I’ve got a personal question for you up front and a free gift at the end of this email. When I say “personal”, I mean it’s between you and your mirror. After you read this, take a long hard look in the mirror and answer this question: Which organization’s leaders am I behaving like?
My spring was marked by two very unique experiences. First, I had the privilege of traveling to Bradenton Florida to spend 3 days working with the coaching staff of the Pittsburgh Pirates organization. The leadership characteristic manager Clint Hurdle wanted to drive home to his coaches during spring training was “Saying more by speaking less”. With that in mind, he very wisely had me model that by spending the first two days observing and evaluating before speaking to his major and minor league staffs. From the minute I arrived, Clint and Assistant General Manager Kyle Stark wanted to immerse me in what the ball club was doing. Whether it was 6:30am coaching staff meetings, practice, meals, strength and conditioning or spending time with their sports psychologists and players in the evenings.
Everyone from the general manager to the director of transportation and even the education coordinator made time to speak with me. People from baseball operations invited me to lunch to discuss how they might be able to coach their people better.
When I asked each person what their biggest challenge was or what they felt was the organization’s most important area it needed to improve everyone shared willingly and openly, senior leadership included. Clint and Kyle both would repeatedly ask what I was noticing, areas for improvement and any other ideas I had to share. Everyone was almost always taking notes in their meetings and conversations. Never did leadership get defensive or question who was giving what sort of feedback.
They’re an organization committed to transparency, authenticity and continuous improvement. They value and seek the truth, and appreciate the perspective of an outside set of eyes. Anything the Pirates leadership asks their people to do, they model by doing it themselves first.
They are also an organization that values feedback and thrives on it. This was most apparent with their group of sport psychologists. After each meeting where one of the psychologists presented to the coaches or players, the staff would hold a short debrief and go around the table asking for “one up, one down” feedback. In other words, specific feedback would be shared with the presenter on what he did well and what he could have improved upon. Each time, the individual gladly accepted and appreciated the feedback. PhD’s with decades of experience were gladly accepting feedback from interns. While this may seem small, it speaks volumes. You can’t ask your people to be coachable and accountable if you don’t welcome coaching and accountability yourself. The Pirates clearly walk their talk from the top down.
Contrast my time with the Pirates with another organization seeking a “corporate championship” of sorts in a different industry. Similar to Major League Baseball, their industry’s margin for error is razor thin and what separates the champion from the rest of the competition is equally so.
They brought me in for two days during their “preseason”. In advance of the two days, as I always do when working with a consulting client or speaking to a company, I asked to interview a variety of their employees to have them confidentially share some challenges specific to their role within the organization. The employees were open, honest and shared with the intention of helping to make the organization better.
When I asked to interview senior leadership several were “too busy” and even though I requested to speak one to one with each, their self-appointed “keeper of the culture” instead wanted to do a conference call for the sake of expediency. During my time on-site with the company, I had to seek out two of these three leaders and the third was a no show for his own event. The only thing they wanted to know from me was who shared what complaints (notice they used the word complaints and I use the word challenges). Essentially asking me to violate their employees’ confidentiality. They cared more about finding out “who said what” than what was actually wrong and how to improve it.
The irony of it all is that they hired me to help “level up” their employees to better model the core values of the organization. Unlike the Pirates, this company’s leadership wasn’t leading from the front. Their walk was completely incongruent with their talk. Sadly, it’s a common problem. Many claim they want to be a catalyst for change yet they don’t model the very values they expect their employees to demonstrate. Vision without execution is delusion. I subtly challenged them to look in the mirror and make sure they’re being the change they want to see. Time will tell what happens next for them.
The bottom line is that your people need a model to see not just a motto to say. And you can’t expect Ritz Carlton caliber performance from your people when you’re only willing to give a Motel 6 kind of effort yourself. All change starts internally and make no mistake about it, something has to change- either your goals or your behavior.
I’ll end with that personal question I asked at the beginning:
Which organization’s leaders are you behaving like?