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

You Can’t Force the Issue

At the team’s media day last Thursday, University of Connecticut women’s basketball coach Geno Auriemma wondered aloud from where his team was going to get its on-court leadership this season. While junior Maya Moore has been the best player on the team since she signed on with the Huskies, veteran players have filled the role of team leader. Most recently, point guard Renee Montgomery was that leader. She’s just completed her first season with the WNBA’s Minnesota Lynx. There are three players vying to take Montgomery’s position on the court, but that doesn’t mean that any of those three can fill her leadership role. In fact, one thing you can’t force upon an individual, either on the court or in the boardroom is the responsibility of being the leader of the group.

It could very well be that one of the three players competing for the bulk of Montgomery’s minutes on the court will have the aptitude and the attitude to be a leader. However, just because the point guard, many times, is the on-court leader of the team, it can’t be assumed that this will be the case.

This happens in any endeavor, and that’s why I always tell people (when they question my passion for sports) that athletics is a microcosm of life. My research indicates that young women, in particular, do not like to have the title “leader” thrust upon them. Young women want to be liked by everyone in the group, whether it’s an athletic team, a corporate department or a classroom full of students. Young ladies prefer to be liked as opposed to being the queen bee. This desire to be friends with everyone gives young women the perception that they can’t be a leader, too. Which tells me that they’re viewing leadership as a negative thing. Maybe that’s because everyone they’ve encountered in their young lives who’s been in a leadership role has led in negative ways. Maybe it’s because they believe that in order to be a leader, you have to tell your friends things they might not want to hear, and the fact that someone is termed the leader means that everyone else is following, which, in itself can have negative connotations.

Sometimes there is an expectation that the most talented person on the team, in the boardroom or in the classroom should be the leader. But talent and leadership don’t always go together. Sometimes, but not always. In athletics, all-star caliber players sometimes try to be coaches when they retire from the field or court. Historically, the best players, in almost every sport, have been the worst head coaches. I know there’s some people who’ve studied and reported on this phenomenon, but that’s not the point of this post.

The bottom line is, leaders are partly made and are partly born. You can’t make somebody be the leader because you want them to be so. Coach Auriemma, at the media day last week, shows why he’s guided the Huskies to six national titles. He concluded his leadership thought by surmising that the team’s leader will emerge at some point in the season, and he doesn’t now profess to know who she is or when she’ll step forward.

Posted by on October 19th, 2009 No Comments

Breast Cancer Awareness

One of the things that I learned when I was writing about these awesome female leaders in Final Four Leadership, is that each of them is always on the lookout for ways in which they can contribute to their profession. It might be sitting on a committee, it might be conducting a clinic to show others how they do what they do, or it might be a simple hand-written note to a new colleague who’s risen in the ranks and has assumed a position of leadership.

In the interest of giving back, I was searching for a way to say ‘thank you’ to the eight coaches and their colleagues who gave so much of their time to me to get the book written. Over the past three years, cancer has had a big impact on my life and on my family and on my friends. My wife is a cancer survivor, my sister is a cancer survivor…each of my three daughters has had to watch a classmate bury a parent who’s died from cancer in the past three years. And right now we’ve got a close friend who’s been battling both breast and ovarian cancer during this past year. She’s had surgeries and treatments and she was able to get back into the classroom this fall (she’s a high school teacher) and she’s been very inspirational to me. So with that as a backdrop, and having difficulty coming up with a way to give back, when Kay Yow, the long-time coach at North Carolina State, passed away from breast cancer last winter, the light bulb went off in my head. When I finished writing Final Four Leadership, I contacted the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association and signed a licensing agreement with the Kay Yow/WBCA Cancer Fund. It is affiliated with The V Foundation (after Jim Valvano) and it provides research grants specifically to those scientists and doctors searching for cures for women’s cancers. I’ve got a crazy number in my head that I’d like to donate to the Yow Fund, but I’m going to have to sell a lot of books. October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

So, one of the smaller lessons I learned from these successful female leaders is to find a way to give back. Writing this book was a team effort, so this is my way of recognizing everyone who had a part in this coming together.

Posted by on October 15th, 2009 No Comments

The Personal Touch

One of the primary theories proven in Final Four Leadership is that it takes a different skill set to lead a group of men as opposed to leading a group of women. That’s not a bad thing nor a good thing, it just is what it is. The successful female leaders profiled in the book have developed a number of strategies that help them relate to and motivate the individuals under their guidance. The good thing is that these strategies apply to either gender.
When the term, Personal Touch, is tossed on the table of a leadership discussion, the first thought that bangs into your brain is “touchy-feely.” Which leads one to think that you’re ‘soft’ in your leadership style. Soft, obviously, is not used here as a term of admiration.
When I talk about personal touch, however, I’m not talking about creating a personal relationship with those whom you lead (although that can happen). I’m talking about making a personal connection. There’s a difference.
Individuals will come to your team, your department, your company from different backgrounds, different social circumstances, different levels of education, with different personalities and different agendas.
Likewise, each of these individuals has a different measurement of success, a different way in which they like to be recognized and certainly a different manner in which they are motivated.
One size does not fit all. Male leaders sometimes have a difficult time grasping this concept. I’m reminded of a scene at a freshmen girl’s basketball game a few years ago. The coach was a male, and during timeouts he would yell at and chastise these 14-15 year old girls. You could see that the players tuned him out as soon as his voice began to rise. A colleague said to him, “you can’t yell at girls the same way you yell at boys.” The response from the moronic coach was, “why not?”

Retired Hall of Fame women’s coach, Jody Conradt, said, “Because you are dealing with people, you can’t have a cookie cutter approach. You have to constantly find ways to not just relate to people, but to understand whatever it is that is motivating them. There are certain things that everybody has to be treated the same, abiding by team rules and things like that. But everybody communicates differently, everybody accepts criticism differently and everybody needs praise to a different level. I think the real secret…trying to figure out what everybody needs, what motivates them, what brings out the best in them, and trying to do that.”

Invest the time in making personal connections with your co-workers. Add it to your leadership tool box and watch performance improve.

Leadership thought for the week: Don’t hold grudges, just move on.”

Posted by on October 8th, 2009 No Comments

What Leadership?

I’m convinced. We’ve lost it. Almost completely lost it. No…not our minds (although some of us certainly feel that way on occasion). We, as a society, have completely lost our sense of leadership. We have no clue what ingredients it takes to be a good leader, nor do we know who is and who is not a good leader. We’ve dropped our guard, and we’ve been lulled into a false sense of security when it comes to leadership. The reasons are plentiful and they’ve all conspired with one another to create this crater in credible leadership.

There was a time in America where leaders were readily identifiable in various fields of endeavor, including athletics, politics and business. Ranking officers in our branches of the military always have had fingers thrust at their chests – “he’s a leader.” But as I write on this morning of October 1, 2009, I am alarmed and concerned about the staggering dearth of leadership in this country. Most rational Americans agree that you’d be hard-pressed to identify a politician on the national stage, of either party and of either gender, who consistently demonstrates exceptional leadership skills. We’ve lost faith in corporate America and in Wall Street. Some might look to their pastor, minister, rabbi or religious leader, but we’ve all seen the shortcomings there as well.

Webster’s defines leadership as:  the position or function of a leader; ability to lead; an act or instance of leading; guidance; direction. What the heck does that tell us? Nada!

Thankfully, I found eight successful female leaders who’ve restored my faith in the prospect that we still might stand a chance to produce dynamic leaders who will guide all facets of our country over the next several decades. For the sake of argument, I’m going to rely upon the research for my new book, Final Four Leadership: 5 Secrets Successful Female Leaders Use and You Should Too! Not only is there a ton of good information in the book, but, as with most projects, there’s a bunch of good stuff that didn’t fit into the book as well. Over the next several months, I’m going to outline here what makes a great leader, as well as dissecting those mistakes we see leaders make that undermine their ability to lead. These are not going to be in any particular order, so you won’t be quizzed at the end.

A great leader possesses the ability to inspire those around her or him to achieve results beyond the limits that those individuals may have placed upon themselves. Most of us want to feel motivated, we want to experience that great sense of accomplishment that coincides with a job well done. But think about this. When was the last time that you accomplished something, anything, that exceeded your expectations? I know you have. We all have. It doesn’t have to be as monumental as creating the 8th wonder of the world. Maybe you surpassed your quarterly sales goal by 75%, before the quarter was over. Most times, when we fly beyond the horizon we envisioned at the beginning of the task, we’ve had someone behind us pushing and prodding us along. Make no mistake that personal initiative and perseverance play a role as well. But I can recall many occasions when my outstanding accomplishments were partly the product of being motivated by a mentor, a teacher, a coach or a parent.

What is one of the essential tools that these successful female leaders utilize to do this? It’s called Personal Touch, and I’ll tell you more about it in my next post.

Leadership Thought for the Week: You don’t have to be the Boss to be a leader; and just because you are the Boss doesn’t automatically qualify you as one.

Posted by on October 1st, 2009 No Comments

Lessons in Mercy

Because my wife and I don’t get as much time together as I’d like, I decided to sit through the premier episode of a new drama, Mercy. Its main characters are nurses in a Jersey City hospital. My wife’s been a nurse for a decade. In the first 15 minutes of the show, a new nurse, freshly graduated from an Ivy League Master’s program, joins the nursing staff. The two lead characters, taking advantage of the naivete of their new colleague, take her with them to visit a patient who has terminal cancer. Upon pushing open the door to the patient’s room, the two veteran nurses dodge left and right, leaving the newbie in the cross-hairs of flying food from the cranky patient. Her new smock appropriately soiled, the two veteran nurses wink and nod and go about their business.
My wife looks at me and says, “real nurses do that.” I passed off her observation as a typical prank of initiation. But I later recalled a conversation she and I had several years before when she, herself, was a nursing student.
An important part of the nurse-in-training is the clinical preparation where nursing students spend significant hours on various floors in a hospital, attempting to absorb as much as they can about the various medical disciplines while also learning from their mentor.
A frustrated wife came home one evening and said, “nurses eat their young.” My reaction at the time was,”that’s a heck of a way for nurses to encourage and motivate future colleagues.”
While I completely understand hyjinx and gentle hazing of new colleagues, this impresses me as a different dynamic. One that has become pervasive with some in leadership positions.
We seem to have fallen into this trap of those in leadership positions feeling it as their duty to put their subordinates in their proper place. In other words, the leader wants to make certain that everyone knows his or her place (beneath the leader) in the hierarchy of the office or division. This is a futile attempt for the leader to secure his or her place at the top of the proverbial food chain. Trust me, the subordinates aren’t as dumb as they appear.
Is this what we want from our leaders? To be put in our places? To be reminded that we’re an underling?
Meet me back here soon when I start to outline the characteristics of great leaders. Trust me, we’ve forgotten who and what they are.

Posted by on September 28th, 2009 No Comments

Smart As A Box of Hammers

I’ve been blessed with three daughters, and not once in 18 years have I wished that I had a son. Well, maybe when I’m cleaning out the garage and I could use some help moving a ridiculously heavy item. Of course, with my middle daughter weight training four days a week in preparation for the upcoming basketball season, that’s become less of an issue.
The only unfortunate aspect of my three girls is that they’re all in the teenage years. Which means I’m about as smart as a box of hammers.
They’ve had in incredible impact on my life, mostly positive ways. One of their more significant contributions has been their influence on my writing. My just-released non-fiction book, Final Four Leadership, is inspired by my oldest daughter’s foray into the college search process. My audio book in 2004 was likewise motivated by my girls.
Final Four Leadership profiles eight of the most successful female leaders in our country, and it also uncovers five universal secrets they share in successful leadership.
This space will primarily be devoted to leadership and to father/daughter issues. Occasionally I might rant about my Steelers or Phillies, but I promise to keep those to a minimum.
Welcome aboard. My friends with older daughters tell me once my three girls get further away from their teenage years, I’ll begin to reclaim my lost intelligence. So I’ve got that going for me.
P.S. As a bonus, just in time for the Holiday season, we’ve also decided to release my first work of fiction. I Can’t Remember Christmas is being offered at a crazy low introductory price because we want to share an awesome story with you all. Enjoy.

Posted by on September 24th, 2009 No Comments

Dear Daughter, I Forgot Some Things

An audio book by David F. Salter

Your daughter’s just turned 13 and, in her eyes, you’ve become as smart as a box of hammers.
Talking to your teenage daughter can raise more emotions than helping your wife select draperies for the guest bathroom. But it’s got to be done.

A recent study shows nearly half of teenagers have had intercourse before age 18. An estimated 10 million girls and women in America suffer from an eating disorder.

In a series of letters to his teenage daughter, Salter discusses a number of critical thoughts that fathers need to share with their teenage girls.

This is not a ‘how-to’ primer from a child psychologist. It’s a candid conversation from a regular Dad who wakes up every morning with three girls fighting for the bathroom, the hair dryer and the “good” hairbrush.

Posted by on August 15th, 2009 No Comments