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It’s Never about the “I”

Yesterday, my beloved Red Sox pulled off a great comeback. Down 6-0 after 5 1/2 innings they stormed back for a walk-off 8-7 win. It was quite the victory, especially for a team that has underperformed much of the year. At the same time their arch-rivals, the New York Yankees, have been falling apart lately thanks to internal strife and uninspired play. Both teams are flush with cash, both teams have rabid fan bases, both teams have talent laden rosters. Why then the current divergent paths?

While there are many different reasons, one stands out: a lack of cohesion.  Whether you are Major League Baseball’s #2 most valuable team ($912 Million) or a small business with five employees, having a common vision is one the true keys to success.

In the case of the Yankees and the Red Sox, we can get a feel of how they are heading in two different direction by looking at two very different player quotes.

Following last night’s aforementioned game, the Red Sox’s Dustin Pedroia told the Boston Herald:

“The game plan’s winning, that’s it…I tell…all the guys, we’re here to win. It doesn’tmatter if you hit .270, .280 with the personal stuff…It doesn’t matter what you do. It’s what we all do. It’s been fun lately. We’re climbing, man. That’s what we’re going to do. Get on the elevator and go.”

At the same time following their 6th straight loss the Yankees’ Rafael Soriano, who has been sidelined with an arm injury, was asked if it’s been hard watching all the losing from the sidelines, he responded:

“Right now, I don’t think the bullpen (is) the problem. It (is) the hitters. A lot of games we’ve been losing by two or three runs, I wouldn’t be in those games anyway.”

When you have true continuity, when you have a true sense of commonality, it shows. As a pragmatic and proactive leader it is this level of togetherness that must be attained to succeed. You want more “we” and less “I”.  It works in baseball, it works in business and it works in life.

Right about now you might be asking, “Hey Sean, it’s easy to be a positive, team player when things are going great, how about when you’re in the pits?” Glad you asked. When the Red Sox started the 2011 season 0-6, Dustin Pedroia responded to doubters by telling reporters:

“You’re either two feet in now or you’re two feet out. Let us know now because we’re coming.”

Even in the roughest of times, it’s about a shared sense of responsibility and accountability. If this message never wavers, then you have a better chance at success.

As far as the Yankees go, it’s now up to their leader/manager, Joe Girardi, to get his team on the same page. No more “I” and “me” and a lot more “us” and “we”. As simple or as difficult as it might sound, if you can gather your direct reports into a tight, cohesive team, then no amount of six-game losing streaks can keep the whole from succeeding.

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Tommy Lasorda and Cultural Momentum

Although it is politically correct to talk about teams and group efforts with gusto, if you take that rhetoric to the extreme, you end up denying individuals some of their basic needs at work. So, you need to make sure that you are giving individual group members some individual responsibility, which will enable each person to define their role, to tie their work to the broader agenda, and allow each individual to realize, and have some degree of control over, their successes and failures. Talk of teamwork is nice but it is by no means the only key to leading a successful group over the long-term.

Remember Tommy Lasorda, manager of the Los Angeles Dodgers (1976-1996). Lasorda is famous for saying, “My heart bleeds Dodger blue.” Put in a more academic context, Tommy Lasorda’s identity was intertwined with the Dodger organization. He didn’t simply identify with being a major league baseball manager. He was the manager of the L.A. Dodgers. Lasorda tried to create a community where the Dodger players also “bled Dodger blue.” It was that sense of community, in part, that pundits pointed to as a key to the Dodgers’ highly successful string of world championships and World Series appearances between 1976 and 1996. Lasorda was able to keep the players on his side by reinforcing their common affiliation with the organization.

Lasorda understood that free agency was flourishing in major league baseball in the 1970s and 1980s. New players would arrive each year and some well-liked and valuable players might leave. Lasorda didn’t try to create a collective in the sense that each person grew inextricably close to one another to the point that specific players might not be able to play well without each other. That would have been a disaster for the organization and for Lasorda’s ability to effectively lead the group over the long-term. Instead, Lasorda focused on the Dodger brand (uniform) as the unifying source of affiliation, where being part of the organization was, in effect, being a valuable part of the community and leaving the organization was unfortunate, but not crippling to the team’s sense of community. 

When establishing cultural momentum your best bet is to recognize the individual within the group.  Think of a jazz band. There is a pretty set protocol on stage.  The group gets up there and they play the melody or the “head” of any given tune. Then, in turn, each does their solo, first the bass, then the saxophone, then the piano, then the drums.  Then they come back together and play the head again.  There is something in this image that is a lesson in sustaining momentum.  The individual gets credit but the group doesn’t lose its identity. Within the parameter of the collective, there is opportunity for creative rejuvenation and breathing room.

In managing the organizational culture for momentum, you may want to pump up the collective. Talk about “we.”  Keep on heralding, “Together, we’re moving forward.”  The collective will spur them on and give them strength and courage. The collective is where momentum lives in its most mystical sense:  the sports team, the political party, the cutting-edge R & D group.  That sense of collective demands loyalty and adherence to norms and expected behaviors. Because of the danger of taking the group too seriously, the fear of criticism, and the inertia of groupthink, the collective may be the very place where momentum dies.  They won’t be on your side because it all became too much about the “we.”  In sustaining momentum, a managerially competent leader pumps up the collective but never forgets the individual.

(excerpt from my 2006 book KEEP THEM ON YOUR SIDE: Leading And Managing for Momentum)

 DoD photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Chad J. McNeeley
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You Are A Great Leader (in your own mind)

As a leader/boss it’s not easy finding out what others really think of you.  Your options run the gamut from the semi-unethical (eavesdropping) to the completely and utterly illegal (wiretapping).  In order to stay relevant within your own organization you must be connected with everyone from top to bottom.  We here at the Bacharach Blog can’t sneak into your office and do your dirty work for you but what we can do is give you some hints as to what those you lead really think about you.

Recently Dave Logan, the best-selling author of Tribal Leadership, put out a list of the 7 Things We All Wish We Could Tell the Boss. I am not sure he made the list for leaders, but it actually serves that purpose quite well.  Logan covers everything from “You’re nothing like Lincoln, Churchill or Clinton” which hits on the idea that you might only be a great leader in your own mind to the more self explanatory “Great leaders listen and you don’t”.  So instead of wasting thousands of dollars on pesky legal fees defending yourself against an invasion of privacy lawsuit, check out Dave Logan’s 7 Things We All Wish We Could Tell the Boss.

Oh and just to cover our bases our lawyers really want me to reiterate DO NOT ILLEGALLY WIRETAP YOUR EMPLOYEES.

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10 Things the HR Department Won’t Tell You

Things are tough all over. With unemployment hanging around 9.6%, you need every advantage you can get to keep the job you have or to get a new one.  In a recent issue of Woman’s Day magazine Kimberly Fusaro lays out the 10 Things the HR Department Won’t Tell You . The list includes things like how background checks have become more stringent for new job applicants all the way to something as simple as your personal hygiene (i.e. if you want to get and keep the  job, don’t stink up the room).

Leaders today demand so much out of their workers, in many cases they demand that employees do 2,3 or even 4 jobs at the same time. So leaders need to make sure those they are hiring can handle the pressure and get the job done. Some of the items on this list aren’t very PC and in fact a couple of them seem downright illegal. But no matter where they fall on the morality/legality scale, they appear to be facts of life, and most of us in the business world need to be aware of them in order to stay head of the game.

I don’t work in HR, I don’t know a lot of people who do. If you do work in the wonderful world of HR, drop us a line and let us know if these rules deserve a key to the executive washroom or if they should get a pink slip.

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Diagnosing Internal Malaise

The recent airing of General McChrystal’s grievances of the Obama administration’s handling of the war in Afghanistan through a public outlet has raised a series of important dilemmas for individuals hoping to enact reform within their organizations. How should I go about drawing attention to problems within my business?

One on hand keeping the matter “in the family” can spare higher ups having to deal with potentially embarrassing inquires and audits which will also undoubtedly keep you in your bosses’ good graces.  However, without any external pressure there exists the likelihood that your ideas will falter, as a powerful motivation of change has dissipated. Conversely, you can choose to go public with your misgivings, increasing the probability that change will occur, albeit with the added price of media scrutiny and a sure trip to the unemployment insurance rolls. Usually, I think many would agree that informing principals of your qualms and deploying political competence to see these change through is the optimal solution. However, if the situation merits urgent attention your best option may be to blow things up and take the requisite lumps that will come. One such situation emerged in the years preceding the full outbreak of World War II.   

Throughout history, art has undeniably been linked to propagandistic motives. Picasso’s Geurnica was painted after the tragic bombing of Guernica by Nazi bombers in the hope of drawing international attention to the tragedies of the Spanish countryside. Painted in 1937, Pablo Picasso masterfully conveys the suffering of the Basque people and the tragedy of war. In choosing such a public forum, one of Spain’s artistic lights was able to draw international attention the suffering of his people.

Picasso used light and dark shadows and images to amplify the atrocity of these heinous acts. In order to maximize international attention, he highlights victims by using representations of light and dark along with a linear composition to emphasize the inhumanity and terror caused by the Franco regime. 

Unfortunately, in some cases perverse incentives (typically delayed promotion, being labeled as a snitch, or even fear of termination) keep employees unwilling to collaborate with employers. Non-hierarchical workplaces can temper some of these anxieties and help keep tensions at a minimum. Occasionally, problems need to be addressed in larger forums, which should be used to gauge general concerns and begin to build a consensus towards finding acceptable solutions. Picasso’s painting served this purpose, a large-scale mural, which directed the conversation.

Every organization faces two competing demands: it must execute its current activities and adapt those same activities to face future opportunities and challenges. Organizations hoping to maintain a competitive edge must be able to accurately diagnosis internal malaise.