Villanova’s Unfair Advantage



An unfair advantage is doing everything just a little bit better than your competition.

Juliet Macur wrote a fabulous article in The New York Times today recapping the game on Monday night and the buzzer beating win by Villanova. Within it, Villanova’s “unfair advantage” was revealed – selfless teamwork.

Before Kris Jenkins’s Shot, There Was Ryan Arcidiacono’s Pass

Who-a Culpa?


What would you expect from a kid who can catch a ball with one hand, and has his wizardry played over and over on multiple media outlets and to millions of fans who only care about video clips and nothing about the athlete behind it. The adulation he receives feeds of his self-centered arrogance.

Yes, he should have been suspended … not one game but two or three. And one more episode — out of the league forever. To use yourself as a weapon? unacceptable.

Whoa, wait a minute. Such out of control behavior cannot have been Beckham’s first offense. Egregious acts of poor judgement are almost always preceded by other acts…. perhaps not spearing an opponent, but other outrageous acts where temper and, what some euphemistically call competitive spirit, has flared. And it’s been observed and not only condoned, but systematically rewarded.

Tom Coughlin, Beckham’s coach, is a man of high character. But, in recent years, his teams have been failing. Beckham offered a spark to the Giant fans and, perhaps to the team. Coughlin’s known to be someone who sees everything. But, he missed the three or more other attempts of Beckham to hurt his opponent? So what else did he and the other coaches “miss” that needed too be acknowledged by Beckham?

The player, the team, the coach, the refs, the media, the fans, the guilt is shared.

I needed help and had few choices.

I have studied hiring, written a book about it, helped others do it and agree totally that it’s the single most important thing a leader can do. Jim Collins has it right.

I confess, I’ve only done it for myself a few times in my forty years. One time, through absolutely no fault of my own, I got it right… a brilliant hire that reflects everything that the best hire in the world should be like.

Let’s start with the data that my research revealed and the reality that remains consistent. Leaders asked if they had the opportunity, “How many of those hired in the past would you hire again, if you had the choice?” That would imply that these individuals who they would hire again either met or exceeded their expectations. Or if they declined the rehire implied that they were sold a false product during the hiring process. The answer usually hovers around 50%. That means, about 50% are what we call “false positives.” They look like a good candidate, but somehow didn’t live up to their “potential.” Oops.

If that 50% failure rate holds up over years, those hired into organizations will slowly bring down the level of competency and, effectiveness will diminish. The result of all this noodling around in relation to hiring is that I began to ask, what does the perfect hire, the perfect employee look like? And, what is it that people wanted most and seemed to get the least.

Following is that list that resonates with me, and many others.

  1. Someone who comes early and stays late and doesn’t count. It’s the idea that they will do what’s necessary to get done that must be done – regardless.
  2. Someone who is trustworthy. They speak the truth, hold confidences, and give me permission to do the same.
  3. Someone who is constantly looking for things to learn – because they love to learn. They simply are curious, want to understand the in’s and outs of the business / the job sufficiently enough that it becomes part of them.
  4. Someone who wants to be the best – where excellence is the end of everything they do. Mediocrity simply doesn’t stand a chance with this person. It also holds me to a higher standard.
  5. Someone who challenges my thinking – not because they want to be right, but because they want me to be the best I can be. That requires courage and tenacity since I don’t always want to hear what I need to hear.
  6. Somebody who can laugh out loud with me, at me, and at themselves. It sets a tone of humility so that no one gets too big for their proverbial britches. It is the contrarian we all need.
  7. Someone, who is interested in the world in which they live – the good, bad and the ugly. It’s the only way to maintain perspective and not get lost in the minutia of one’s work so that family and the larger world are first, not second thoughts.
  8. Someone who can make an honest mistake and not beat themselves up for it. Perfection is a hard edge to be around, since it makes it harder for others to be imperfect.
  9. Someone who is not better than anybody else – who will do the grunge work and never complain. Somewhere in here lies gratitude for our own good fortune.
  10. Someone who is open to forgiveness. It’s one of those necessary two-way streets, without which long relationships are impossible.

I write this because this is the last day of work for my fifteen-year colleague.

Chris originally undertook a part time engagement. Providentially, my small office in the woods was half way between the nursery school her children attended and her home in a rural part of Pennsylvania. Raised on the island of Nevis she had few of the normal credentials and no understanding of anything I did. But, I needed help and had few choices. I discovered that she had most of the things on that list and, over the years found the rest. As she grew and changed, learned her trade and my trade she never brought her bad day to work, although I did create a few for her. (See #10)

Chris leaves for the right reasons. She has outgrown me, and my business. It’s time for her to bring these ten qualities to the benefit of others who she will now lead.

The challenge of any hiring process is that if asked, most candidates for any job will say they have all or most of the ten. And, when tested many will appear as false positives. The things we can measure would never have told me these sterling qualities of Chris. They were on the job discoveries that kept on giving – to both of us.

Who am I now?

GLI Fall 2013 Leaf

The GLI — Group Leadership Intensive — is over thirty years old with hundreds of participants having shared the experience. It has lasted all these years because it touches both the heart and the mind.

Names, status, personal histories, and reputations are kept out of the mix and participants take a pseudonym, a name of significance to them, a reminder of something they want to practice or remember.

The result is that this program is intense, personal and built upon a core of principles and skills that can be transferred to virtually any back-home environment, family or team.

It provides the opportunity to try on new behaviors both as a member and as a leader. It’s a place to break old habits and to ask the questions, “Who am I now?” and “Is this the person I want to be?”

If you have ever wanted unbiased feedback, based only on your behavior – this is where that will happen, by people who will want to support your growth. The good news is that those who join you are seekers, too.

Register HERE for the October Session, scholarship funds are still available.

Wisdom of the Ages

I stumbled across a faded client file from 20 years ago and unfolded a sheet of newsprint I used during a workshop in 1993.  During a discussion on leadership, I referred to a book that had just been published that captured the “essential elements of a leader”. I was a huge fan of Leadership Jazz by Max Depree – one the best books on the subject.

All these years later, I remain a fan, and a fervent advocate of these principles that withstand the test of time.

(And, in the newsprint vs Powerpoint debate, chalk a point up for the pen and paper! A typed transcript is provided after the jump.)


Tough Questions for Very Human Leaders

  • Do you take time regularly to recognize and thank people?
  • Do you show interest and concern in their work?
  • Do you let people know when you don’t know something?
  • Do you call key customers regularly to touch base?
  • Do people come to you to confide in you?
  • Does the day to day work of the organization feel boring, stale & conservative? What risk or sense of adventure do you model?
  • Do you hire the best – even individuals better than you?
  • Do you stop, talk, listen, congratulate, inquire – as part of your role?
  • But, do you really listen?
  • Are you willing to let go of unproductive programs? People?
  • Do you institutionalize effective interventions?
  • Do you life people beyond complacency, reignite emotion or ambition, challenge?
  • Do people feel supported, encouraged to grow personally?
  • Are you publicly accountable with your own goals? Achievements? Feedback?
  • Do you model openness?

The Seduction of a College President

In the world of higher education, generating dollars in support of research, salaries, educational initiatives and, of course, bricks and mortar is essential. Jennifer Raab (President of Hunter College) is, without question, a profoundly successful generator and that provides faculty the security they need and students the opportunities that could not be possible were it not for her efforts. The average college or university president lasts less than four years. One of the primary reasons is that they do not know how to do what Ms. Raab does so well. Her record at Hunter is, indeed, remarkable.

After twelve years, the sewer is backing up, and Ms. Raab’s limited skills in her other critical leadership role, that of managing others, are beginning to show (or smell). It does not take much intelligence to identify symptoms of a broken management system.

For starters, the revolving door of faculty, staff and other administrators, while not exceeding the $ figure achieved by her fundraising, takes expensive toll on resources, and productivity in terms of morale and performance.

Each time a mid-level university administrator leaves the cost to the system can be $50,000 to $100,000 in replacement fees. Small change you say. Good universities, and Hunter is one, normally find turnover minimal, since people arrive and wish to stay in an environment that provides intellectual stimulation and the opportunity to be a part of something positive.

If raising money is the only standard against which to measure a president’s performance, Ms. Raab excels. But, there is something deeply troubling about a leader who is unable or unwilling to name even a single “criticism of how she leads.” She is either unconscious, in a self protected bubble surrounded by those afraid to tell her about her impact, or arrogant and unwilling to even recognized the need to look at her effect as leader.

I have worked for fifteen years exploring a premise that most leaders will acknowledge:

The older you are, the more power and influence you have, the less those around your will tell you the truth.

In all those years, sharing the implications of this notion among leaders in higher education, business and politics, I have only received knowing nods from those listening. What I call “Seduction of the Leader”, is alive and well in most organizations.

It is for the leaders to overcome the reality of seduction, to develop ways of protecting those who, as in this instance, live in a climate of fear, and have a lot to say but no security to do so.

So, who are those around Ms. Raab who will tell her of her excesses? What does she do to measure her own effectiveness as both leader and manager? How does she model the use of feedback to allow course corrections in her own leadership or that of those around her?

It is not about her being a woman leader that is to be questioned. It is true of male and female leaders who create a climate where truth and candor go underground and fear trumps trust.

Her statement, “I have a vision and I have always been very, very determined …I am very tenacious” is, I’m sure, one of her greatest assets. It may also be one of her biggest weaknesses. Will her ideas be challenged by others as smart (or smarter) but, perhaps, less certain, less tenacious than she? Can she hear them? Will she seek them out or only those compliant to her strengths?

When Matthew Goldstein, the former Chancellor, was pressed about the case being built against Ms. Raab he said, “but her metrics are very good.” I ask, however, are their metrics about her behavior, about her style, about her impact on staff, managers and others? Did the Chancellor take part in the seduction of  her as a leader by being unwilling to look beyond the metrics he provided?

Without much training or experience in higher education when she entered the Hunter system, there may still be things she can learn that could help her presidency. As an educator, regardless of her degrees, you would want someone open to possibilities and who would be encouraging of others to share their ideas for the betterment of The University. That a minority of her constituents find Hunter to reflect a climate of fear, is something that needs to be addressed. It would logically start with Ms. Raab.


So Much for Lines in the Sand


I voted for Obama. I want to trust him – but I can’t.

He’s lost credibility.  He draws lines in the sand on valued based decisions and then fails to act.

Three months ago he declared “if they use chemical weapons we will intercede.” Since then, there has been considerable evidence that this occurred. Now, there is firm evidence . For confirmation look at the bodies of children stacked on pallets.

The world watches. Days pass. No action. Now, within the same week Assad continues“crimes against humanity”. Only days later, another horrendous act against humanity, the bombing of a school with a Napalm like substance, killing, burning and disfiguring scores of school children.

How many times do you draw a line in the sand?

In Egypt, we’ve supported the generals for years. We don’t like the regime, the Islamic brotherhood, a freely elected government. So we turn our backs when the generals (who we support) oust the freely elected government after less than a year.

We don’t allow democratic processes to take place. The generals conduct a coup.

Obama won’t even say the word coup because it would mean giving up the right to supply arms and aid to the generals.

I want to trust him.

But I don’t.

Hitting the Air Waves


Radio Interview

I was recently interviewed about “Seduction of the Leader” and, for your listening pleasure, I’ve provided a link below:

Democracy and Deception

In theory, those who work in foreign countries in service of the United States are accountable to the American people, through their elected surrogates – The United States Congress. While there is always room and understanding of some secrecy in a world of ongoing intrigue and spying, there are limits to permissible lying and deception of the American people. Yet, increasingly, in the name of terrorism, or national security, not telling the truth nor educating those they represent is seen as business as usual by The Congress or the organizations that lead interference for them such as the NSA, the CIA and other agencies involved in international intrigue. The result is that those given the responsibility to keep us safe can, through their actions, actually place our nationals in harms way and jeopardize our credibility in the eyes of our allies as well as others who would do us harm.

According to Conor Friedersdorf reporting in TheAtlantic (What Complicity in Iraq’s Chemical-Weapons Use Says About America – Conor Friedersdorf – The Atlantic and The Attack in Benghazi: Worth Investigating After All – Conor Friedersdorf – The Atlantica sleeping American public in 2012 was led to believe that The United States was not directly supporting the Syrian rebels. When the deadly and tragic assault on the American compound in Benghazi, Libya and the murder of Ambassador Stevens and three other Americans, was reported, it was defended as a tragic affair for which the US government bore no responsibility. Stories were bandied about, but no credible plot by extremists was aired. Yet, later, it was discovered that this supposed “diplomatic outpost” was, in fact, a CIA operation with dozens of CIA operatives present on the night of the attack. The theory is that the US had been secretly funneling weapons from Libya to the Syrian rebels long before such restrictions had been lifted. Fearing strong political repercussions of such a secret operation, it was reported that lie detectors were being used to insure that the CIA operatives would not leak the truth of the situation to the press. In the meantime, Secretary of State Clinton and other members of the diplomatic corps created a smoke screen surrounding the entire affair.  

Think how many people knew the truth and how it was repressed – how the lies and deception built on a base of fear and intimidation became the distorted rule of law in this corrupted piece of American real estate.

Thoughts on Steve Ballmer’s Exit from Microsoft

I was asked to comment on the shakeup at Microsoft and this post in the New Yorker. 

So, here are a few bullet points of my initial thoughts…

  • Fear snuffs out creativity.
  • Taking smart even brilliant people and having them compete to avoid failure breaks every rule of how to build motivation and morale.
  • It is obvious that Microsoft didn’t know how to build effective working teams — either in the management of the enterprise or the the creation of ideas to make the enterprise competitive.
  • Brilliance without heart is not sustainable.
  • Steve Jobs was, at times tyrannical, but he had a sense of the team, of how to motivate and challenge individuals. 

I could go on and on.

Just because you’re intelligent doesn’t mean you’re smart – whether you’re an individual, or a organization.