Detroit Lions: Renewal and Rebirth

Turnaround efforts are always tricky. They can be challenging when preceded by periods of malaise, disengagement and low productivity. Such was the case with the Detroit Lions, who last won a championship in 1957. Since that time, the team has won one playoff game.

Until now!

The Lions beat the Los Angeles Rams in their first playoff victory since 1993. In remarks to the team, head coach Dan Campbell recognized the efforts of two people, giving each a game ball. One was general manager Brad Holmes. Noting how they both came to the organization together, Campbell said, “You [and I] are in lockstep.”

Campbell turned to his quarterback: “I will just say it like this … You’re good enough for Detroit, Jared Goff.”  This comment refers to Goff being unceremoniously traded to the Lions after Rams coach Sean McVay lost faith in him despite leading the team to the Super Bowl in February 2019.

66 years of disappointment

“Them Lions” — one of many sobriquets bestowed by fans — have been the poster kids for mediocrity for so long that those alive during their heyday in the Fifties are either dead or eligible for Social Security. Lions haplessness has become their trademark.

For example, in 2010, the Lions started quarterback Shaun Hill, who was recuperating from surgery on a broken left arm. Lions commentator noted, however, that it was not King’s throwing arm. What team in the 21st century starts a quarterback with a broken arm? Why? Because even in his hobbled condition, King was their best alternative. Welcome to Lions’ misery.

No team has snatched defeat from the jaws of victories more than the Lions have. When you add up fumbles, interceptions, coaching mistakes, and 60-yard field goals made by Lions opponents, you could have had a couple of winning seasons.

A fresh start

And so when Campbell and Holmes were hired in 2021, expectations were “expectant.” It’s better to wait to jump on the bandwagon. And the team did not disappoint. It went 3-13-1 in the first season with Jared Goff at the helm. Expectations did rise for year two, and the Lions when 1-6, but then things began to click. The Lions went 8-2 down the stretch, just missing the playoffs. This year, the team excelled out of the gate, posting a 12-5 regular season record, the most ever for a Lions team.

Pulling back the layers, the story of the Lions comeback is both rebirth and reconstruction. And here’s how they did it.

Get the culture right. Holmes and Campbell had a plan, and together with Sheila Ford Hamp, who had taken over the running of the team from her mother, Martha, they focused on breaking bad habits and building a team with players who understood they must have a passion for doing what it takes to work hard, play their best, and win when it matters.

Speaking to reporters later, Campbell was more specific about the role that Brad Holmes played. “We’re very similar in the way that we view players, view a team, how we want to build it… “I have a certain vision and Brad has helped me by the type of players we acquire and what we look for. Campbell added, the “GM and head coach have to have a healthy relationship and it starts with ownership, but then that’s the next most important by far. And if you don’t have that, you just can’t sustain success.” 

Find the right pieces. In 2021, the team traded star quarterback Matthew Stafford to the Rams in return for Goff and two first-round draft picks. Those draft picks and other lower-ranked picks sourced by Holmes and his scouts have given the Lions a nucleus of young players upon which the culture can thrive and the wins can come.

Support the struggle. Jared Goff had a rough start with the Lions whose roster did not compare with the Rams team he had once led. Goff’s coaches did not lose faith in him or other players. They nurtured their talents and built game plans suited to each player’s strengths.

Be patient. Sheila Hamp deserves credit for holding fast and keeping Holmes and Campbell in the fold. She was booed at Ford Field but did not become discouraged. She knew fans’ frustrations because the team had been in her family since her girlhood. Sheila set expectations and supported her leadership team.

Common goals

A culture of winning comes when you have the right people in the right places at the right time. Easy to say but so difficult to implement. What the Lions have accomplished is a tribute to leadership and team working together to achieve common goals.

Will the Lions find a way to win it all? Perhaps, but for now, the team has achieved what fans – among the most loyal in all sports – thought was only a dream. In doing so, they have given fans something to cheer for and a lesson in leadership that will stand the test of time.

Note: After the game, Sean McVay praised his former quarterback “Jared was really efficient. You can see the command he has. I think there’s a lot made of it, but I’m really happy for him… and I certainly am appreciative of the four years we had together.”

First posted on Forbes.com 1.16.2024

Management Lesson Marx Bros. Style

Sometimes you need to stand up for yourself!

Groucho Marx, the legendary comic actor, told a charming story to TV talk show host Dick Cavett about how his brothers did just that. The Marx Brothers received an invitation to come to Hollywood to meet with Irving Thalberg, the head of production at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. The brothers arrived promptly at 10 a.m. for their scheduled meeting. However, Thalberg was in meetings, and they were asked to wait. Finally, at 5 p.m., they were told that Mr.Thalberg could see them. Nothing doing, said Groucho, and the brothers walked out.

After all, the Marx Brothers were already big stars in vaudeville and Broadway. So who was this motion picture executive to keep them waiting? Another meeting was scheduled for 10 a.m. But, again, Thalberg was busy and couldn’t meet them. He then left his office. Harpo went to the MGM commissary and came back with raw potatoes. So the boys, the Marx Brothers, entered Thalberg’s spacious office, barricaded themselves inside by putting file cabinets in front of the doors, and proceeded to cook the potatoes in the fireplace. 

When Thalberg returned to his office two hours later, he was let back in only to find the brothers munching on their potatoes, stark naked. As Groucho said, Thalberg “never kept them waiting again. Everyone else was afraid of him… because he had such prestige and power at MGM.” Thalberg found the office incident amusing. “And he liked [the brothers] because they didn’t take anything from him,” said Groucho.

Groucho had enormous respect for Thalberg, the boy genius of MGM. He was always meeting with writers on one of a number of pictures he was producing, so it wasn’t out of the ordinary to keep people waiting. But not the Marx Brothers.

Two lessons to learn

Lesson one: keep to your schedule, and if you cannot do it, let those waiting for you know that you are delayed. The higher an executive rises, the more demanding the schedule. They cannot be expected to be on time for every meeting, but they can make an effort to notify those attending the next meeting that they are running late. Or better yet, have their admin do the notification.

Being on time is a sign of respect for the time of others. Chronic lateness lets people know they are less critical. But when you advise that you will be late, you demonstrate that others matter.

Lesson two: stand up for yourself and your work. Bosses ask their employees to do their best, but when they pay the work little heed, it communicates a lack of empathy. It says that what the employee does really does not matter. At the same time, telling the boss all the good things you have done may seem defensive. 

Here’s a better way. Schedule time with the boss. Prepare in advance by reviewing your own work. Review briefly your accomplishments. Make it known you welcome new challenges. In short, affirm your value and your future. 

One method adopted by many organizations is to require employees to contribute to their performance reviews. Itemizing your accomplishments for the year provides your perspective on what you have done. 

What happens next

When you stand up for yourself, something unexpected. As the poet Maya Angelou, wrote, “I not only have the right to stand up for myself, but I have the responsibility. I can’t ask somebody else to stand up for me if I won’t stand up for myself. And once you stand up for yourself, you’d be surprised that people say, ‘Can I be of help?’”

These lessons are affirmations of respect: respect for others and respect for self. Both are essential to getting along and doing well in the workplace. 

Note: For more on Groucho, watch the PBS documentary Cavett and Groucho. It is part of the American Masters series.

First posted on SmartBrief.com 7.12.2023

Putting Innovation into the Legal System by Design

Innovation is a word we typically do not associate with the American judicial system, a network of 2,000 judicial districts across the United States.

“The reality is the justice system in America hasn’t done much innovative in the last 400 years,” Jared Fishman told me in a recent interview. “We’re still using a very similar process for addressing problems. And over the last 40 and 50 years, in particular, as we’ve been sending problems like addiction and poverty and mental health into the criminal legal space, we haven’t actually changed how we do business.”

Fishman observed first-hand a broken system, one where inefficiencies created inequities. He was a senior civil rights prosecutor for the Justice Department, “where he led some of the most complex civil rights prosecutions in the country, securing convictions in high-profile cases involving police misconduct, hate crimes and human trafficking.”

Everyone – prosecutors, police, defense attorneys, and citizens — knows the system is broken, notes Fishman. The challenge is what to do about it. That experience led Fishman to found the Justice Innovation Lab, “an organization that designs data-driven solutions for a more equitable, effective, and fair justice system.”

“Part of what we do at Justice Innovation Lab,” says Fishman, “is work with decision makers inside the justice system, prosecutors, police officers, court systems to understand what is happening in their system that’s currently leading to ineffective or unjust results. And how they can make changes to policy or structures or procedures. So that they begin having better outcomes in terms of public safety and in terms of fairness in their communities.”

Applying design thinking

Fundamental to the Justice Innovation Lab is design thinking, an approach to problem identification that focuses on the root causes and finding practical solutions. For example, says Fishman, “the communication gaps between actors in the system are remarkable. Any bottleneck that exists in our justice system leads to injustice.”

As Fishman explains, “I’ve never heard of a bottleneck that exists inside the justice system where it works out better for anyone because there was a bottleneck. It means that victims don’t get access to services. It means defendants may be unnecessarily detained, it means evidence is lost that could be lost. And so all of these things have real implications for public safety, and it has real implications for the lives of the people who are impacted by cases that enter the justice system.”

Part of the inefficiency is related to the need for more data. Too many judicial districts need the information they need to understand their issues or even begin to address them. That’s where the Justice Innovation Lab enters the picture. It works with jurisdictions to teach them to mine and make sense of the data. “Number one, identify problems in their jurisdiction based on their own data, begin helping them map out their system because any solution that we develop has to work for them. I have all sorts of ideas about reform, but the reality is it has to work in each local jurisdiction.” Communication between departments is essential.

A matter of focus

Prioritization of resources is essential. The Justice Innovation Lab has worked with judicial districts that are learning to focus their often-limited resources on the crimes that inflict the most pain – murder, attempted murder, and sexual assault. This approach means easing up on traffic stops for broken taillights and the like in favor of pursuing criminals who are doing the most damage. It is easier said than done, but it is a change involving local leadership. By using data, police and prosecutors can understand the problems and prioritize resources.

Fishman’s commitment to justice was partly forged by his involvement and prosecution of the New Orleans police department. His book, Fire on Levee, tells the story of Henry Glover, whose burnt body was found in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. It turns out that Glover was killed by police who tried to cover their tracks by burning his body. More than a decade later, the offending cops were brought to justice.

The wheels of justice do grind slowly. With the help of design thinking and data mining, leaders in the judicial districts have the tools they need to effect change that benefits citizens and communities.

Note: Click here to watch my full LinkedIn Live interview with Jared Fishman.

First posted on Forbes.com 11.15.2023

Three Ways to Demonstrate Resilience

The Game.

Yes, I root for Michigan. And I am not blind to the effect that the sign-stealing scandal has had on the football team and its reputation.

Whatever you think of Michigan football – and judging by the opinions of media and fans nationally – reaction to the scandal has been harsh, with many calling for Coach Jim Harbaugh’s firing. Regardless of such feelings, the players – who are not accused of any wrongdoing — deserve credit for their perseverance. 

And persevere they did in their biggest game of the year – the annual showdown versus Ohio State. Both teams were 11-0. The winner would play for the Big 10 Championship and likely gain a spot in the College Football Bowl championship series.

The final game itself was a journey. Up and down, back and forth, until the team’s offensive lineman, Zack Zinter, suffered a severe leg injury and had to be driven off the field on a medical cart. 

“It was a sight I don’t wish upon anyone to see,” said Michigan quarterback J.J. McCarthy. 

“And at that moment, seeing the look in everybody’s eyes, seeing them rally together, there was something about it. It was spiritual, honestly. It was a different drive that came out of everybody after that happened because we’re doing for one of our leaders and one of the brothers we all love.”

The team showed that love by scoring a touchdown on the first play after the game resumed. This touchdown ignited the team, and while it was tested again, it prevailed, beating Ohio State 30-24.

Players meet the moment

Prevailing is something this team had done for the entire season. Coach Harbaugh took a voluntary suspension for the first three games pending the outcome of an NCAA investigation into improper recruiting in 2020. 

This year, three coaches have been fired for cause, the most severe charge being using electronic means to steal signs from opposing teams. (Coaches can decipher signs, yes, but they cannot use video or electronic devices in their scouting trips.) In the wake of those allegations, the Big 10 – under pressure from its member universities – suspended Harbaugh for the final three games this year – the most challenging part of the schedule.

And how the team responded is a lesson in resilience. 

Focus on what you can control. What happens outside does affect what happens inside. Regardless of what is reported, when your integrity is questioned, it can erode your self-esteem. The challenge is to focus on the small rather than the big. Doing so will ensure that you do your part.

Pull together. When someone calls you a cheater, it is a blow to your reputation. You cannot control what others think of you. You can only control how you react—field strength in others. Support them as they support you.

Play as a team. Teammates bond because they share everyday experiences – both positive and negative. Using that sense of cohesion builds unity. One for all. All for one. Playing with a singular purpose – each doing their part – enables the team to exert its best effort. Win or lose.

Clarity of purpose

It must be said that focus, togetherness and unity are agnostic in themselves. Such behaviors can and will be found in both organizations good and bad. We hope, however, that those organizations we support abide by choices that are sound, good and moral.

A mantra for this Michigan team may be found in the words of Maya Angelou, “I can be changed by what happens to me. But I refuse to be reduced by it.” If the NCAA investigation uncovers additional wrongdoing, the penalties may be more severe. Worse, Michigan’s athletic integrity will be in further jeopardy. Yet, what comes next should not diminish what the players accomplished on the field.

Once again, front and center in the national consciousness is collegiate football. Michigan versus Ohio State. Both teams were 11-0, ranked No.3 and No. 2, respectively. The winner would play for the Big 10 Championship and likely gain a spot in the College Football Bowl championship series.

The final game itself was a journey. Up and down, back and forth, until the team’s offensive lineman, Zack Zinter, suffered a severe leg injury and had to be driven off the field on a medical cart. “It was a sight I don’t wish upon anyone to see,” said Michigan quarterback J.J. McCarthy. 

“And at that moment, seeing the look in everybody’s eyes, seeing them rally together, there was something about it. It was spiritual, honestly. It was a different drive that came out of everybody after that happened because we’re doing for one of our leaders and one of the brothers we all love.”

The team showed that love by scoring a touchdown on the first play after the game resumed. This touchdown ignited the team, and while it was tested again, it prevailed, beating Ohio State 30-24.

Resilience shows

Prevailing is something this team had done for the entire season. Head Coach Jim Harbaugh took a voluntary suspension for the first three games pending the outcome of an NCAA investigation into improper recruiting in 2020. 

This year, three coaches have been fired for cause, the most severe charge being using electronic means to steal signs from opposing teams. (Coaches can decipher signs, yes, but they cannot use video or electronic means.) In the wake of those allegations, the Big 10 – under pressure from its member universities – suspended Harbaugh for the final three games this year – the most challenging part of the schedule.

Players meet the moment

While I am a Michigan fan, I am not blind to the accusations of cheating. Whatever you think of Michigan football – and judging by the opinions of media and fans nationally – reaction to the scandal has been harsh, with many calling for Harbaugh’s firing. Regardless of such feelings, the players – who are not accused of any wrongdoing — deserve credit for their perseverance. 

Here are three things to take away when adversity strikes. 

Focus on what you can control. What happens outside does affect what happens inside. Regardless of what is reported, when your integrity is questioned, it can erode your self-esteem. The challenge is to focus on the small rather than the big. Doing so will ensure that you do your part.

Pull together. When someone calls you a cheater, it is a blow to your reputation. You cannot control what others think of you. You can only control how you react—field strength in others. Support them as they support you.

Play as a team. Teammates bond because they share everyday experiences – both positive and negative. Using that sense of cohesion builds unity. One for all. All for one. Playing with a singular purpose – each doing their part – enables the team to exert its best effort. Win or lose.

It must be said that focus, togetherness and unity are agnostic in themselves. Such behaviors can and will be found in both organizations good and bad. We hope, however, that those organizations we support abide by choices that are sound, good and moral.

A mantra for this Michigan team may be found in the words of Maya Angelou, “I can be changed by what happens to me. But I refuse to be reduced by it.” If the NCAA investigation uncovers additional wrongdoing, the penalties may be more severe. Worse, Michigan’s athletic integrity will be in further jeopardy. Yet, what comes next should recognize what the players accomplished on the field.

First posted on Forbes.com 11.28.2023

Sacrifice for the Benefit of Others

“For an ethic is not an ethic, and value not a value, without some sacrifice to it. Something given up, something not taken, something not gained. We do it in exchange for the greater good, for something worth more than just money and power and position. The great paradox of this philosophy is that in the end it brings one greater gain than any other philosophy.”

This quote comes from Jerry Kohlberg‘s speech at his retirement in 1987 from the firm he co-founded, Kohlberg, Kravis, Roberts and Company. Oddly, the firm that pioneered and revolutionized leveraged buyouts would be so altruistic. It was not. The firm benefited from asset stripping, layoffs, and bankruptcies.

Point by point

Nonetheless, Kohlberg’s points are well-taken and worthy of exploration. Let’s take them one at a time.

“For an ethic is not an ethic, and value not a value, without some sacrifice to it. Something given up, something not taken, something not gained.” Sacrifice makes intentions real. That is, you can talk about it doing with less, but when you do it and integrate it into your operational outlook, sacrifice demonstrates seriousness.

“We do it in exchange for the greater good, for something worth more than just money and power and position.” It’s easy to talk about making things better. The challenge is how and how it will always require a degree of investment – time, money, and, yes, even sacrifice.

“The great paradox of this philosophy is that in the end, it brings one greater gain than any other philosophy.” This statement reminds me of something James Stockdale, one of the longest-serving prisoners of war at the Hanoi Hilton, wrote about power. Admiral Stockdale, who studied and wrote about stoic philosophy, opened that leaders gain authority by giving it away. Instead, Kohlberg speaks of the greater good and shows that sacrifice is necessary for achieving.

Some might be skeptical of Kohlberg’s lofty words. After all, he was at heart a corporate raider, though he was at odds with many of his firm’s practices, which was the reason he left the firm he co-founded. Kohlberg personally was very generous with his wealth, funding many philanthropical ventures. His message is sound. It is a clarion call for a limitation on having everything your way. It is a demonstration that giving up something can lead to something better. This tenet is fundamental to every religion but needs to be spoken more institutionally. 

Acting for others

The four tenets of Stoic philosophy, according to mega-selling author Ryan Holiday, are:

Courage. Temperance. Justice. Wisdom. Acting with courage means making a positive difference when the odds are against you. Promoting temperance means, in an organizational sense, creating win-win solutions, or a minimum leaving something on the table for the next person.

Justice becomes the lodestar because it points us in the proper direction. Wisdom will be the outcome of acting on these three virtues.

Girding each is the notion of grace. When you act for others, you may take less for yourself, but you are working for the greater good.

NOTE: The author is indebted to William Magnuson, author of For Profit: A History of Corporations which includes a case study of KKR and cites Kohlberg’s retirement speech.

First posted on SmartBrief.com 9.07.2023

David Hogg: Bridging the Divide

If you want to learn more about your opponents, join them.

Listen to what David Hogg, co-founder of March for Our Lives, said on Fresh Air about why he joined a gun club at Harvard. “I decided the only thing that I haven’t done at this point was learn as much as I can about guns and how to use them, operate them, clean them and fire them safely and responsibly.”

In February 2018, Hogg was a student at Marjorie Stoneham High School in Parkland, Florida, where 17 students and staff were killed. In the immediate aftermath of the shooting, he became one of the most visible and vocal students speaking out about gun violence. His visibility brought him national attention and unwelcome notoriety, including vile attacks from adversaries on social media as well as death threats against him and his family.

Be open to others

After joining the shooting club, Hogg said, “I talked with a lot of young people there who were actually pretty supportive of the work that I was doing, along with some people who obviously were not. Nobody’s going to be in agreement about everything.” 

Be willing to listen. Hogg discovered something that many people who disagree find out about one another. “There’s a lot more agreement than disagreement out there, even with people who think that they’re completely against us.”

Be willing to engage. “We have to move beyond this binary of either you’re only talking about guns and how people access them or you’re only talking about mental health,” says Hogg. “We have to talk about both.”

Be willing to learn. Getting to the heart of the issue is more than shootings. “We do need to address how somebody gets a gun. … We need to talk about, why does somebody pick up a gun in the first place? We need to address the systemic poverty that drives gun violence,” says Hogg.

Learning what the other side thinks is essential for personal and organizational growth. It is too easy to retreat to our corners, safe with our opinions bolstered with the same beliefs held by others. And, of course, those against your views are doing the same. There is open ground to communicate, but we hold ourselves back.

Taking care of self, too.

Hogg closed his interview with a story about an experience he and his colleagues experienced after a march around Uvalde, marking the first anniversary of the shooting at Ross Elementary School, where 19 students and two teachers were slain. The march was exhausting not merely from the 100-degree heat but because it triggered PTSD symptoms so many felt from experiencing prior school shootings. Hogg told his team to head out of town to look at the stars, which they did for a couple of hours. 

“I used to tell myself that things like [stargazing] would be really dumb to do because they are so unnecessary and not efficient,” Hogg says. “But I realized that those moments are some of the most important in the work, because we have to sustain ourselves and make sure that we aren’t just constantly exposing ourselves to the horrors of gun violence and its aftermath.”

Be kind to yourself before you can be generous to others. “We can have friends in this work,” says Hogg. “We can make a movement that is joyful and hopeful and not just sad and depressed constantly.”

First posted on SmartBrief.com 6.00.2023

How to Turn Lies about Race Inside Out

This is a story about love

But it’s not about that Valentine’s Day love

Or that motherly love

It ain’t even about that Philly brotherly love

No

This is a story about the love that hate produced

It’s a story about Africa and all of her children

Still loving themselves

After centuries of systemic injustice

Thus begins Lies About Black People by Dr. Omekongo Dibinga. The book takes a hard look at race relations from the perspective of a child of Congolese immigrants who has established a career in academia and made a name for himself as a musician, rapper, podcaster, and poet. 

Less than equal

The book’s subtitle underscores its message — “How to Combat Racism and Why It Matters.” The book explores and debunks myths (okay, lies) about non-Black people’s perceptions of Blacks. In short chapters, many containing his poems, Dr. Dabinga punctures myths about Blacks with research, stories, and humor. The book’s point is to make it safe to discuss issues in ways that illuminate the issue to create a more profound understanding. 

Understanding the issues

“The categories of race that we know them as today were created in the mid-1400s in order to justify enslavement and to justify black oppression,”Dr. Dabinga told me in a recent interview. “And that idea that black people are inferior has been at the heart of so many issues that black people still face today.” This sense of inferiority that Blacks feel is unrecognized by majority cultures. Yet this erosion of self-esteem is at the heart of many problems that plague our society today.

“It’s not enough to just say, ‘I’m not racist… Well, I didn’t own slaves, my grandfather didn’t own slaves, or whatever.’ If you don’t actively fight it, you are part of the problem,” says Dr. Dibinga. One could draw an analogy to watching someone being beat up without intervening. “If you see racism happening in your job towards somebody, and you don’t say anything because you are not racist, then you’re condoning racism.”

Finding solutions

Responsibility of leaders is to make find solutions. Become an UPstander – the opposite of a bystander. Dr. Dibinga offers a call to action in the form of an acronym: LEAD.

Learn. Stage opportunities for individuals to have conversations about race. Listen to their stories. Share your own.

Educate. Read works by authors who write about the Black experience. These include Ibrahim Kendi, Michelle Alexander, Ta’nehisi Coates and poet Amanda Gorman. Also, find ways to stay informed by following the issues.

Advocate. Resolve as leaders to do what they can do. It may be through an organization or by making personal connections with those you work with.

Decide. Become – as Dr. Dibinga writes – a partner, one with shared interested in working for equality.

Dr. Dibinga is fond of saying “LEAD stands for Learn Everything and Do! If you learn everything and don’t, then you are not a leader. You simply possess knowledge, but knowledge is not power. The application of knowledge is where real power comes into play,” writes Dibinga. Leaders who care can help their team discover the issues, determine what is possible, and become involved in ways that will help your community.

“The categories of race that we know them as today were created in the mid-1400s in order to justify enslavement and to justify black oppression,” Dr. Dabinga told me in a recent interview. “And that idea that black people are inferior has been at the heart of so many issues that black people still face today.” This sense of inferiority that Blacks feel is unrecognized by majority cultures. Yet this erosion of self-esteem is at the heart of many problems that plague our society today.

The book’s subtitle underscores its message — “How to Combat Racism and Why It Matters.” The book explores and debunks myths (okay, lies) about non-Black people’s perceptions of Blacks. In short chapters, many containing his poems, Dr. Dabinga punctures myths about Blacks with research, stories, and humor. The book’s point is to make it safe to discuss issues in ways that illuminate the issue to create a more profound understanding. 

The pain of racism can erode a sense of the future. “And what I’m seeing [at the university level), many [students] are angry. They’re, they’re frustrated.” Dr. Dibinga’s work calls for engagement. “It gets them organized to be activist minded. But the hope part is it’s, it is kind of diminishing a little bit, but they’re inspired to be activist minded.”

“Many people who do this work say it’s not enough to just say, ‘I’m not racist… Well, I didn’t own slaves, my grandfather didn’t own slaves, or whatever.’ If you don’t actively fight it, you are part of the problem,” says Dr. Dibinga. “If you see racism happening in your job towards somebody, and you don’t say anything because you are not racist, then you’re condoning racism.”

Finding solutions

The problems abound, but what are the solutions? In a word, become an UPstander – the opposite of a bystander. Dr. Dibinga offers a call to action in the form of an acronym: LEAD.

Learn. Engage in conversations with Black in your workplace. Listen to their stories. Share your own.

Educate. Read authors and journalists who write about the Black experience. Stay informed by following the issues.

Advocate. Resolve to do what you can do. It may be through an organization or by making personal connections with those you work with.

Decide. Become – as Dr. Dibinga writes – a partner, one with shared interested in working for equality.

Dibinga is fond of saying “LEAD stands for Learn Everything and Do! If you learn everything and don’t, then you are not a leader. You simply possess knowledge, but knowledge is not power. The application of knowledge is where real power comes into play,” writes Dibinga. If you care, you will discover the issues, determine what is possible, and become involved in ways that will help your community.

Finding solutions

The problems abound, but what are the solutions? In a word, become an UPstander – the opposite of a bystander. Dr. Dibinga offers a call to action in the form of an acronym: LEAD. Learn. Educate. Act. Decide. If you care, you will discover the issues, determine what is possible, and become involved in ways that will help your community. One of the lessons that Dr. Dinbinga teaches is that when Black kids learn, everyone benefits. We know from where we come and where we must go to ensure a more equitable and just society.

“The story of black people in this country has been the story of grace under pressure,” says Dr. Dibinga. “We fought in every war. We’ve committed to every single [freedom] movement. We are out there standing in lockstep. So the story of black people in this country has been a story about grace.”

Near the end of the book, Dr. Dinbinga closes with this poem, from which I quote the opening.

If I want to change the world, I have to change myself

For a change in the mind is true wealth, it’s true health

My environment will never change until I change me

Rearrange me, my thinking can never be the same, see

Gandhi went from lawyer to leader, changed his mind

King, from preacher to Nobel Peace Prize, changed his mind

In fine time, align your mind and align the world

Note: Here’s a link to the full LinkedIn Live interview with Dr. Omekongo Dibinga.

First posted on SmartBrief.com 00.00.2023

“Stay Out of the Clubhouse”

You can observe a lot by just watching.

If we expand that famous quote from Yogi Berra to include listening, observation takes on a whole new dimension.

Such was the case when former big leaguer and current Detroit Tiger broadcaster Craig Monroe chatted with Pat Caputo on a weekly radio show, “Tiger Talk.” Caputo noted that the analytics that apply to players do not apply to managers. Measuring managerial effectiveness is more elusive and goes far beyond wins and losses. It comes down to how you deal with players.

Baseball, of course, is life. Only more goes the adage. A major league team is together from February to October, even longer if a team makes the playoffs. That’s eight months of traveling together, and it falls to one guy to provide the proper direction—the manager.

Management insights

Monroe, aka C Mo, spoke about two Tiger managers, both former catchers with an uncanny ability to understand the needs of their players. One sparked Monroe, aka C Mo, to his best year. His name is Jim Leyland, and he managed the Tigers and other clubs. The other is one C Mo covers as a broadcaster. His name is A J Hinch. Here is what we learned from C Mo.

Know your players. Leyland knew the strengths and weaknesses of every player on his squad. He knew how to challenge them. C Mo recalls Leyland moving him up to bat second, quite a jump for an end-of-the-lineup batter. Leyland trusted that C Mo could do it, and he did, no doubt fortified by the manager’s faith in him.

Connect personally. How’s the family was a refrain Leyland used with his players. Like all good managers, he knew his players had lives outside the game. He asked about their wives, their kids, and even their parents. Leyland was a family man himself. Being on the road for months on end is always challenging for everyone. Recognizing this factor is essential to mental fitness and well-being.

Stay out of the clubhouse. C Mo noted that Leyland never entered the clubhouse, meaning he let the players monitor and uphold the rules. He relied on veteran players to keep the younger ones in line by teaching them the ropes. This model resembles a junior officer depending upon the sergeant to “run the platoon.” Of course, if destructive behaviors went unchecked, Leyland would intervene. Quickly and forcefully. 

Build team cohesion. Hinch gave players undergoing rehab the chance to travel with the team. He wants them to feel that they are still part of the team despite their injury. Allowing players to remain connected undoubtedly gives them focus for their rehab but also sends a signal to healthy players that the manager believes in the whole-person approach to wellness.

Putting the pieces together

Knowing, connecting, and understanding are central to effective teamwork, not simply on a ball diamond but in life itself. Any manager will do well to try to relate to his direct reports as people. A manager’s job is not to make friends but to earn their trust. 

C Mo noted that one player made it a practice to call Leyland every Father’s Day because he regarded his former manager as a father figure. Such loyalty is earned. And it may be one reason Leyland will be inducted into baseball’s Hall of Fame next summer. 

Analytics cannot measure heart – yet. So, it is up to managers to prove themselves by setting standards for performance and behaviors that reinforce them. Give employees the respect they deserve and the corrections they need to improve. Let them flourish, and then keep going. Managers do not play the game; they help others do it better.

Remember, said Yogi Berra, “Baseball is 90% mental and the other half is physical.” Just as it is at work, play, and life itself.

First posted on Forbes.com 12.00.2023

Communicating from the Heart (and Soul)

Purpose is our lodestone, but how well do we connect our purpose to our communications?

A way to focus on purpose is intentionality. Know what you want to say, why you are saying it, and how you are saying it. “I am so passionate about this because so often people are talking or communicating without any real sense of purpose,” says Sally Susman, executive vice president for chief corporate affairs officer at Pfizer. Susman’s awareness of intentionality became more urgent when her company rolled out its Covid-19 vaccine. Communication had to be clear, coherent, and responsive to all those seeking information and clarity about the vaccine.

Intentionality also applies to interpersonal communications. “When I’m talking to my parents, I say before each call, be patient, be patient with them,” Susman told me recently. “If I’m talking to my adult daughter, I say, don’t be judgmental.” She also applied that sense of intention during our interview. “Even before speaking with you, I took a moment and said, I hope that I can engage your listeners in some provoking thoughts or insights that enliven their day.”

Evaluating what, why and how you express yourself is a key theme in Susman’s book Breaking Through: Communicating to Open Minds, Move Hearts, and Change the World“It’s a big mistake to relegate your communications as a soft skill. I argue that it’s a rock-hard competency. It is as important for leaders as any other discipline they may have [such as] sales, marketing, inventory, [or] finance.”

Being honest

Reading Susman’s book, you will get a window into her career in ways that reveal more than her professionalism. According to Sally’s mother, perhaps too much, who read the book and said, “‘Sally, this is not a business book. This is a memoir of all your greatest and most embarrassing mistakes.’” She and her mother had a good laugh. As Susman explained, “That was very meaningful to me because I have made a lot of mistakes. And through those, I’ve learned so much, and I hope that I have built my resiliency.”

A theme of the book, says Susman, is to demonstrate that recovering from mistakes builds resilience. It also does something more. “People rally to you when they see you trying very hard, or when you have the strength to share your vulnerabilities.”

Delivering hope

Susman tells a story about a former boss, Kenneth Chenault, who became American Express’s CEO shortly before 9/11. Its corporate headquarters in lower Manhattan had been damaged in the attack, so the company brought people together in Madison Square Garden. More than a thousand employees showed up. 

Chenault had a prepared speech, but when he looked into the audience, he noticed that people were visibly shaken; some were even crying. Out went the speech. Chennault spoke extemporaneously, wading into the audience and occasionally hugging individual employees. His message was that the company would see better days. “Great leaders are purveyors of hope and optimism,” says Susman. Their pitch – as she calls it – resonates like music – with harmony and poetry.

Gratitude is fundamental to Susman’s approach to work and life. Every morning she reviews her calendar from the previous day. “Even if you’ve had a hard day or a stressful day, there’s probably something or someone in yesterday that you’re thankful for.” She then writes a two or three thank you cards to thank people for what they have done. “It allows me to be reflective. It puts a hopefulness that every day has something that you can be thankful for.”

Find the joy

One of the four values at Pfizer is joy. “We talk about joy. We know laughter is good medicine, too. We take our job seriously, but not ourselves.” Humor reinforces the humanity in each of us. “I have something in my team called Open Mic Night where we stand up and share our biggest goof,” says Susman.

Communication is most effective when it intrigues the mind, stirs the heart, and inspires the soul. Doing so, as Susman does, facilitates something more profound – the connection one to one and one to many. For good and for better.

Note: Click here to hear the full interview with Sally Susman.

First posted on Forbes.com 10.02.2023

Jorma and Jack Give a Lesson in Collaboration

Okay, so you’ve been playing a song one way for a couple of generations, and then someone suggests, “How about adding a sousaphone solo?”

If you are Jorma Kaukonen and Jack Casady – two legendary rock stars performing together since the early 1960s – you go for it. The duo was performing what had become a standard tune for them, “Good Shepherd” After each had soloed and riffed a bit, a horn player stepped up to a side stage microphone and soloed. The effect was magical, giving the Biblical-themed song a jazz-themed twist.

Good Shepherd,” recorded by Jimmy Strothers — a blind convict in Virginia imprisoned for accidentally shooting his wife, who had been abusing him. The traditional hymn focuses on salvation by caring for one another. Strothers’ version includes references to the marauding savagery of the Ku Klux Klan. The effect of the horn — with Kaukonen on guitar and Casady on bass in accompaniment — underscores the beauty and poignancy of the melody.

Power of friendship

Watching this performance on YouTube, something else struck me: friendship. Kaukonnen is in his early eighties, and Casady is nearing eighty, but watching them perform, you could see the same spark of collaboration that bound them together as teens. Kaukonnen invited Casady to join The Jefferson Airplane, a group that achieved superstardom in the late Sixties. Together with the Grateful Dead and Janis Joplin – and so many other bands – the Airplane defined that era’s San Francisco rock scene.

Kaukonen and Casady formed Hot Tuna as a blues band concurrently with their years in the Airplane. It became their avenue for exploring the blues, country, and folk. Call it a passion project. And its passion burns brightly because it is still touring now – albeit on their final electric tour. 

Lessons to keep in mind

What we can learn from the band are a few lessons.

Remember the mission. Know what you stand for and build upon that as a foundation. 

Evolve when necessary. Times change, as do situations. Adapt when necessary in ways that complement your mission.

Keep experimenting. Try something new. Use the newness as a challenge and a way to invigorate yourself and the mission.

Joy of collaboration

And finally, what strikes me most when watching Jorma and Jack perform together is their respect for each other. Jorma on vocals and lead (or solo) guitar, and Jack on an often oversized bass of his creation. They complement one another in ways that harmonize their sound into something that demonstrates their deep connection. They are true collaborators.

And so it is fitting to close by citing the lyrics of the Strothers’ version of “Good Shepherd” – a plea for all of us to watch out for one another – as good colleagues do. 

If you want to get to heaven

… Over on, the other shore

Stay out of the way of the blood-stained bandit —

Oh, good shepherd,

Feed my sheep.

One for Paul, one for Silas …

One for to make, my heart rejoice.

Can’t you hear, my lambs, a callin’?

Oh, good shepherd,

Feed my sheep.

First posted on Forbes.com on 00.00.2023