An interview with Mario Castañeda and Rick Brutti on The Innovation District, Mind Your Own Business for Entrepreneurs, UR Business Network.
Imagine being a player, coach or employee of the Los Angeles Clippers these last few months. Everyone associated with the team felt not only a lack of leadership and uncertainty about their futures, but shame and humiliation.
How do you survive something like that?
I think we can garner 3 lessons out of that extreme case of an organization in flux.
FOCUS ON WHAT YOU CAN CONTROL
Doc Rivers, the LA Clippers coach: “My focus is completely on trying to figure out a way of eliminating the distractions. . . . This is a situation where we’re trying to go after something very important for us. . . . It does [have an impact], but you’ve got to move on. . . . That’s adversity that we didn’t want, but we have it, we’ll have to deal with it.”
To counter discouragement and even despair and keep their people moving forward productively, Alcoholics Anonymous has long urged its members to focus on what they can control and let go of what they cannot.
To use another sports metaphor, star baseball players say that when their offense is in a slump, they need to stay focused on playing good defense, keep at it on offense and wait for a better day to click in.
ANGER – NOT RESENTMENT
Doc Rivers again: the team “was pissed.” “This is not anything anybody wants to go through, and this is never good for anyone. . . . They’ll grow from it and they’ll be better people because of it.”
Referring to plans to run an off-ramp of an interstate highway through a low-income Latino neighborhood, a good friend of mine, many years ago, emphasized the importance of making a distinction between “being pissed” and getting resentful. Anger is a natural reaction to a threat. Resentment is settling into a life-negating spiral of outrage that ends up corroding yourself.
“Anger is not one thing. It is many things, loosely organized by language into a whole. It is . . . not the feeling of anger per se that has caused harm. Rather, the cold soup of enacted or contemplated self-righteousness or the hot energy of attacking others can easily lead to actions with negative consequences. But these need not be the core features of anger.” (1)
REMEMBER WHAT YOU LOVE
“When the [NBA] commissioner [Adam Silver] put this to me [becoming emergency interim chief executive of the Clippers], I said, ‘Hey, I love basketball,’ ” Richard Parsons said. “I don’t like basketball. I love basketball. It represents all the best in teams sports, and character building and it’s fun. I love basketball. I always have.”
The atmosphere may be foul, the future gloomy, prospects fading by the hour. But if I can dig down into what I truly like and enjoy about my work – not necessarily my job, but my work – then that may see me through some very difficult times and may become what transforms raw talent into polished skill, like tempered steel.
I know this is hard to do, a lot harder than fancy words make it seem. But if you walk into a factory, an office or a home where worry and uneasiness seem to rule, isn’t it the one bright, smiling, centered person there whom you will remember when you leave? Stay focused on what you love, and that energy may make you special.
And that is the part of all this about “flourishing.” Human nature seems to have this propensity for getting sucked into the “Sturm und Drang” all around us. Those who rise above that will stand out for their resilience and will find value either in the new organization or the next organization.
(1) ACT On Life Not On Anger, George H Eifert, Ph.D.; Matthew McKay, Ph.D.; and John P. Forsyth, Ph.D. 2006: New Harbinger Publications.
Payments / reimbursement under the Affordable Care Act . . .
Purchasing consortia for hospitals and other health care providers . . .
Lower profit margins than in the previous decade . . .
An uncertain future in both FDA and foreign regulations . . .
Minimal venture capital interest in this industry . . .
How will medical device leaders choose which research directions to follow,
which product lines to invest in?
The 1990s and 2000s are rather widely acknowledged to have been the heyday of finance.
Milton Friedman’s philosophy that increasing the financial wealth of shareholders was the sole justifiable principle for a corporation now governed all economic policy, seeped even into U.S. Supreme Court decisions.
The compensation of investment bankers was (and remains) the envy of all. The free-wheeling lifestyle, “masters of the universe” power, invulnerable occupational security and exciting posture on the forefront of cutting edge economic growth left many in awe and envy. Finance came to dominate all discussions of industrial and economic policy. There was practically no sector untouched by the growth of the financial industry – none that exceeded its enormous growth.
Then came the crash(es) of the last 15 years, and the vulnerability of our bets on the financial industry as the leader of growth was exposed. Losses were great – and left bare how much of the “growth” had been paper growth, not raw development.
This may be the time to capitalize on products and service as our key economic benchmark. This may be an opportunity to seize an advantage in the effectiveness, the documented outcomes of fewer, but better, products and services.
Yes, it is difficult, risky and expensive to demonstrate effectiveness of medical devices, biologics and drugs. There are likely to be fewer (financial) winners, and the rewards may be smaller (on paper; quarterly) than in the previous decade; so, indeed, there may be fewer entrants into the race.
On the other hand, might we recapture an earlier (really, not that long ago) criterion of success: building a firm with lasting power, grounded in the security of demonstrated effectiveness, successful outcomes that could be counted on by health care providers for years to come? They are often the ones who persevere. They are the heroes, not only of the industry, but of the economy.
Let’s think of “economic” over “finance.” Etymologically, “economy” means management of the household. “Finance” comes from a French origin meaning “payment/ending of a debt.” Economic policy – managing the good of our national well-being – should be the overriding category and priority, with financial success a subset – not the other way around. In that world medical devices companies can flourish. That is the opportunity we now have.
One of the major problems that physics has dealt with during the last hundred years is the search for a unitary principle or unitary theory. For a long time physics studied electricity and magnetism as 2 separate forces. Then came the discovery of electromagnetism as one of the elementary forces of the universe. Simple common sense saw space and time as 2 quite separate realities – until Einstein explained the space-time continuum. Many physicists now search for the single, unitary theory that will explain the interrelatedness of gravitation, the electromagnetic force, the strong nuclear force, the weak nuclear force, and the Higgs field.
In the field of management theory there is a similar quest for, if not a single principle, at least a single explanation, a single list of the elements that make for good management, good leadership. If only we can find it, if only we can figure out how to teach it to managers and leaders . . . .
As in the field of physics, there are many quite serious, profound thinkers contributing their efforts to the search. And, as in the field of physics, it may, ultimately, be an illusory quest.
What makes someone a good manager or leader?
Why do smart, successful executives fail? (It was Sydney Finkelstein’s presentation at the Human Resource Leadership Forum last Wednesday that got me thinking along these lines.)
What is the correct way to handle conflicts on a team?
What exactly is the proper distinction among vision, mission, goals and objectives?
What is the approach to follow: Six Sigma, Agile, Lean, Cog’s Ladder or any of the multiple other systems of performance and process improvement?
Each and every one of these questions, each and every answer represents a legitimate approach to organizing, systematizing our approach to nagging, ongoing human interaction issues that bedevil organizations such as businesses. We need order in our thinking. We need to have thought beforehand about the resources needed. We need to foresee likely consequences and “side effects” of our actions.
Let’s just not collapse our thinking into a single (unitary) tunnel vision that robs us of our ability to think of alternatives to our own favorite ways of understanding the world. Let’s remember the Law of Large Numbers: “the average of the results obtained from a large number of trials should be close to the expected value, and will tend to become closer as more trials are performed.” (Wikipedia) Often we don’t have enough repeated experiences to make statistically valid generalizations about “the way things work.” We make flawed decisions based on the inadequate, limited information, insights and advice we have available to us.
And we fail. And we adapt.
Is that my “unitary theory”?
New leaders in an organization can bring a blush of new life, new beginnings. But they can also mean the arrival of the squelching of current staff, their ideas, their creativity.
Call it the “There’s a new sheriff in town” syndrome.
When there is a new leader, it often represents some dissatisfaction with the approach of the former leader. So a new beginning is desired! Great! New ideas. Different perspectives. An understanding of shifting priorities, meeting customer demands and expectations that may have been disappointed in prior times. This could be the birth or re-birth of innovations and insights that have percolated within the organization for some time.
The danger comes when the new leader sweeps in with the perception of a mandate that says, “What has been in place has not worked, and you need to fix it.” Certainly some of the things that have been in place have not been optimal, but the new leader has to bring their perspective, their expertise, their background to bear on a situation that includes some hard work and successes that many people in the organization are justly proud of. Before new precepts issue forth from the executive suite, it is important to listen and hear what the existing expertise in the organization is and what has been learned.
One of the worst violations of the existing bank of knowledge possessed by staff occurs when those at the top countermand what line staff has been doing because “We are not meeting customer needs.” That may be true, but the executive needs to be careful about defining who “the customer” is in these circumstances. It is likely that the executive is talking to other top level executives about what they need and want. Again, that may yield true and very important information about new imperatives; but middle managers and line staff in one organization are usually working with middle managers and line staff in another organization, and their experience may yield equally important information about what is working, what is breaking down, and where fixes to those problems are most likely to occur.
New sheriffs seldom enjoy access to the informants who provide necessary intelligence to get work done most effectively. New leaders should lead, and leadership always includes a huge component of listening well, carefully and at all levels.