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Ken Keller: Four lessons in leadership

Brain Food for Business Owners

Posted: January 15, 2011 8:51 p.m.
Updated: January 16, 2011 4:30 a.m.
 

Owen Honors. Randy Edsall. Vince Lombardi. Not just three names, but three people to learn some critical things about leadership from.

Most businesses don’t operate well, don’t grow and don’t succeed due to issues directly related to leadership.

Peggy Noonan recently wrote a column published in the Wall Street Journal on the subject of leadership. The role of leaders, Noonan stated, was to be better than everyone else and to “set standards that those below you have to reach to meet.”

Noonan was writing specifically about the termination of Honors, the captain of a U.S. Navy aircraft carrier. Honors apparently created and played inappropriate videos for the ship’s crew that were. The admiral who fired Honors said that what the captain did “calls into question his character and undermines his credibility.”

The first lesson is: A leader should never say or do anything in front of their followers that they would be embarrassed doing in front of their mother, a judge or in church.

Randy Edsall is an up-and-coming NCAA football coach who took the University of Connecticut team from obscurity to a place in this year’s Tostitos Fiesta Bowl. After losing that game to Oklahoma, Edsall did not accompany his team back home, instead choosing to fly to a job interview to take the head coaching position at the University of Maryland. 

In a team meeting following the Fiesta Bowl, Edsall asked the players if anyone wanted to address the team, and Jordan Todman, a running back, announced that he was leaving to participate in the NFL draft. Days later, the players who found out through the media that their coach was leaving for another school were upset.

One freshman player, who asked not to be identified, said he was angry and disappointed that Edsall made Todman announce his plans to go pro. He asked: “Edsall isn’t man enough to do it face to face to us?”

A second lesson: A leader should never ask his or her people do to something he or she would not be willing to do first.

The third lesson: If you treat your people as the valuable resource they are, they will do whatever you ask of them.

This is playoff season for the NFL, and it is no mistake that the championship trophy 32 teams strive to win each year is named after Lombardi. Lombardi is often misquoted as saying “Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing.” What Lombardi actually said was, “Winning isn’t everything, but the will to win is everything.”

In an HBO documentary, there are two scenes that serve to show what kind of leader Lombardi was. The first was
when Lombardi was running the offense as an assistant coach with the New York Giants.

He came to the realization that he was not communicating and building the relationships he needed with his players. Lombardi reached out to two key players and asked for their help so he could become better. Not only did these two players respond to this opportunity, they became his advocates.

The second scene was an interview with Jerry Kramer, who played for the Green Bay Packers as an offensive lineman for 10 seasons. Kramer was lamenting how hard Lombardi was pushing him, and out of sheer frustration and anger, he left practice and went into the locker room. Kramer sat with his head between his legs, tears streaming down his face.
Lombardi came into the locker room, saw Kramer and went over to him. Lombardi told Kramer, “I think I am the only guy who sees you as being the best guard in the NFL.”

Kramer said something happened in that moment. He suddenly understood why Lombardi was pushing him so hard; that Lombardi saw something in Kramer that Kramer did not see in himself. Those few words changed Kramer’s life forever — for the better.

The fourth lesson is simple: Take people — through word and deed — to a place they would not go to on their own.

This is about three men, each teaching a valuable lesson. Which of the three would you follow? Why? Who would your employees choose to follow? What do you need to change to make that happen in your leadership style?

Ken Keller is president of STAR Business Consulting Inc., a company that works with coachable growth oriented business owners, addressing challenges, opportunities, problems and situations faced when leading a growing, profitable enterprise. He can be reached at (661) 645-7086 or at KenKeller@SBCglobal.net. Mr. Keller’s column reflects his own views and not necessarily those of The Signal.

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