Reflecting on a Mentor

When it comes to growing as a manager and leader my experience tells me, “It’s not an academic exercise, it is a lived experience over a significant period of time.” I am dedicated to building teams to run businesses, not authoritarian structures. A successful team is a group of people who commit to personal and team goals. Their duty includes the personal fortitude to improve individually and a willingness to learn how to play the game with others in order to achieve a greater good.

Over the past decade I’ve taken more time to reflect on meaningful experiences in my life. Who made a difference to me? What fosters positive learning in my life? And, how do I take what I learn, apply it to make my life, family, clients, community and our world a little bit better?

When I entered Stanford University in the fall of 1968 I couldn’t imagine all that I would learn from our Head Football Coach, John Ralston. He made an everlasting impression on me that shaped my philosophy and business exhibited through my almost 25 years running Leadership Resources, LLC. Here are a few of the business principles I learned from Coach Ralston:

  • Hire the best possible people and coaches, many of his assistant coaches went on to Head Coaching jobs at major universities and the NFL;
  • Recruit intelligent and skilled players;
  • Provide learning/training environments that make good players better;
  • Learn from and listen to the people he hired;
  • Trust them to run their departments in order to create a stronger team;
  • Working together the coaching staff created a leading edge strategy that enabled us to be two-time Rose Bowl Champions and the foundation for the very successful Denver Bronco NFL franchise;
  • And all of us associated with these teams have a sense of camaraderie to last a lifetime;

 

For all of us that had the privilege of playing during these years, his formula created a business model that makes being associated with Stanford football very attractive. Observing the behavior of the current Head Coach at Stanford, David Shaw, I would say he uses many of the same principles Coach Ralston introduced 40 some years ago.

This highly successful formula allowed Coach Ralston to let the Assistants coach and the players play. He created a decision-making environment that used the intelligence of his whole staff and players. He earned his position as the boss by the manner in which he behaved toward his staff, coaches and players.

My experience is that successful CEO's are usually in alignment with Coach Ralston’s philosophy. Managers who are overly challenged at the higher positions are often guilty of micro-managing, have lower self-esteem, are afraid to surround themselves with people they fear are “better than them,” are poor listeners and exhibit other behaviors that undermine team success/profits.

The vast majority of our experience is with small or mid-sized companies. The attractiveness of working in these companies is often the magnetic allure of effective leadership. Companies that are having problems usually have behavior being exhibited by senior managers/leaders that aren’t supporting the stated principles of the organization.

We are usually called upon when someone in senior management realizes they are out of alignment. Most of our relationships are long-term 10-20 years. Organizations are living organisms, “They are never fixed, they either grow or shrivel and never stay the same.” We enrich the hiring and developmental results of the companies. Here is what we do, initiated by what I learned from playing football under Coach Ralston.

Recruit and Hire the Best

o  Have an attractive culture, what you offer someone must be in sync with their values

o  Know what you value, not what you think you value

o  Have an assessment process to understand what is underneath the mask of the interview

§ Generate pertinent interview questions based on the data retrieved from the completed assessments

o  Have a program of training and positive learning that helps people hire more effectively

Build Managers Who Are Good Coaches

o  Managers who want to learn how to coach a team

o  Managers who realize his success from the team’s success

o  Managers who listen well, provide clear structure and a manner in which each team member can measure their progress

Create an Internal Culture of Applied Learning

o  Often business people are in environments that are so busy, people don’t have positive learning opportunities

o  People have new policies and procedures thrust upon them from above

o  People are focused on the quantitative aspects of management, accounting, legal, products, services and building these products/services

o  The organization pays little attention to communication, relationships and human processes which bind things together (or not)

o  Many organizations say, “When we finish this initiative we will have time to integrate more positive learning into our organization.” What we fail to recognize is that running a business never stops. There is never the “right” time.

 

A dear friend of mine always reminds me, “You can do whatever you want and you just can’t do everything.”

From the infinite possibilities in our world, I chose helping people learn how to learn and play as a team. Most of the direction toward my field came from my four years with Coach Ralston, his staff and my teammates. My experience with him solidified what I valued, what I wanted to do and it took time to apply what I learned from him. In fact, it took me until my early forties to create the vehicle called Leadership Resources, LLC to bring his principles to fruition.

In my experience, people who understand these principles, adopt them to fit the new culture, and work with them to make them even better which in turn will generate successful ventures. I believe these principles help me do my best and make the world a little bit better.