Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Thanksgiving Football and Leadership Lessons

While people all across the US are waiting for their Thanksgiving turkey to baste in its own juices and fill the house with the sometimes-subtle-sometimes-not aromas of Grampa's secret stuffing ingredients, many will be partaking in the somewhat newer Thanksgiving tradition of watching NFL football. Which is good, because it's hard to find engaging leadership metaphors in a turkey dinner. Turkeys and lemons both get a bad rap in that regard.

SAP co-chairman Bill McDermott, NY Jets GM Mike Tannenbaum talk about leadership.
Unless you're a die-hard football fan, you probably don't look beyond the players on the field, and perhaps the coaches on the sideline. (Just as theater goers don't often give much thought to the stage manager.) But a professional football team goes beyond the actors on the field. It is a business organization like most others, and decisions taken at all levels of the organization affect the results on the field.

The similarities weren't lost on SAP co-chairman Bill McDermott when he appeared with New York Jets General Manager Mike Tannenbaum at a recent Wharton Leadership Lecture, addressing the theme of "Creating Leaders On and Off the Field."

Professional football coaches and managers have reputations as turnaround artists, just as CEOs do, and one of the most common themes in their turnaround stories is the importance of information flow.

According to McDermott… "The most important thing a leader can do is give people feedback…" Employees deserve the respect of candor, McDermott noted, and they need to know what is expected of them and have a clear understanding of their employer's strategy and culture…

McDermott and Tannenbaum agreed that a leader has to focus on promoting an overall vision for his or her organization rather than dwelling on the small stuff.

Leadership has two very different, but complementary, knowledge imperatives: to communicate a unifying strategic vision, and to provide the information and feedback that enable each individual within the organization to work toward the goals laid out in that strategic vision.

And of course, business intelligence is a large part of these imperatives. Clearly, BI is the means of finding, analyzing, and communicating the right information to the right people at the right time and in the right format. But your BI platform also figures in the communication of vision, though perhaps not as directly.

The agility of your BI system is critical to its support for corporate vision, particularly in uncertain times. Who Says Elephants Can't Dance, Louis Gerstner's account of the IBM turnaround, is testimony to the need for agility in the modern corporate world where none had existed previously. If an organization is to outlast its founders, at some point in its history, it will have to adapt rapidly to a sea change in the business, technological, economic, political and social environment. The organization will have to adapt rapidly and communicate a new vision and all of the supporting information with extreme agility.

When the time comes, will your BI system be agile enough to meet that challenge?

Home for the holidays is a good time to think about saying what you mean and meaning what you say, but don't stop thinking about it when you get back to work.

Happy Thanksgiving. (Go Pack Go.)

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