Archive for the ‘Leadership’ Category

You’re Not the Smartest (Necessarily)

I was at a standstill in my hiring process. I had boiled down the pile of 101 applicants to two. Both candidates were well qualified for the job I had available in my department, and it was an important position – my second in command – my assistant director. Which meant, if there was a crisis management situation and I was not available, this individual would have to fill in. If someone had to speak to the media (as chief spokesperson for the organization), and I wasn’t around, it would have to be this person.

What should I do? Since my wife is one of the smartest people I know, I tossed my proverbial cards on the table while we were eating dinner, and I asked her what she thought. He first question, of course, was, which candidate did I favor?

I told her that the candidate with the Master’s degree had a slim edge, like, the thickness of the hair on my head (I’m bald).

Her response was, “why would you hire someone with a Master’s degree when you don’t have one? If you hire that person, he could eventually take your job.”

I wasn’t cocky or full of myself, but I hadn’t considered that line of thought. Even after she made that statement, I shrugged it off. I wasn’t worried about whether or not this individual’s advanced degree would someday make him more qualified than was I for the position I held. I was more interested in what was best for my team, and for the organization for which I worked.

One sign of a great leader is surrounding him or herself with other great people. My athletic coaches have always recited the mantra that the team is only as good as its weakest link. I’m not entirely certain that’s a fact because I’ve seen lots of teams with nine great players win a lot of games even though the 10th player couldn’t walk and chew gum at the same time.

Hiring great people for your team is important for several reasons. Most importantly, you can’t do everything yourself. Even if you are  a micromanager (the worst), you can’t possibly perform all of the necessary tasks required of your department in exemplary fashion. You need to bring the best and brightest to your team in order that every area functions at the highest possible level. Why wouldn’t you want to hire the best possible person in order that the required work is completed in all-star fashion?

Second, when you bring great people to your team, you’re improving the intellectual capital of your group. These people, hopefully, don’t necessarily think about things the same way that you do – and that’s a good thing. Fresh perspectives improve creativity, and can improve efficiency when a new thought can positively impact an old challenge.

Third, credibility is critical, and sometimes that’s unfortunate. But if you’re sending your second-in-command to a department meeting in your place, you want the other individuals around that conference table to have the same respect for your colleague as they do for you. If you give your second-in-command a project to complete, you want co-workers from other departments to know that this is a quality individual who will do an outstanding job.

Finally, the person that you hire for your team is a direct reflection on you. Do you want to have to answer your boss’s questions about why this individual isn’t performing at a high level? Do you want to hire someone who extracts countless hours out of your week because you have to oversee and correct much of the work they perform? Do you want other people in the organization whispering that you hired a flunky that’s barely adequate? Or, do you want to be known as the leader who oversees a dynamic, creative, and incredible team that always exceeds expectations?



Posted by on February 9th, 2017 No Comments

Make Others Better

Hall of Fame baseball player Reggie Jackson once said. “A great manager has the ability to make a player think that he is better than he is. He convinces you to have confidence in yourself. He lets you know that he believes in you, and before long you discover talent that you never knew you had.”

Coaches often talk of certain players on their team ‘who make others around them better.’ Meaning that this one individual elevates the performance of his or her teammates. That’s powerful stuff.

To me, this is one of the simple keys to great leadership. Can you make those around you perform better? Can you draw out from them talents and abilities that others might not be able to? Can you identify what makes those around you respond positively, what motivates them to exceed expectations?  Great leaders understand that not all individuals respond to criticism the same way, not all individuals respond to praise the same way. Not all individuals are motivated by the same things. So, the question is, as a leader will you invest the time to identify what makes the people around you do what they do?

Often times, leaders are reluctant to make better those that work with and for them. Why? Because we’re afraid that one day they will be better than are we and will take our job or our position. It’s the wrong attitude to have, but it’s understandable because it’s human nature. We want to protect what we have. But a good leader can only be as strong as the weakest member of his team. So should you build up others around you, or keep them down?

I do want to make a distinction here. I’m all for making certain that the newbies and young people on your staff, team, department, EARN their way up the proverbial ladder. I wouldn’t be where I’m at today if I hadn’t performed all the seemingly menial tasks along the way. But I was fortunate in a number of my positions during my younger years that I had mentors who were not threatened by my talent, my ability or my determination. I know how confident I felt when a superior trusted me with an important task or project. I know how I felt when he demonstrated that he knew what was important to me and what my strengths and weaknesses were. I also remember how I felt when I was taken under the proverbial wing to expand my professional capabilities or was shown how to deal with something that was not listed on my job description.

As a senior administrator for 15 years, I tried to return the favor. And the amazing thing is, it’s remarkable how hard people will work for you and with you when they know that you have their best interests at heart. When you try to bring out the best in others, they want to prove to you that you’re confidence in them is not misplaced. It’s a powerful tool, but it can’t be applied just for the sake of getting something in return. It’s got to be done with sincerity, determination, and consistency.

So, again I ask, should you build up others around you, or should you keep them down?

Posted by on November 28th, 2012 No Comments

What’s the Key to Being a Good Leader?

Ever since I wrote my leadership book, Final Four Leadership, I often get asked what I think makes for a good leader. The good thing is that we’ve evolved from a society that traditionally had one style of acceptable leadership, to one that now has been able to identify a variety of leadership styles that work. The traditional style to which I refer was one born from the military, and it was utilized by strong politicians, athletic coaches, as well as corporate business folks. That style still has value today, and it’s still utilized to a great deal in a variety of professions.

But back to the initial question. What do I think makes up a good leader? Drawing from my dozen years competing in the athletic arena, my 28 years in the professional world (including 15 years as a senior administrator) and my 16 years coaching youth sports, I’ve seen it all, good and bad. Over a few posts, I’m going to try to describe for you some of the significant characteristics that make up good leaders.

This has nothing to do with the upcoming election between President Obama and Mitt Romney, and it has no political juice to it whatsoever. So if you’re searching for controversy, you’re in the wrong spot. Although I’m sure reasonable folks will have an opinion on what I think comprises a good leader.

#1 – I’ve written about this before, but after interviewing the eight coaches for Final Four Leadership, and then using that lens to examine other leaders I’ve come in contact with, I think the most important trait for a leader to exhibit is Authenticity.

What does that mean? In the simplest terms, Authenticity means that no matter what setting you find yourself in, the people around you know that what they are seeing and hearing from you is the same thing that other groups will be seeing and hearing from you. When people see you in the grocery store, your behavior and  your attitude will be consistent with what people see in your place of business, your place of worship or in your home.

In other words, DON’T BE A PHONY! People can identify a phony from a mile away, and with the myriad of technological devices, you can’t get away with anything. When you are a phony it destroys your credibility, and it decreases the level of trust that people will have in you. If your colleagues, your friends, or, heaven forbid, your family, has to figure out with whom they are dealing with everyday, it’s difficult to build solid relationships.

If you’re a jerk, be a jerk consistently. People can adjust to that. But if you’re a jerk one day and Ghandi the next, you’re sending mixed signals and folks will avoid you completely. Does that mean if you’re a jerk you shouldn’t change? No. But if you can’t make a complete transformation, going halfway won’t help your cause.

Just be yourself, regardless of the setting or circumstances. People will gravitate to you and follow your lead when they know who they are dealing with on a consistent basis.

Posted by on October 25th, 2012 No Comments

Coach Like a Girl

Moronic Little League and high school coaches have used the phrase, ‘you throw like a girl,’ for decades.

Now, the phrase, ‘you coach like a girl,’ certainly has taken on some emphasis since Natalie Randolph was named head football coach at Calvin Coolidge High School in Washington, D.C.

While many will judge Randolph according to how many games her team wins and loses, high school athletics also include other indicators of success. Randolph will only be successful if she truly coaches like a girl.

Successful female leaders conduct their business in a different way than do male leaders. Not better, not worse. Different. Natalie has to be careful not to attempt to coach like someone she’s not.

I was privileged to interview legendary University of Texas women’s basketball coach Jody Conradt for Final Four Leadership. The quintessential southern lady bristled when I asked her about the difference between female leaders and male leaders.

Conradt explained that what often happens to a female when she earns a leadership role, be it in the boardroom, the courtroom or the operating room, the female believes that she has to assimilate the mannerisms of her male counterparts. This often causes the female leader to move away from her strengths in a subconscious attempt to pacify the men in her company. This defeats the purpose of hiring the female in the first place.

Authenticity, then, is the most important characteristic to which Randolph can adhere. She needs to be the same person on the football field as she is in the classroom. She can’t treat her students one way from 8:00 – 3:00, and then pretend to be Nick Saban from 4:00 – 6:00 and on Friday nights.

People in general, and kids more astutely, can detect a phony from a mile away. If Randolph doesn’t stay true to herself, it will undermine her ability to lead those young men. Randolph’s knowledge of intricate offensive schemes and defensive deception won’t matter at all if the boys believe she’s a faker.

Having coached girls’ youth sports for 13 years, I’ve discovered that your players don’t really care how much you know unless they know how much you care.

Another intangible that Randolph needs is an awesome ‘buddy system.’ One female fault my research uncovered is that when women do achieve the corner office, they often forget to share their experiences with their female colleagues who are still working their way up the ladder.

Randolph needs successful female leaders, like Maryland basketball coach Brenda Frese, as well as successful businesswomen, lawyers, doctors, etc. to reach out and let Randolph know they’re happy to be a sounding board or an outlet to vent frustrations.

Finally, Randolph needs to assemble a strong group of assistant coaches. She needs to be comfortable with the fact that she can’t do it all and she can’t know it all. She needs to assemble a staff that compliments her strengths and fills in the gaps.

Randolph has demonstrated she’s got what it takes to get the job. She just needs her players to know that if she tells them, ‘you throw like a girl,’ that might not necessarily be a bad thing.

David F. Salter is the author of Final Four Leadership: 5 Secrets Successful Female Leaders Use and You Should Too.

Posted by on March 23rd, 2010 No Comments

Chemistry Lesson

Even though the Nebraska women’s basketball team saw their unbeaten streak demolished Saturday in the semifinals of the Big 12 post-season tournament, the Lady Huskers success this season is directly attributable to chemistry. No, not the kind students might think of, in the classroom with Bunsen burners flaming and odd combinations of liquids boiling in glass beakers.

The chemistry I’m talking about, as discussed in Final Four Leadership, is the type of intangible connections made between people in a department, on a team or in a group of friends that allows that group of people to transcend the expectations and goals outsiders might place on that group.

Head coach Connie Yori has been on campus since 2002-2003, and last year’s 15-16 record was the only losing season in her tenure in Lincoln. Part of that outcome was the fact that 2010 Big 12 Player of the Year Kelsey Griffin missed the entire season with an injury. But this year’s 30-1 team, that should earn a #1 seed in the upcoming NCAA tournament, is more about the whole group than it is about one player. Everyone on the team has a role, and Yori uses her bench liberally. Everyone on the team understands that she has an important job to do to help the team, and nobody cares who gets the credit, especially Griffin who not only leads the team in scoring but also in offensive fouls taken on defense.

The best way to sum this up is by showing a couple of comments opposing coaches have made of the Huskers.

“I lover her team,” said Oklahoma State coach Kurt Budke. Notice he didn’t say I love Kelsey Griffin.

Oklahoma coach Sherri Coale, herself a Final Four coach, said it with a little more thought. “You watch them (on film) be good together, and it ceases to be about those individual players, who are so very good in their own right. It becomes about how good they are together. And I think that’s been their magic.”

I’m attaching here an Mp3 of an interview I did this week on Dresser After Dark, which is syndicated on Lifetime radio. Enjoy. David Salter

Posted by on March 14th, 2010 No Comments

Tough Decisions Part of Leadership

Brittney Griner is a freshman phenom on the Baylor University women’s basketball team. Unfortunately, she made a critical mistake Wednesday night when she lost her cool and punched an opposing Texas Tech player, breaking that player’s nose.

Having spent some time, in person, with Griner’s coach, Kim Mulkey, when I interviewed her for my book Final Four Leadership, I expected the punishment to be quick and severe. It was quick, but certainly not the punishment I was expecting. Griner was suspended for one game, the regular season finale against Texas, by the university, and one additional game as mandated by NCAA rules. A two-game suspension doesn’t send the type of message that needs to be sent in this instance. Baylor is nationally ranked, and most likely gets a berth in the NCAA tournament regardless of what happens to them in the Big 12 tournament this week.

For so long now, women in sports, and I would say women in every professional pursuit, want to be compared to men in a favorable way – equal pay for equal work, an equal amount of seats at the boardroom table, equal representation in management, and the list could go on.

In September, in the first game of the college football season, a player from the University of Oregon cold-cocked an opposing player from Boise State during post-game handshakes. That player was suspended for the remainder of the season, only to be made eligible to participate in the team’s bowl game. Considering that while the football season is long in terms of months, they only play 11 games, that was a pretty stiff sentence. In college basketball, teams can play close to 30 games depending upon post-season success. Again, a two-game suspension for Griner’s action hardly seems to match the incident.

As I have over the past couple seasons, I’ve watched the teams of the coaches that I interviewed for the book whenever they are on my television. I’ve seen Baylor play several times, and Griner exhibits the type of behavior that I wouldn’t want to see my own daughter demonstrate on the court. She hovers over opponents when they’re on the floor in a taunting manner, she thumps her chest enough to cause damage to herself, and she is more demonstrative than I thought Mulkey would allow a player to be. I don’t know Brittney Griner and have never spent any time with her. I don’t know what kind of kid she is. I only know what I see on the television screen. Some athletes are different personalities on and off the court, so if Mulkey says, as she did in her statement regarding the punishment, that Griner is a great kid, then I’ll have to take her word for it. Griner’s actions, however, depict a different scenario.

One of the more difficult characteristics of leadership is the ability to make difficult decisions under tough circumstances. I think a stiffer penalty was due in this case in order to send the message to this young lady that she needs to elevate her behavior to match the class that her coach has spent so much time developing in her program. It also would send the message that actions have consequences.

On a side note, I had the great opportunity to be a guest, along with my family, of coach Sylvia Hatchell in Chapel Hill a couple of Sundays ago when the Tar Heels hosted the NC State Wolfpack in a Pink Zone game. The Pink Zone games happened during the month of February, and it’s the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association’s way of elevating awareness for the Kay Yow/WBCA Cancer Fund. It was especially gratifying, since a portion of the proceeds from my book are being donated to the Yow Fund, and it was also pretty cool being a halftime guest with Brad Heller on the Tar Heels Sports Network. I’m going to try to link the interview here. Tar Heels Sports Network interview

Posted by on March 6th, 2010 No Comments

Micro-managers suck

There’s no way to state this delicately. Micro-managers suck. It’s one of the many drawbacks to people in positions of authority. It completely undermines any attempt at successful leadership.

Micro-managers create a stifling work environment. What’s the primary characteristic of a micro-manager? She wants to be in control of everything – down to how many paperclips were used last month by the organization and how many times someone went to the restroom and why.

This appetite for control puts colleagues in a pinch because they are frequently spending valuable time developing plans or strategies as well as compiling monthly progress reports. I wouldn’t ever argue that outcomes assessment is not necessary and a structure to guide someone in their path to achieving a task has its merit. The question is, to what degree? Micro-managers shackle their employees and colleagues with strategies and reports to the extent that it’s completely counterproductive because it wastes valuable time. And why do micro-managers request all of these plans and reports? Because they don’t know everything about everything, BUT they want you and everyone else on the team to THINK that they know everything about everything. And if they don’t, at least, have all pertinent information at their fingertips, they feel powerless.

Micro managing creates a negative environment as well for a couple of reasons. One, it proves that the boss has an insatiable need for control. Second, it demonstrates that the boss doesn’t trust the people on staff to perform the tasks at hand with the talent and skill that they brought to the position. Third, it shows a lack of recognition that most humans think and work differently than the person in the cubicle next to her. If you want a bunch of clones working for you, how do you expect to come up with creative solutions to the challenges your company faces?

Finally, the negative environment is punctuated by the regular “beat down.” By exercising this maniacal control, the micro-manager holds his employees strictly to the plans that have been developed. If the task is not carried out or accomplished in the precise manner it was recorded in “the plan,” you can count on being chastised for not completed your assigned tasks.

One of the things that I discovered from the successful female leaders featured in Final Four Leadership is that they hire good people and they trust those people to perform at a high level. They ask for input and feedback, and while they readily acknowledge that they might not always implement that input and feedback, it often informs their decision making process, and they want to hear that contribution on a consistent basis. They also bring people to their team who might not necessarily think and work the same as others on the team, but their core values are solid and the variety of thought makes a positive contribution to the team’s success.

Being a micro-manager is prohibitive to good leadership, and it prevents your colleagues from producing their best work.

Posted by on November 27th, 2009 No Comments

U.S. News Got it Wrong

Leadership does not have a political stripe, not is its success restricted or dictated by gender. But in the recent, annual publication of “America’s Best Leaders,” U.S. News & World Report has gotten it wrong. I’m going to use this publication for several forthcoming posts, because I find the U.S. News piece interesting, to say the least. In the first article in this issue, reporter Ken Walsh does a sit-down interview with Presiden Obama and the topic of discussion is crisis leadership.

The entire problem with Walsh’s article is that he relies upon opinions from David Axelrod, who’s a senior adviser and a long-time Obama friend, as well as the interview with the President himself. What’s wrong with this approach? It’s pretty simple, but of course Axelrod and Obama are going to speak glowingly about the President’s leadership qualities. They need to. They have to. But what I would’ve preferred Walsh do in this article would be to remove himself from the Oval Office when writing this story because it’s certainly tainted his piece.

If he would’ve written this story from an objective distance, he would see what many Americans now know, and many are coming to see. President Obama lacks the basic fundamentals for presidential leadership. Which goes back to a thought I had in a previous post. Mainly, that Americans have forgotten what good leaders are made of.

The three fundamental areas where the President has failed from a leadership standpoint are: trust, accountability, and authenticity. There are other leadership shortcomings in our President, but these three strike me as the most essential. Because if you don’t begin with these three, you can’t progress to higher level, despite glowing commentary from Axelrod or well-thought out rhetoric by President Obama.

The President has demonstrated that he can’t be trusted because he’s violated a number of his campaign promises. Have presidents past gone against things they’ve promised in their campaign? Absolutely. You can’t tell the people you’re going to do one thing and then either do another, or completely ignore what it was you told the people you were going to do. Second, this administration has a penchant for blaming other people for their shortcomings. I wrote about the blame game in a recent post as well, and I don’t want to rehash that entire piece. But if you can’t accept accountability for the outcomes of your actions, you can’t be an effective leader. Finally, President Obabma, like almost every politician in the world, fails the authenticity test. In other words, his persona changes based on the environment he is in. He’s a fake, and most people, regardless of intelligence or any other factor, can detect a phony from a mile away.

We’ll look at this U.S. News stuff some more.

Posted by on November 19th, 2009 No Comments

It’s Not My Fault

I’ll admit it right from the start. I’ve played the blame game. I’m not proud of it. It sets the wrong tone for my daughters and for others surrounding me. I regret it as soon as the denial leaves my mouth…but it happens anyway. More often than I’d like for it to happen.

One of the foundational principles that the successful female leaders I interviewed adhere to on a consistent basis is accountability. That is, no matter what happens, no matter the outcome, the head coach is accountable for her program, her staff and her players. Regardless of the scenario, the head coach is responsible for what happens. If a player gets into some trouble off the court, the coach steps in to try to help remedy the situation. Regardless of the fact that a coach or a boss in any business, cannot be responsible for their employees or colleagues 24/7. If the team endures a season less successful than anticipated, or less successful than the standards that are expected of that program, the coach accepts responsibility for that outcome.

When the University of Tennessee Lady Vols failed to advance to the Sweet 16 in the NCAA tournament last year for the first time in the history of the tournament, head coach Pat Summitt didn’t blame the players, didn’t blame her colleagues, the team trainer, or the fans. She essentially said she would work to rectify the situation. Now, some would think it crazy that a college coach whose team won more than 20 games and made it to the NCAA tournament would not be satisfied with those results. But you’re talking about Tennessee, the best program in the history of women’s college athletics. When you begin your preseason practices with the goal of WINNING the national championship, anything less than that is difficult to accept for those involved in that program. Players don’t go to Tennessee to be mediocre.

Which leads to the question, why do people fail to take accountability for their department, for their program, for their own actions? It might be considered “old school” but it seems pretty simple…Do what you say you’re going to do. If you can’t, don’t blame other people or entities. Just work harder to fix what you can and perform better the next time.

One of the reasons people fail to be accountable is that we often operate out of fear. We live in a business climate that is essentially win-at-all-costs. So if you don’t win, what happens? Usually, you’re fired. Bosses that are punitive, rather than collaborative and contemplative, produce employees who fear failure and, consequently, don’t want to accept accountability when things don’t unfold as planned.

The one big problem with a punitive mindset is that it prevents your colleagues from performing to the best of their ability. If employees, colleagues, players, or children are constantly operating under a premise of fear, then they are going to play it safe. They’re not going to push the proverbial envelope, because if they do and fail, somebody’s got to take the fall. That’s hardly the recipe for encouraging initiative, innovation, and creativity. CEOs, directors, bosses, coaches, teachers, et al, who, on the other hand, do not punish when the ultimate prize is not achieved, inevitably earn a greater return.

Notre Dame women’s basketball coach Muffet McGraw said that one of the things she absolutely loves is when her assistant coaches demonstrate accountability to one another. It fosters greater cooperation and trust between colleagues, a greater cohesion to the work effort, and, in the end it filters down to the team. McGraw said one of the things that she and her staff discuss with the players is the concept of accountability. However, she cautions that most often, people will not volunteer to be accountable. It has to be encouraged, and, in the case of McGraw and her staff, practiced and modeled.

Posted by on November 2nd, 2009 No Comments

To What Degree Loyalty?

Successful female leaders crave loyalty like cereal needs milk. Male leaders not so much. Men used to desire loyalty, but now (and this is painting with a broad brush) they figure they’ll just get rid of you and replace you with someone else. No big deal.

The interesting point with successful female leaders, however, is their requirement of loyalty is not that of undying commitment that consistently showers confirmation on the leader of the group. Successful female leaders want loyalty that is based upon perspective, input and feedback, and, when necessary, a contrary point of view to that of the boss. They want to have colleagues who are loyal to the vision, but not necessarily married to the manner in which the mission is achieved. In other words, they agree with the boss that, yes, they want to have the top sales volume in the company at the completion of the strategic plan. Yes, they want to win a national championship; yes, they want all of their students to graduate with honors and be fully employed or enrolled in graduate school within six months of earning their degree.

How do you accomplish those goals? A good leader puts the ultimate goal out there, establishes a timeline, but then allows everyone on the team make a contribution to the effort. Everyone doesn’t have to work and think in the same exact manner in order for the goal to be achieved.

Similarly, the leader of the group doesn’t want colleagues who are ‘yes’ people. Insecure leaders will seek out those types of subordinates. Good leaders will identify colleagues who will be truthful, thoughtful, respectful and dedicated, but not placaters.

When I questioned Texas women’s assistant basketball coach Gale Valley why she’s worked so long for head coach Gail Goestenkors, she basically said that Goestenkors gives her colleagues ownership, both in their day-to-day tasks as well as in the program as a whole. She also said that Goestenkors hires people who have the same core beliefs and principals, but they don’t all think alike and work alike.

When I asked Coquese Washington, the head women’s basketball coach at Penn State what she appreciated from working with Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw for eight years, Washington feels the most significant impact McGraw makes on her assistants is that she always listens to their input, whether it’s in game-planning for an opponent or during a timeout in the middle of a game. Now, Washington said that McGraw doesn’t always utilize the recommendations of her assistants. But the fact that McGraw honestly listens to and, on occasion, implements those ideas made a significant impression on Washington and on how she leads her program now in State College.

Loyalty, also, is not a one-way street. A good leader needs to be loyal to her or his colleagues. Good leaders don’t throw their colleagues under the proverbial bus when things go wrong. A good leader sticks up for colleagues when they’re mistreated. A good leader takes the blame for the team when the goal is not met. As a leader, when your colleagues know in their heart that you have their backs, the dividends it pays are enormous.

Loyalty and leadership should go hand in hand, but good leaders won’t exploit the leadership label. Loyalty between a good leader and colleagues is a lot like a good friendship. A good friend is with you and for you all the time, but when you mess up, or you disagree, the friend lets you know.

Posted by on October 27th, 2009 No Comments