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  September 12, 2014
Putting People First...


"Before you become a leader, success is measured by how much you improve yourself... after you become a leader, success is measured by how much you improve others"

                                                 ~ Jack Welsh

My friend Rick is the father of a very gifted and skilled volleyball player, Megan.

Megan was heavily recruited out of high school and chose to join one of the best college programs in America, to play for one of the most successful coaches.

I had the opportunity to have lunch with Rick the other day and during our "life updates", he mentioned to me that Megan was really having a hard time, this being her senior year.  According to Rick, she is really in a mental funk at the moment and he is really worried about her.

Like most children of my long-time friends, I’ve known Megan for most of her life.  I’ve followed her multitude of successes (and even a few failures) throughout middle-school, high school and now college.  Without any of my own bias, Megan is one of the best volleyball players in America who has the ambition, talent and skills to be a member of the U.S. Olympic team in 2020.

I have always found her to be a positive and motivated person... so what was it that caused this shift in attitude?

After talking some more with Rick, I discovered that the coach of this highly successful program was lured away by some big money (well... big money for college volleyball coaches) to become the coach at another university.  Unfortunately, due to NCAA rules, whereas the coaches are free to change schools on a whim, the student-athletes are pretty much tied to their respective school for the duration.

A new coach was hired by Megan’s school, who decided to bring in a new system and style of play... one that doesn’t necessarily befit Megan’s personality or her skill set.

This transition has been particularly hard because the team, which last year was one of the top 5 in the country, is no longer even counted in the top 30 due to several disappointing losses.

A great team is built around the talents of its people... not a system...

In the classic business book, Good to Great, author Jim Collins writes about a great leader (Level 5 Leader) as being akin to being the bus driver of a company.

As the leader, the bus driver must decide the destination, the route, and which people will be on the bus.

Popular opinion is that the leader of a great company is one who creates a grand vision (destination) and then devises a plan of action in which to arrive at that destination.  Once the plan is created, then people are brought on board to implement the plan.  

First the vision... then the plan... then the people...

However what Collins and his research staff found was that the most very successful companies first determine who at the company possesses the highest degree of talent and skills, and only then does it attempt to try and create a plan based on those people.

At most really successful organizations, the destination and the route are secondary to the people.  It is the bus driver’s primary job to select the right people to put on the bus, the wrong people to take off the bus, and ensure that the right people are occupying the right seats.

Leaders at successful organization have the discipline to select people first... then direction.

This point was driven home last Sunday when I listened to an assistant coach with the San Diego State men’s basketball team speak about the great success that the program has achieved over the past 15 years.

In 1999, Steve Fisher was hired by San Diego State, to turn around a program that had won only 4 games the season before his arrival.

The following year, the team managed to achieve a .500 record and the year after that the team would play in the NCAA tournament for the first time in 20 years.

In the last 9 years, the team has complied an astounding 228-77 (74.8%) record going to the NCAA tournament 6 times (including 5 straight).

During this time, there have been nearly 100 different players, each with own unique skills and talents that have played under Coach Fisher.

According to the assistant coach, each season, the coaching staff spends a great deal of time evaluating the players, their talents and skills, and only then devises a new system in which to play that given season.

The players change each year... and so must the plan...

But it always begins with the people first... then the plan.

A good friend of mine recently left his company that he had worked at for the last 10 years. 

About 3 years ago, the owner of the company decided to retire and consequently sold the company. 

Prior to the sale, the company had been recognized as one of the best places to work as well as being highly profitable, however the new owners had their own vision about the direction of the company.

They started with a vision... then created a plan... and then realized that they didn’t have the proper people in place to implement the plan.

Within one year, most of the original upper-level management team was replaced with cronies and friends of the new ownership.

Soon thereafter, many of the mid-level managers left on their own accord as they no longer felt that their contributions were appreciated by the new upper-level management.  

These mid-level managers were then replaced with other new personnel eliminating all of the continuity and experience that once existed. 

The once healthy environment, with the free exchange of ideas and thoughts had now become a toxic haven of mistrust and office politics with the new ownership leading the charge.

Organizations are about people and the relationships that exist between... customers... vendors... employees...

Contrary to what some on Wall Street believe, business is not simply about profits and share holder returns... although if you do the right things with the right people... profits will come...

Unfortunately, I often see organizational leaders trying to lead with a top-down approach (my way or the highway)... rather than trying to encouraging and soliciting ideas from within the organization. 

Whereas in the past, organizational success may have come from efficiency and productivity... today most success comes from innovation and creativity...  

Leaders who continue to lead their organizations from the top down are in danger of failing or at the least being short-sighted and potentially missing a great opportunity to improve the entire organization... from the bottom up all the way to the top...

Thank you very  much for your support of OptiFuse where we believe that people come first...

Jim Kalb

Email -  jimk@optifuse.com
Website - www.optifuse.com
Blog - www.optifuse.blogspot.com 

Twitter - @OptiFuse

Previous Blogs

How to Make a Million Dollars...

The Secret to Happiness...

Crash and Burn - Chapter 2...

Choosing Wisely...

Playing the Blame Game...

Best Friends Forever...

The Lemonade Stand - Part III...

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