Saturday, October 6, 2012

Cold Shower

Gerry Cheevers, Hall of Fame Goalie and Coach, once famously remarked, when asked why the other team won:
“Roses are Red,
Violets are Blue,
They scored Six,
We scored Two.”

It isn’t exactly Shakespeare, but it is a good example of leadership in a tough situation.  At the root, good leadership requires that the leader – coach, CEO, admiral, president, etc., recognize reality and admit it to those around him.  When things are really going poorly, to stand up and say ‘everything is swell’ is the wrong answer.

There is, of course, the need for positive thinking.  But that is exactly what you get from, for example, the good but tough coaches who, during half-time, remind the team that ‘the other guys scored 4 touchdowns in the first half.’  They then go on to explain - specifically - what needs to be done to turn the game around and win in the second half.

That is why what happened in the first Presidential debate several nights ago.  Whether you are an Obama supporter or Romney supporter, there was little disagreement among viewers that Romney won decisively.  Fine; there are always going to be winners in these situations.  And the other guy can always bounce back and win the next one.  But the response from the Obama campaign, rather than brushing it off and saying: “Well, good show by Romney, but we’ll win the next two rounds,” responded, 24 hours later, with the bizarre comment that “Romney lied.”  Besides sounding childish – which hardly motivates your followers, it fails at the most fundamental levels of leadership.

No coach never goes into the locker room at half time and says “they cheated, you guys are really winning.”  (Perhaps some coach has, but he wasn’t coach for long.)  Leading requires many things, but one of the most important qualities is ability to see clearly the world around you, and the honesty, the integrity, to admit it when you have failed at something.  Problem solving, whether at Alcoholics Anonymous or in the Boardroom, or anywhere in between, begins with recognizing that you have a real problem and then understanding the nature and extent of that problem.

It doesn’t matter what you are doing: political debate, football game, introduction of a new product line, opening a new factory, running a new ad campaign, or a thousand other events – if you get it wrong you need to recognize that fact, acknowledge that fact and then assess what went wrong and why and then work to fix it.  Nearly any problem can be turned around.  But failing to accept that you have even made a mistake is often ‘fatal’ to virtually any enterprise.  Every leader – new or grizzled, young or old – must be willing to accept the ‘cold shower’ of reality, recognize where they have made a mistake, and using that knowledge, adjust their efforts and move on.  It is one of the key foundation stones of any success.


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