutely obsessed with the mentation of securing the Credit for an Idea.  These grasping self-image constructors maneuver situations, twist conversations, compose politics, and employ devious tactics, to insure they receive the credit “they deserve”; all in the name of their own fair play.  They are convinced and believe their ideas are uniquely exceptional to the pool of creative

Taking Credit for Ideas

thought and without their brilliant sentiments the organization would be immovable in its own mire.   At best they are braggarts; at worst self-centered egotist set on marginalizing everyone around them.  Focused on “scoring points” as their primary “get ahead” strategy they calculate moves like a Chess master purposefully moving pieces into play.  Their intent of gaining the advantage and capture of “credit for the idea” sets up a win-lose game in which they must prevail.

These lustful credit abductors often become boisterous and obnoxious as they brag about the origin of their thought.  They insist the whole world fathom and concede the origination and proprietorship of their idea, so there will be no doubt who should receive the credit for it.

If the idea is fruitfully implemented, they crave the need to thrust themselves out front of the Team in an attempt to claim a personal victory.  When their boss gets credit for an idea’s successful execution, the credit monger feels slighted, undermined, and even pilfered.  Without their due credit rancor builds manifesting a bitter victim, bent getting even.  This “Go or No Go” Strategy based on credit redemption results in a half accomplished agenda at best.

These credit monger Managers promote their ideas at every turn for one primary reason.  If the idea works out, they expect recognition and praise showered upon them as an individual.  They expect their future value to increase over those around them as they take one more step up the ladder of success.  After all, without their idea, wouldn’t everyone else have lingered lost and hopeless?  Of course, should the idea fail they

Taking the Credit

quickly fade into the background orphaning the failure as unequivocally and neatly as possible.

So what is the debauchery with a little “blowing your own horn” and taking credit for a legitimate idea.  After all, there is undoubtedly nothing wrong with producing breakthrough ideas.  It is an imperative portion of every Leader’s trade to do precisely this – create great ideas.  Much of a Manager’s success will be determined not only by his ability to generate great ideas, but his capacity to effectively implement them with his Team and meet the organization’s goals.  However, when an idea’s path and strategy is manipulated and cajoled in an effort to attain the net gain of getting credit for it, a Manager has stopped thinking about what is best for the company and has selfishly focused on his own pride.

Leaders advance their position, improve their stature, and fortify their power base through the operative implementation of ideas.  It is the idea’s results that ultimately matters.  Strong and effective Leaders realize the price paid for focusing on “getting the credit” is too high to pay.  Taking credit is the #1 obstacle to getting things done.

Once rewards are secured to idea creation two things begin to happen.  First, people begin to pick and choose the ideas they put forth based on their calculated assessment of their own self-interest moving forward.  This premeditation stunts creativity, shuts down brainstorming, and undermines collaborative efforts.  Secondly, they arise to shoot down and kill the ideas of others.  Why should they work hard on another’s idea if the glory only goes to the originator?

As a Leader you must focus yourself and your Team on the execution of ideas and the accomplishment of goals if you want true enduring recognition and success.  You must be willing to forgo the boasting and the “pats on the back” for your great ideas and shift the focus continually to the efforts of the Team’s accomplishments

“It is amazing what you can accomplish if you don’t care who gets the credit”.

President Harry S. Truman

 President Harry Truman

The speediest and most assured method to advance momentum for an idea is to “give the credit away”! Allowing people to think something was their idea, is one of the most effective tactics for the efficacious flight of a plan.  When you permit people to share in the creation of an idea, they become personally invested in its success; their desire and personal need to see the idea prosper increases exponentially. As a Leader, if you can help 10 different people believe they each contributed to the development (even a small part) of a great idea; you will have generated an exceptionally motivated and driven Team set on triumphing over their objective.  If you are capable of duplicating this scenario over and over again, your Team will catapult itself to the top of the organization.  At that point there will be enough credit and recognition for all.

One of the common grievances, I mentioned above, is from Managers who mind their bosses taking credit for their ideas.  Exasperation over this occurrence is a fool’s folly.  Even the most reckless instances of abuse, such as a boss putting his name on a paper you have created, are losing battles.  Some so called manager advice columnist tend to prescribe two possible paths of action to console the affronted, the first being confrontation and the second a withdrawal of future ideas.  They are wrong.  Both pieces of advice are guaranteed to stop your career dead in its tracks.  The confrontation will certainly result in your boss acknowledging the idea was yours.  But the credit will be accompanied with the justification that he either verbally passed on your contribution or the explanation that as part of his Team, “it is your job to provide ideas for him” (a stance I wouldn’t disagree with).  Either way, you have built resentment with your boss.  Having been called a thief and a cheat, he will surely move you to the back of the pack.  Withholding ideas fodders the deluded dream that your boss will fall flat on his face without your great ideas.  Although this may feel virtuous to your ego temporarily, in the long run it is a self-destructive unfulfilling choice.  By withholding your ideas, you will disengage yourself, flounder and certainly move yourself to the back of the pack.

Common Complaint - Boss Steals Ideas

As to others who steal your ideas, never let someone’s bad behavior compromise your values.  You should give your company 100% effort and commitment (for your own sake).  The cream usually rises to the top, if not you should leave, knowing you gave it your all, and find another opportunity.  Turning in a less than “Your Personal Best” to satisfy a grievance just devalues you as an individual. Good Leaders can always spot the stars in their organization.  Don’t take the shine off of your own star by sacrificing your Commitment to Personal Quality for anyone.  You have only one person who is going to look back at you in the mirror at the end of the day. How did he do?

Great Leaders know that ideas are communal property.  Mutual creation produces an atmosphere and expectation from each member of the Team to bring their full experience, creativity, and intellect, to every challenge and openly contribute to the exchange of progressive ideas.  All ideas should be given value and freedom, but not significance in their premature state.  The terribly bad ones help us choose the right course to follow through elimination.  And the brilliant ones are only scratches on the whiteboard until someone executes them into a reality.  Leaders must use their best wisdom in sorting out the bad and good ideas as they determining which ones to act upon.  From there, they must focus the Team’s commitment and efforts on the accomplishment of the idea regardless of its origin.

Once an idea is implemented and becomes a reality, it is time to recognize and thank its creators.  Without the original thoughts of the creative and unique idea nothing would have changed.  But at the same time, a respected and effective Leader will also cheer and praise the Team that brought the idea home.

Giving the credit away is not about modesty and humility.  It is the effectual tactic of a Leader who wants to Get Things Done!  Ideas without implementation are frivolous leaps of fantasy.  The more credit a Leader attempts to ingest for ideas, the more he disenfranchises his entire Team.  Gaining participation from the Team in the creation and rewards of a great idea not only procures their commitment, it elevates their passion.  A Street Smart Leader understands the ultimate supremacy of a passionate, driven, and rewarded A-Team will get things done and accelerate his career far more than taking credit for ideas ever could.

As I collect with other Business Leaders in these hope motivated days, it is inevitable the discourse will magnetically be pulled towards inquiries of each other’s confidence of the

Busy People

ensuing market potency.  “What are you seeing out there?  How is your business doing right now? How are you feeling about the next several months?”  With the unrelenting nonexistence of visibility in the market, Leaders are imploring for reassurance that their yearning to “push on” is justified and affirmed by those Leaders adjoining them.  More often than not, these interlopes turn towards an interchange of a reciprocally experienced surge of activity.  “Wow, we are really busy right now.”  “We are so busy too. I’m thinking of hiring.”  “I am busier than I have been in the last three years.  Things are looking up.”

Everyone is busy these days! Are you busy too?  Doesn’t it feel wonderful?  It shouldn’t!

In recent years Leaders have travailed arenas filled with anxieties of desolate survival where it appeared there might not be enough activity to keep their doors open.  “Busy” comes like rain from the heavens to fill these drought vacant caldrons of worry.  I will ask again, “Does it feel good?”  If your answer is affirmative, you may have swallowed the temptress of non-productivity.  “Busy” is worthless.  It is a trap which takes a Leader’s eye off the ball.  At best, busy “by itself” can only mean one thing. Costs are likely to be increasing.

Busy is typically a young manager’s trap; a no-man’s wasteland where the act of being busy camouflages unproductive results and the inability to reach goals.  Their teams routinely run up against every deadline with only seconds to spare often creating a work product of lesser quality.  The call of this naiveté is usually to hire more people or reduce demands.  Busy does not equate with your team working harder; it certainly does not denote it is working smarter.  It only proposes that there is “activity” which is expanding to meet the time available.

The Busy Trap

As a Leader today, regardless of your standing, you must combat the Busy Trap.  You must avoid the temptation of the euphoric feeling that is created by witnessing the hustle and bustle of your team’s activity.  Leaders must resist the pride-felt utterances of impressing their bosses and peers with how busy they are.  They must further resist those feel-good “pat on the backs” to their teams with compliments of how they made it “just in time”.  In today’s challenge to move forward, being busy just doesn’t count.

It is a commonplace observation that work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.”

This interesting statement was made by Cyril Northcote Parkinson, the famous British historian and author, in 1955 – first appearing as the opening line in an article for The Economist and later becoming the focus of one of Parkinson’s books, Parkinson’s Law: The Pursuit of Progress.

C. Northcote Parkinson

Parkinson had studied the British Government noting that regardless of the shrinkage of work due to the Empires retraction, government continued to grow by 5-7% per year “irrespective of any variation in the amount of work (if any) to be done.”

Parkinson’s Lawwork expands to fill the time available for its completion – means that if you give yourself a month to complete a one week assignment, then (psychologically speaking) the task will increase in complexity and become more daunting so as to fill that month. It may not even fill the extra time with more work, but just stress and tension about having to get it done.  And often tasks are procrastinated until the last minute, all the while people remain ostensibly busy pontificating the progress they are making.

We all know the drill when we have too much time to complete a task.  We tend to slack off until the task becomes urgent.  Then, when meeting the deadline becomes imminently impossible, we become super-productive and miraculously pull it off — getting the job done just in time.  Does your team conclude essential projects at the last minute with a frantic fury of activity and emotion which drives the organization into chaos?  Instead of recognizing your team’s valor, you should examine the reality that they have more than likely expanded the work to meet the deadline.

As we grasp for restoration of profitability, growth and prosperity during these changing economic times, it is necessary for Leaders to preserve the focus on productivity in the proficient attainment of goals.  Leaders must have a system of measurements to determine if there are real gains in productivity before increasing cost structures.  They must scrutinize with a skeptic’s evaluation the true efficiency and effectiveness of their teams performance before entertaining the rookie manager’s mistakes of adding costs or increasing time as a solution.

Remember, during the economic slow-down your team became normalized at running 35 mph.  As they ramp up to competitive “100mph performance” levels they are bound to feel out of control.  Good Leaders will stay steady while demanding and inspiring increased performance.  Tight time limits and deadlines force your brain to figure out ways to get tasks done in the time available.  By assigning the right amount of time to a task, we gain back more time and the task will reduce in complexity to its natural state.  By increasing the work of an apparently busy team, you condense the time available for each task and improve key elements of your future success – Creativity and Productivity!

If you determine your team has “truly” become “busy”, without increased productivity or performance gains, it is time to revisit the effectiveness of your strategies.  Are you spending your team’s time pursuing winning situations?  Are you picking the right battles?  Do they have the necessary support?  Are goals clearly understood?  Are bureaucratic policies and people strangling progress?  These types of impediments can easily cause a team to be unproductive and busy at the same time.

One reason Parkinson’s Law is so prevalent, especially in corporations, is that Leaders have settled for the C-Team.  These C- Players question why they should improve productivity only to be given more work.  Rather than possess the Values of Excellence and Quality they fill their heads with degenerative thoughts of, “Soon as I finish, they’ll just give me more work.” Or “If I’m too fast they will just bring the deadline forward next time!”

If you are hiring, building, and rewarding your A-Team appropriately, you will see these barriers of negativity disappear from your team.  Keep your team focused on the prize and they will soar above these questionable distractions.  A-Players want to do more and be more.  They wish to excel and out-perform others, especially the competition. If you sense resistance to productivity gains from someone on your team, it is time to look for their replacement.

As a Leader you will be pressured and tempted to increase costs and headcount as your business grows.  Push back.  Push back hard!  One of my current mentors, Scott Lazarus, is known to say, “If you want something done, give it to a person who is already busy.”  Scott understands that productive people will always find a way to get more done and they thrive on the challenge.  Leaders must prepare for the growth.  Street Smart Leaders must exhaust Creativity and Productivity as the crucial tools for turning growth into bottom-line profitability.

Just for fun – Here are other Parkinson Law offshoots:

  • Expenditures rise to meet income.
  • The number of people in any working group tends to increase regardless of the amount of work to be done.
  • The amount of stuff one has expands to fill available cupboard space
  • Data expands to fill the space available for storage
  • Network traffic expands to fill the available bandwidth
  • Highways congest to the maximum allowable traffic

         Can you think of some others?

An enormous amount of concentration has been spotlighted on the ethics, values, and beliefs of today’s Leaders.  The world is clamoring for Leaders to set the standard of what is

Lack of Individual Character

virtuous and authentic.  Companies have been forced into developing obligatory governance and ethics policies in an attempt to verify their collective contrived morality.  These guiding principles are designed to control the actions and profit motives of the organization.  Unfortunately, this righteous battering of our institutions has only served to dissuade the accountability of personal actions from individuals to the un-accountability of monolithic non-human entities.  The masses easily point to the corruption of the Corporation, the Government, or the Society as the “root of all evil” and painlessly exculpate themselves from the personal responsibility of accountability.  A societal top-down expectation of morality has developed allowing individuals to “sit back and wait” for ethics and values to come to them.

Much has been espoused regarding the significance of Character as a requisite for a Good Leader.  Yes, if you do not comport and demonstrate a Strength of Character, you will never truly Build and Lead an A-Team.  And with People as the key differentiator in today’s competitive business universe, you must compile an A-Team of Players for you and your business to succeed and prosper. But Character at the Top of an organization does not propagate Values throughout the ranks.  Character is not transferable.  The distinctive Character of an Individual is the building block to the Values of any organization or institution.

In today’s politically charged culture we are admonished for judging others.  We are to be understanding of the failures of virtue of those around us and give deference to the possibility of circumstances they may have encountered.  But if you aspire to excel as the Leader of an A-Team, you must embrace the obligation of judging the Character of others.  As I have said before, it is not your job to fix people.  A Street Smart Leader is not a builder of character; he is a Collector of Character!

A man’s character is his fate
Heraclitus

Character represents those attributes we expect our employees to stride through the door with. They include integrity, work ethic, quality, caring, accountability responsibility, cooperation, etc.  Character goes beyond just knowing what is right and perseveres in “doing what is right”.  Character is a habit which defies adversity and prevails with fortitude.  Leaders can count on people of Character to make the right decisions in the tough “moments of truth” even if it does not personally benefit them at the time.  People with Character allow you to focus on productive solutions instead of emotional motives.

The accomplishment of a great many things is possible with Intelligence, Skills, and Attitude alone.  So why is Character so vital?  First, Character assures that you and your team will embark on endeavors that are the “right things”.  Secondly, it is the presence of Character that makes sure those “right things” are actually successfully implemented through accountability and work ethic.  Character transcends one’s best intentions and is finally defined by one’s actions.   It is the fundamental difference in why we do, what we do.

Character is an A-Team Requirement

A Leader’s time can be “sucked dry” with people-issues emanating from Character related non-performance and drama.  Employees who simply fail to do what they are “supposed to do” create a ripple effect around them which proliferates and disrupts the entire team.  Eventually these diverters of productivity necessitate management’s time.  A Leader can teach someone a new skill and act to rectify an attitude lapse, but once a violation of Character takes place, trust is permanently lost.  Without trust, a Leader has no choice but to micro-manage an employee in an atmosphere of growing resentment and frustration.  His focus moves from enhancing performance to “fixing up” situations fraught with emotions.  Take notice of the amount of failures that are Character related.  Start accounting for the squandered time you spend on these worthless and wasted lost causes.

The force of character is cumulative.
Ralph Waldo Emerson

It is tempting for Leaders to become trapped into trading off Character for short term performance achievement.  Extraordinary performance is possible by extremely talented employees who lack Character and are focused on selfishly motivated objectives, but their cost is extremely high.  These crippling trade-offs can extend for years with a remarkably gifted employee.

We have all witnessed them.  The classic “ends justifies the means” people.  Those who disrupt, unravel, and generally blow up the work environment around them.  They take no prisoners and pursue personal agendas at the risk of accomplishing overall company goals.  They are people users, often burning out their team over and over again.  They are stress machines who develop turmoil and generate confrontation at every turn.  Others feign from the prospect of working with them.  Eventually teamwork is eliminated as the Cycle of Fear increases.  If we were talking about non-performers or average performers, the answer to this dilemma would be a simple termination, but sometimes these passion-killers are the highest performers of your organization.  They possess special, unique, and not easily replaceable skills and performance which create a make-or-break situation in your company’s success.

High Performers Without Character

What they lack is Character.  Regardless of the coaching, micro-managing, and manipulating you are willing to put into modifying their behavior, they will eventually “burn” you as a result of their lacking Character.  Success masquerades their flaws, but again and again they will make the wrong ethical choices presenting you with substantial liabilities internally and externally.  Ultimately you will be faced with losing them, losing your Team, or losing Yourself.  Decide early not to empower these individuals.  Be smart, be skillful, keep a great attitude and then present the Force of your Character at every challenge.

“Evil flourishes when good men do nothing.”
Edmund Burke

Your first priority is to make Character based hiring decisions by asking and listening to specific examples of “how” someone has dealt with the adversities in their career and in their life.    Next you must be courageous, make Character judgments about the people on your team, and diligently “weed out” those who are deficient.   As a Leader you are expected by your team and your company to exemplify a strong and moral Character.  But do not be fooled into believing this will create Character throughout your organization.  Setting the standard, cannot improve upon another’s Character.  Character is an individual accountability.  A Street Smart Leader knows the value of Character and requires it as a “condition of employment”.  He relinquishes the false ego gratification as a potential Builder of Men and focuses on the genuine results to be gained as a Builder of Character Based Teams.

Tomorrow’s Leaders are being subjected to a regimen of reprogramming which is assailing and threatening the core essence of efficacious Leadership.  Fostered by intellectuals, this contemporary leadership fashion is concentrating on creating a softer, gentler, leadership style focused on a submissive approach to Leadership.  These new-fangled theories expound a fabricated Leadership value system based on conceptions such as, servitude to employees, gaining employee’s permission, self-deprecating humility, a duty to care for employees, adding value to employees, etc.  They preach a more emotionally available, compassionate, and sensitive style of Leadership.  Often at the foundation of their duplicity lies the concealed belief to convene a sophisticated “social justice” within the workplace.  These “new world” namby-pamby Leadership tactics are destined to fail and send converted disciples bolting, scared of their shadow, and demoralized with confusion and impotence.

This effete Leadership movement reminds one of the ‘90s crusade to change “real men” into ineffectual cross-beings known as a Metro-sexuals.   This scheme was initiated with the precept that in order to make room for compassion and sensitivity, strength and fortitude must be sacrificed.  We were told that for men to connect with women they

Who would you follow into battle?

had to devoid themselves of manhood and morph into a spineless slithering dribble of sentimentality.  Nowhere was this message reinforced more than on the Hollywood big screen. Over the last 20 years we have seen our leading actors change from Gable, Brando, Burton, Heston, and Peck to Alda, Afleck, Depp, Bloom, and Firth.  Even our women role models have been reduced in stature from O’Hara, Hepburn, Bacall, and Taylor to Roberts, Winslet, Paltrow, and Portman.   Really now, which group would you follow into a battle for your life?  Your company is constantly in a battle for its life and you are expected to lead it to victory.

Regardless of one’s personal dogmas of these metro-influences on our society, the “wimpifcation” of Leadership is a short road leading nowhere.  Do not buy into the falsehood that you need to become a “Metro-leader” to connect with your team.  The need will continue for both Men and Women to be Tough Leaders if they want to achieve the highest levels of success.  Your responsibility as a Leader is to assemble an A-Team of highly motivated people and compete with them to win out over the competition.  It is not your job to construct a Utopian World where everyone feels warm and fuzzy.  Is there a place for the “soft qualities”, often defined as EQ or EI?  Yes, but only to the extent that performance is amplified as a direct consequence of the method engaged.  Quite simply, being kind, or compassionate, or sensitive must have an ROI.  Sound Harsh?  This is what it takes to be a Street Smart Leader!

The most momentous menace presented in this new “Metro-leader” model is in its intrinsic proclivity for establishing an Entitlement Culture among your employees.  An Entitlement Culture is one where employees feel you owe them something that has “not been earned” because of who they are.  You need look no further than labor unions, government employees, or socialist countries to see the lack luster non-competitive performance that results from Entitlement.  Entitled people believe they have “Rights” which are constituted within their own minds.  They expect compensation and treatment as a result of these rights without having to deliver value.

If we go back to your Hiring Agreement with an employee, you will remember they agreed to perform a function with competency in exchange for a compensation package.  As an employee they do have certain “Rights” established by law, such as the right not to be discriminated against or to have a safe place to work.  But that is it; this is what you “owe” them.  Beyond this, as a Leader, you must determine the best way to maximize their performance and achieve company goals.  They have the responsibility to perform as well as they can, be motivated, achieve goals, be a good citizen, etc.  It is not your responsibility to provide these things for them.  Once you begin to try and manage their motivation or work ethic, you have allowed their responsibilities to be shifted to your shoulders and you have created an Entitlement.  Their performance is now your responsibility.  As a Metro-leader their inability to do their job means you have failed.  Guess who gets fired when the entire team fails because you have not “made them” successful.

Great Leaders understand the time and money tradeoffs between “good employee care” in order to gain results and “being nice” because it feels the right thing to do.  The “right thing” is a subjective and biased luxury which you should be able to back up with a good business reason before acting on.  Your customers are not willing to pay you anything additional because you are a nice boss who has established a great social program within the confines of your business unit.  So, unless your employee program directly increases productivity and cuts costs, you have just eroded your profits to fulfill your own “do good” ego.  This is a dereliction of the duty for which you were hired and only weakens your company’s future prosperity.  Eventually the “feel good” program collapses under the dead weight of its own incompetence.

The Cost of Entitlement

Here is a quick management discipline for you to adopt to ensure you are fighting off the Entitlement Culture.  As a Leader you are constantly asked for favors from employees.  For now on, never agree to a request unless you get something in return.  Keep a list of those items which you wish each person would be doing a better job at.  Then when they ask, “Can I leave 15 minutes early today to pick up my children?” You can reply, “Sure, as long as I can get that weekly report from you before you go.”  It may seem a small inconsequential tradeoff, but it will help you build an internal personal discipline to ensure you are receiving value for your consideration.  And it will really matter when faced with larger questions regarding how you determine employee related issues with a permanent cost such as an extra holiday or a ping pong table.

If you are a reader of my articles, you already know of my determination to build great teams of extraordinary people.  This begins with assembling great people who want to accomplish something of value with their efforts.  A-Players aren’t looking for soft, feel good Leaders or Entitlement Programs.  They are proud to earn their way.  They are willing to give 100% and expect 100% of your efforts towards them in return.  If you are receiving anything less than this bargain, you have work to do.  But don’t be fooled into believing that if you treat employees better, they will be motivated and then you will see improvements.  Your bargain begins with the setting of your expectations of them, to be followed by rewards for their accomplishments.

As a Leader you must measure the anticipated results on resources expended including those spent on employees.  It is your responsibility to bring home an ROI on these investments of time and money.  Leadership carries a colossal obligation to those who choose to employ you and those who choose to follow you.  It is not a game for social experimentation, it is about dollars and cents and winning and losing.  It may seem callous, but Leadership involves trade-offs and bargaining.  Your job is to make sure your company gets the better part of the deal.  Anything less is an Entitlement granted to someone which you cannot afford if you want to see your career prosper.  A Street Smart Leader is a deeply concerned and compassionate person who is driven by his passions – he just does it “Retro-Leader” style.

A craving developed deep inside my humanity as a fledgling teen; a potent yearning to distinguish myself.  My quest was not compelled towards extraordinary pursuits, but

MLK & RFK

rather evocative meaningful endeavors.  I was touched with a cognizance of my personal possession of an inner forte.    It was the era of Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy and emerging adults were challenged to be of consequence.  I was a typical boy, from a middling family, going to a normal school, living an ordinary “Wonder Years” life.  Then one

day as I altered my bicycle’s homeward route, my attention lurched to a spectacle which drew me in and tugged at my depth.  Quickly I jumped off, allowing my most prized possession to crash to the concrete, and with both hands clutched in the chain link fence I stared through the grid to witness an amazing exhibition.  There they were, “The Boys of Fall” – the High School Football Team engulfed in their practice session.  Mesmerized, I gazed as they executed drills with intense precision while smashing, grunting and roaring into each other.  They would take rise from heaps of calamity with yelps of exhilaration, high-fives, and a grander loftier persona…bursting with Pride!

The next season, after an effective plea with my mother, I “tried out” to join the game which I had become fascinated with.  “Hell Week” began, and swiftly eradicated the need for any explanation of the torturous designation. Practice was simply designed to “beat the hell out of you” physically, emotionally, and mentally.  The only football I encountered was the one I slept with.  Hell Week was an assault on your character and being.  It was exactly what I was searching for … a test of my mettle.  Following weeks of unforgiving regimentation, I was finally handed a football uniform.  Excitedly, I donned the apparatus while awkwardly comprehending how to regain mobility.  Not knowing what to expect, I was ready for my first “suited up” practice.  My Father took me aside, “Son there will come a point where the coaches will ask you to choose an opponent to go “head-to-head” against.  Be sure to choose the biggest and toughest boy on the team.”

As usual, practice began with us running and performing drills to the point of exhaustion.  The coaches then separated us into two lines and I watched my Father’s prediction unfold.  As players from one line began to choose equal or lessor players from the other lineup, I searched out my foe.  There he was, casually standing off to the side unchallenged, one of the team’s veteran brutes Hector Burrell.  We lined up against each other with the sole purpose of knocking down and running the other over into the ground.  My breath erratically shortened and my heart pounded barely allowing me to pick up Coach’s count off – “ready, set, one, two, three”.  In an instant I was flat on my back looking up at Hector’s silhouette surrounded by blue sky and painfully acquainted with the expression of “flattened by a freight train”.  After another hour of picking myself up off of the ground the grueling tribulation ended.  I limped, as straight-up as I could, to my Father standing at the edge of the field.  He looked at me and said, “Son, you did alright.  Anyone can win the easy battles.  It is more difficult ones that will make you stronger.”  I made the starting team, began winning my share of those “head to head” battles, made friends with Hector and we won the Championship that year.  I had set forth on my path to distinction!

Throughout those determinative years, the fierce competition of football provided framework for self-understanding, teamwork and leadership.  As a high school student, I became passionately engaged in coaching Youth Football soon becoming a Head Coach responsible for directing a coaching staff and leading the team.  These years were packed

Pop Warner - Father of Youth Football

with great coaching mentors who were smart, insightful, tough and inspiring.   These generous men not only enhanced my love of the game, but they demonstrated and taught me the skills necessary to out-think, out-play, and out-win your opponent.  Countless hours were spent with the chalkboards of strategy and tactics, but much more than the “brain work” they taught me how to build and lead a Championship Team.

In today’s multicultural, politically correct, oversensitive, and testosterone-free workplace, we are guarded as to the appropriate use of the sports analogy.  But if you will indulge me, I would like to share some of those life changing lessons about victory, passion, the battle, and the game which I learned over 20 years and continue to put to use every day as a Coach.

You Have To Be Tough

Business is an extremely tough game.  Companies put everything possible into a quintessential battle of strength and cunning against each other.  The game is scored and there are winners and losers – it is a zero-sum game.  Your team expects you to be a Tough Leader capable of competing and conquering the opposition.  They want discipline, structure, hard work, preparation, direction, recognition, purpose and success.  If you are able to provide these essential elements, they will follow you into the most difficult of challenges over and over again.  Business is full of disappointments and shortfalls.  You get knocked down.  You and your team need to be tough enough to get up, grab adversity by the throat, and strangle it until victory pops out.  Business is a severe game played by serious people who want to succeed at the peril of others.  Playing requires grit, perseverance, commitment, determination, and an unwillingness to fail.

Demand Unreasonable Excellence

Every member of your team has self-limiting barriers of what he can achieve firmly entrenched in his mind.  They believe they know when they are giving their best, working their hardest, thinking their brightest.  In reality, they are always capable of much more.  When they feel they have given 100%, they are nowhere near their potential.  As a Leader it is your job to push, cajole, drag, and inspire each player past their self-imposed limits.  The phrase “giving 110%” comes from knowing that everyone has more to give.  Be unreasonable and demand perfection until your team is unquestionably the best in the business.

Build a Great Team

Coaches must draft and select a great team if they are to win.  Building an A-Team is one of the most important responsibilities of a Leader.  You cannot consistently

Team Building

systematically win with a mediocre team.  Once you determine how you are going to win the game, you need to find the best person for each position on the team by matching up

your strategies and players to insure they possess the proper skills to execute your game plan.  The saying, “You are only as strong as your weakest link,” continues to be a reality for Leaders.  Your competition is always striving to improve.  You must diligently stay ahead of them by constantly rebuilding and strengthening your team.

Competition Makes You Stronger

Even if you have selected great talent, established flawless execution, and conditioned your players to be tough, they still are not ready to win.  To bring out the greatness of your players and truly determine their capabilities you must make them compete.  Every plan sounds like a winner until you take it from the Conference Room and put it into action.  Competition hones the skills of a player.  Only competition and adversity can truly reveal an individual’s character.  Players need to compete internally, against the pool of available players, and against your industry rivals.  Winners relish taking on tough competition.

Win as a Team or Lose

Once you have challenged a player on his individual capabilities and know they have “what it takes”, it is time to begin team building.  Coaches build teams by drilling into player’s heads that regardless of their personal abilities and achievements they are stronger as part of a team.  Without teamwork they are doomed to fail against an opposing force of gifted players.  They will only realize the “payoff” of their talents and efforts by joining forces with their teammates, who are successful in their own right.  Once players embrace the “need of others” for their own success they only require a common goal to rally towards.  And that goal is simply, “Winning”.  At the core level, Leaders must instill the necessity of personal sacrifice and extreme effort for a player to compete at the top of their game.  Teams flourish when players comprehend this effort is only rewarded with a “Win” when it is united with other individual’s superb performance.  The Coach’s mantra is, “Without the Team, Individuals Fail.”

Winning Matters

Why does “winning” work as a reward system?  Any person who has exerted to put themselves “on the line” 110% and is victorious touches something inside their core which tells them they have done well.  Whether reinforced with money or glory the result is the same.  People love winning and are drawn to winners. It is appreciated, revered, sought after and longed for.  “Trying your best” does not get you there.  “Second Place” comes close but leaves an empty hollow feeling.  I believe you can take the meekest, most humble person in the world and still see the smile that comes to their face when they have won.  It is a universal reinforcing statement confirming we are of value.  Winning, even for an instant, proliferates more winning – It creates the remarkable phenomenon of Momentum.  Winning is good!

Celebrate Victory

We have all witnessed the Thrill of Victory as seen in a championship locker room.  The inspiration, acknowledgement, and joy for a battle well fought ending in the successful winning of a Championship.  There is nothing like it.  The celebration represents the culmination of a job well done as well as establishes a thirst for future success in the dream of returning to the celebration next time.  Leaders encourage their teams to celebrate.  Although celebrations are often public events there is a very private bonding which exchanges among the actual team members who endured the struggle together when no one was watching.  This bond solidifies and strengthens a team going forward.

Even more personal is the feeling a Champion carries within, after the crowd and praise disperses and he walks off alone. I have not found anyone to describe this endurable feeling of self-worth and personal glory better than the ultimate coach, Vince Lombardi.

Vince Lombardi

I firmly believe that any man’s finest hour, the greatest fulfillment of all that he holds dear, is that moment when he has worked his heart out in a good cause

and lies exhausted on the field of battle – victorious. Vince Lombardi

Those early days of coaching football provided me with a Leadership Foundation which has carried me forward throughout my career.  I would not exchange the lessons learned and experiences gained on those patches of chalked grass for any MBA Program.  Leaders lead people in challenging pursuits by building powerful teams who outperform their own expectations and create winning outcomes.  Street Smart Leaders choose and win the “hard battles” which distinguish them and their teams far beyond the competition.  Throughout my career I have progressed through many business card titles, each one slightly prouder than the last, but the one which has made all of the difference is the first one I ever earned…Coach.

I Am Accountable”: the power of an Individual to take responsibility for himself and his actions.

In today’s dimension of collective failure, the amalgamation of the multitudes has rendered a safety net designed to protect populaces from the realities of their misfortunes.  This judiciously entwined network of “excuses” has filtered out any concept of personal responsibility and replaced it with a communal acceptance of mediocrity.  Communal irresponsibility has stripped the concept of Individualism from the “standards of excellence” we deserve and has replaced it with an apathetic; “We are doing our best.”  The permeation of so many people willing to impose their culpability on others while advancing with the expectation of restitution is subverting our Quality of Life.

With this lack of Individualism, is it any wonder the value of Accountability is a vanishing trait in our realm.  Leaders must drive Accountability throughout their organizations

Ayn Rand

before they will be able to realize victory.  Prodigious teams are comprised of great individuals who each possess a passion for their personal success and Accountability.  Without the strength, resolve, and commitment of the Individual, nothing of greatness will be accomplished.  Ayn Rand, author of “Atlas Shrugged” (a must read for every Leader) and creator of the Objectivism movement, defined the significance of Individualism:

The mind is an attribute of the Individual. There is no such thing as a collective brain. There is no such thing as a collective thought. An agreement reached by a group of men is only a compromise or an average drawn upon many individual thoughts. It is a secondary consequence. The primary act—the process of reason—must be performed by each man alone. We can divide a meal among many men. We cannot digest it in a collective stomach. No man can use his lungs to breathe for another man. No man can use his brain to think for another. All the functions of body and spirit are private. They cannot be shared or transferred. – Ayn Rand

Progressively more people are repudiating Accountability. They are settling contentedly into the Victim Role and abrogating their responsibility for producing quality results.  The real failure here is not in the refusal to embrace Accountability, but it is in the reality that many Leaders are standing on the sidelines watching the concept of Accountability perish.  Numerous Leaders are becoming indulgent and defaulting to the notions of mass mistakes and group let-downs in order to avoid the confrontation of individual failure.  Greatness has never been accomplished by the masses.  No mob, no groups have ever truly constructed any achievement of magnitude.

The reality is that where teams, groups, or masses have accomplished prominence, there were individuals of talent who possessed the determination, inspiration and the aptitude to move agendas forward.  They delivered quality results often surpassing conventional wisdom and expectations.  Exceptional teams are built on magnificent individuals who are directed and motivated towards the same goals with the guidance of an invincible Leader.

In today’s “make everyone feel better” world, we have come to believe that we are able to gather a group of average people, designate them a team, and that by some cosmic power transform them into better collective.  This futile conception is a farce!   The amalgamation of mediocre people creates a unit which is less than average at best.  Without the strength of individuals, greatness will elude your team and you.

Beware the Three Headed Monster, Cerberus which in ancient times kept fallen souls from escaping hell.  Today, Cerberus continues to maintain a constant state of hell by providing comfort and shelter to the unaccountable using his three heads: Consensus, Teamwork, and Collaboration.  Each of these platforms can be implemented to significantly enhance the outcomes of an A-Team, but in the wrong hands they are a “hide-out” for inferior performance.  In these defensive environments, poor performers can harbor their complacency and incompetency while complicating your situation even further.  Let’s take a look at our Three Headed Monster.

Consensus - Teamwork - Collaboration

Consensus has become one of the magical buzz words of past decades.  It is, however, a dangerous concept capable of cleverly castrating the brilliance of individuals and their winning ideas.  After hours of back and forth wordsmithing, I once heard a facilitator use this unscrupulous “consensus building” line which I will never forget.  He looked at the group and asked, “Is there anyone who cannot live with this”.  He had reduced an impressive birth of individual creative but conflicting ideas, meant to advance us forward, and turned them into a watered down impotent bargain.  Consensus accomplishes exactly that, an agreement based on the lowest common denominator. Never let it help you in choosing the path or the resolution which you should follow. Consensus suffocates Accountability allowing everyone to leave the room saying, “That’s wasn’t my idea”.

The next contentious head of Cerberus which attacks Accountability is the misdirected endeavor to boost non-performers by placing them on teams.  Teamwork is a virtuous concept when implemented to bring together talented and proficient individuals for a mission grander than their singular capacities.  Without individuals who value Accountability, the team transforms into a cavern for non-performers to neglect responsibility and deliver blame to others.  A leader must understand he cannot make a team accountable.  Individuals accomplish goals and therefore, it is a collation of individual efforts that accomplish team goals.  As a Leader you need to assemble teams based on individual strengths and not as a means to prop-up the inadequacies of non-performers.

The third head of the monster is Collaboration.  What a wonderful word, Collaboration. Doesn’t it even sound like fun?  “We are all going to sit around and collaborate this afternoon”.  Who wouldn’t want to collaborate?  Collaboration relies on the concept that people are going to comfortably lounge around discussing subjects, problems, or ideas and based on this interaction a magic spark of genius or brilliance will surface.  There is really nothing new about the idea of collaboration. Successful people have been collaborating forever with each other.  Just as with teamwork, if you want to lead collaboration to success, you better have the right people in the room to start with.  Randomly putting average performers together to “brainstorm” does not raise the group’s intelligence.  Great individuals make great collaborations and then go on to produce results.

As a Leader you must know how to avoid the jaws of consensus, teamwork and collaboration when they are being used as a shield for non-performance and un-Accountability.  Do not be tempted by the lure of speculation that “Tomorrow’s Leader” will focus on these three monsters to get results.  Nothing is changing tomorrow that will allow a lack of Accountability to prosper.  Individual Accountability contains the power to accomplish tomorrow’s goals.  It is your responsibility to assimilate the power of Accountable Individuals to reach new levels of impacting results.

If you cannot drive Accountability on an individual basis you will have a failing team. Each person must understand what they are to deliver.  These deliverables are non-negotiable requirements.  There are No Excuses.

The Oz Principle

If you are looking for a great framework on which to build a culture of Accountability, spend some time with the “Oz Principle”, by Craig Hickman, Tom Smith, and Roger Connors.  The Oz Principle provides assessment tools for Accountability and builds a common language for what they term, “Above the Line” and “Below the Line” performance.  Above the Line actions lead to Accountability and Performance while Below the Line activities result in the “Blame Game” and Excuses.  Adopt these principles into your organization and you will see an immediate improvement.

Managers can easily undertake a “witch-hunting” methodology when trying to build an accountable organization.  They take what should be an inspiring enriching program and turn it into a hammer which sends their team scattering into turmoil.  Instead of Accountability, they only manage to accelerate the “Blame Game”.  If you have assembled an A-Team of accountable talented individuals and you support their values with a culture of honesty and recognition, the Accountability formula becomes self-fulfilling.

Truly accountable people have a severe revulsion to those who play the blame game.  As their Leader, they expect you to something about this “dead weight” so they can continue to perform with teammates who share like values and competencies.  If you identify certain people on your team who possess an aversion towards Accountability, you must remove them; they cannot be fixed or motivated into becoming accountable.  For the remaining performers, you need only two magic phrases.  A truly accountable person will spare the witch-hunt and proactively step up and admit fault.  Just look this person in the eye and say. “Bill, I am disappointed, I know you can do better next time”.  And for the accountable person who delivers results with success, all that is required is a heartfelt, “Sally, I am very proud of you”.  No drama!  With the right A-Team Individuals, it is really this simple.

The Street Smart Leader understands that once he finds accountable Individuals, only then can he put them into situations of teamwork and collaboration and expect results.  Always remember, as a Leader you are ultimately accountable for everything that happens and everything that doesn’t.  At the end of the day it all comes down to the decision you have made.  There are No Excuses!  Tomorrow’s Leaders will be already setting the pace and embracing their own true Individual Accountability?

LUKE
Yeah, they sure do make a lot of
cold, hard, noise, Captain.
The Captain feeds his fury staring, then reaches out his
hand and Boss Paul lays the blackjack in it. As the chain
guards finish and stand up, trembling with rage, the Captain
takes a convulsive step forward and brings the sap down behind
Luke’s ear. As Luke tumbles down the littered embankment
toward the men:
CAPTAIN
Don’t you never talk that way to me!
You hear? You hear? Never!
His rage subsides and his voice becomes calm, reasonable.
CAPTAIN
(to the men)
What we got here is failure to
communicate. Some men you can’t reach,
that is they just don’t listen when
you talk reasonable so you get what
we had here last week, which is the
way he wants it, well he gets it,
and I don’t like it any better than
you men.

Click for Movie Clip

Many of you will recognize these famous lines from Stuart Rosenberg’s 1967 movie Cool Hand Luke starring Paul Newman.  For those of you under the age of 35, you really should check out this classic from Netflix.  Cool Hand Luke is the moving character study of a non-conformist, anti-hero loner who bullheadedly resists authority and the Establishment.  One line of the film’s dialogue from Strother Martin, who plays the prison warden called Captain, is often quoted: “What we’ve got here is…failure to communicate.” Anyone seeing the movie realizes that Luke is very aware of what Captain is communicating; he just doesn’t accept it.

For years there has been a colossal focus around the concept known as a Lack of Communication.  The prevalence of the so-called communication deficiency has become a magnetic reason for which to attract every problem.  The more heed I give to this issue, the more I am convinced there is no such thing as a “lack of communication”.  This vague ambiguous term has been propagated to justify every fault from why the paperclips ran out, to the Strategic Plan’s failure, and the company’s underperformance.  The communication failure movement has become one of the great “cop-outs” of our time.  As a Leader, you must eradicate this excuse from your business.  The elimination of this one term from your business will immediately improve cooperation, attainment of goals, and your overall business performance.

I recognize the implication of my position.  It concludes all of those classes and seminars you have participated in, from all of those communication consultants were an immense waste of time and money.  And even worse, rather than aiding problematic situations, they have been harmful.  Yes, that is exactly my conviction.  Communication facilitators who have come to your company and lectured about listening, personality styles, diversity, the role the sexes, etc., were misguided.  Sure there is value in being a better listener and understanding others perspectives and traits, but the basic premise, that if we just learn to “talk” to each other correctly everything else will work itself out is vastly erroneous.  Communication experts and consultants are today’s business “snake oil” salesman.

Anyone who works with me will hear me refer to the concept of “root cause” analysis. The root cause is the underlying reason a problem exists.  In my article, Creating Great Ideas by Exercising Your Mind, I compare root cause methodology to a four year old asking, “Why?”  If you’ve studied and implemented this concept, you already realize that unless you get to the root cause of situations, you really are just putting impermanent Band-Aids on potentially permanent problems.  You are reacting to fires and creating the subsequent emergency.  The idea or concept of “communication problems” is about as far away from a “root cause” analysis as you can get.  Communication problems are only symptoms at best.  If you are going to be a Street Smart Leader you need to realize that communication is never the problem.  You need to start asking “Why?”

Let me give you an example: Joe and Sally have a project assigned to them.  They both go off and begin to work on the project.  Two weeks later the project is due and after reviewing their work you discover you are completely disappointed with their product.  Their work is inconclusive, incomplete, inaccurate, and you are baffled by their inability to have concluded the assignment properly.  As you expound your frustration to them, they begin to ponder the excuses as to why they should not be held accountable.

First, they remember the communication consultant who came to the company last quarter.  And since it was made clear in the classes that communication problems are the “root of all evil”, they quickly go there.  They assert there must have been a communication problem between you and them for the work to be so far off from your expectation. Somehow you didn’t explain the task properly or they took away the wrong information or concept of the task. Now you know better, and although it would be uncomplicated to concur with them, endorsing the communication consultant’s viewpoint, your stomach binds into a knot.  As a leader, you know this isn’t right.  You know they were furnished clear concise directives.  You expected them, with their level of experience and competency, to fill in the blanks and perform; because after all it is not your job to hold their hands through every step of an assignment. You make this clear.

Next, they look at each other and begin to discuss the communication failure they must have had between themselves.  Apparently they didn’t have enough time to meet, or when they did meet couldn’t agree, or maybe they just miss understood what each other’s was going to be doing in terms of completing the task.  Regardless of the excuses, they are trying to avoid accountability on the basis of a communication problem.  As a leader you must crush the notion that communication problems can be used as the excuse for non-performance.

If you want to propel beyond communication problem excuses and solve issues, you must drive down to “root cause” analysis.  Often the root cause is simple; Joe and Sally just don’t like each other and so they can’t work well on a project together.  This is remedied by sitting them down and enlightening them on the realization that their personal disputes are the reason why their communication broke down.  Clarifying how petty differences will not constitute a motive for underperformance in their jobs and that regardless of how they feel about work towards each other, you expect them to leave-it-at-the-door and do their work professionally.  If this reoccurs you need only make it clear that if they cannot perform, irrespective of conflicts, you will find someone else who can.

The root cause of communication difficulty can often be a more complex reason such as the constraints of poor organizational structure or a non-cohesive gravely designed process.

Organizational difficulties can be one of the more impenetrable root causes of poor communication.  Most likely, you do not possess the authority to reorganize the company.  But you can understand where organizational breakdowns are occurring and why.  For example, does your company have a highly compartmentalized structure with different departments pursuing diverse goals and incentives?  Is the structure counterproductive to the pursuit of inter-departmental cooperation?  You may not be able to change the structural drivers that are reinforcing uncooperative behavior, but you are able to reach across those departmental walls and build bridges which heighten your team’s attainment of goals.  Some of those bridges will be from personal bonds with the leaders of other groups, grounded in mutual respect, trust and concern for the mutual welfare of each other.  Some bridges may just be the result of creating win-win situations completely motivated by the self-interests of both people on either side of the wall.  Regardless, you must find a way for your team to succeed with whatever organizational challenges exist.

Let’s take a moment and look at where a process problem is sometimes blamed on communication.  Process improvements and re-engineering efforts are major subjects and there is an abundance of books and expert programs which can be engaged to streamline your company efforts.  One of the simplest and most effective tools to evaluate your processes is a Deployment Chart.  A Deployment Chart is a matrix based flow chart showing the relationships between process participants. Learn to examine how you are asking people to do things to determine where the breakdown is originating.  Evaluating and redefining your processes to ensure a smooth flow can eliminate what may appear to be a communication problem.

There are many other “root causes” that disguise themselves as communication problems.  Some of them are complex and multilayered and require in-depth analysis.  More often than not, they are the progenies of lack of commitment, lack of focus and lack of creativity.  Once you barricade “lack of communication” as an excuse for non-performance and demand to understand the root cause of your team’s failures, you will activate an immediate acceleration in accomplishment. I realize there may be some communication consultants out there, who upon reading this, will conclude that I just do not understand communication issues.  I would contend it is the superficial ideology of these consultants that is at the “root cause” of many communication issues.  I challenge you to think seriously on this subject and dismiss the tide of brainwashing which has overcome us in recent years.

You need to be a Tough Leader and deal with the hard subjects behind your problems.  You need to scrape back the artificial answers such as “lack of communication”, and excavate your genuine challenges.  Only then are you going to discover tangible solutions. Avoid the “feel good’ fallacy of better communication. Deal with the material issues and produce substantial results.  Those real results will be the building blocks for your Winning A-Team.  And one more thing… it is amazing how well a Winning A-team can communicate!