The Really Big Bus

“Tom’s personal preferences on his footballs are something that he can talk about in much better detail and information than I could possibly provide,” Belichick said, “I can tell you that in my entire coaching career, I have never talked to any player (or) staff member, about football air pressure.” This is a quote from a press conference held by New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick during which he spoke about Patriots quarterback Tom Brady and the infamous “Deflategate” case. What just happened here?

This was a classic case of someone being “thrown under the bus.” In this instance it was very public and left some massive tire marks. In an entrepreneurial environment this is pure poison. Throwing someone under the bus destroys team spirit and leads to major internal trust issues.

As children, we had a tendency to point fingers at others rather than accept responsibility for ourselves. The blame game was in full swing and a fairly normal aspect of childhood. We should have seen its destructive nature then and refrained from carrying it into adulthood. How often have you heard something like this? “Our revenues are down because the salespeople didn’t move enough of our product.” Or, “The contract was late being delivered to the client because my administrative assistant was sick.” And how about, “I’m sorry we delivered poor customer service – I’m going to fire John Doe whom you spoke to on the phone.”

Wow! These are some heavy duty statements and perfect examples of what it looks like to be thrown under the bus. They are also perfect examples of scapegoating, finger-pointing, excuse-making and general lack of accountability. At all costs the speaker wants to distance himself from what went wrong. It’s pretty obvious that this is not enlightened leadership. How simple it would be to change a few words and ultimately the whole message. Consider these alternatives. “We’re pulling the whole team together to identify a new strategy to increase revenues.” No one is being blamed here and a positive step has been identified. “I’m very sorry the contract was late. Please let us know if there is anything that needs to be changed.” The client doesn’t really care why the contract was late. Thus, a heartfelt apology is all that needs to be said. “I’m sorry our customer service wasn’t satisfactory. What else can we do to make this right?” Again, a straightforward apology and no one is blamed.

Teams become strong when each member knows everyone has his or her back. What if clearly someone screwed up and makes the whole team look bad? Shouldn’t that person be held accountable? This is a fair question and the answer is yes to accountability. But as leaders, we should never publicly do so – to a customer or in front of the whole team. Individual issues should be dealt with individually. We accomplish nothing when we embarrass a member of a team in front of others. Not only does that team member resent such treatment, but the other members become afraid of making mistakes for fear of being called out in similar fashion. Rather than move forward with positive energy, the team then becomes tentative and apprehensive.

A respected leader will always take one for the team. He or she understands that an individual failure is a team failure. The failure could have happened because the team member didn’t have the training or the resources to succeed. It could have happened because systems and processes within the organization were broken. Perhaps there was a lack of communication or understanding. And it’s possible that the organization failed because it placed a bet on a team member that really wasn’t qualified for the job. Rarely is failure isolated to a specific individual. Recognizing this, the strong leader will resist the temptation to single out an individual and instead accept responsibility on behalf of the entire enterprise.

Being thrown under the bus is humiliating and painful. People want to work within companies that create a climate of trust and avoid blaming individuals for problems when they arise.

This blog is being written in tandem with my book, “An Entrepreneur’s Words to Live By,” available on Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle (My Book), as well as being available in all of the other major eBook formats.

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Tasty Crow

Crows are remarkably intelligent and can live as long as 20 years. They typically have a wingspan of more than three feet and weigh nearly three pounds. A crow can fly up to 60 miles per hour and have been found as high as 14,000 feet in mountain ranges. Being smart, fast and able to fly to great heights make them particularly hard to catch. Recently I had to catch one so I could eat it . . . metaphorically speaking of course.

To be a successful entrepreneur we must have an acquired taste for crow. We’ve all heard the saying “to eat crow” which connotes humiliation and having to admit the making of a mistake. Sometimes our ego gets in the way and we do everything we can to avoid admitting that we made a mistake. We may point the finger at others. Or we may try and cover up the mistake hoping that its results will somehow vanish into thin air. I can tell you that all of these tendencies are mistakes.

One of our companies is involved in acquiring apartment properties across the country. We sold two such assets within a much shorter holding period than we had initially projected because of an opportunity to generate substantial profits. Members of our team prepared a detailed spreadsheet that showed how the sale proceeds would be distributed. These were large and complicated transactions with several tranches of equity provided by different investors. I was pleased to call two such investors to deliver the good news that they would be receiving a significant multiple of their original investment. Needless to say they were thrilled.

Within days, I received a call from my partner who oversees our apartment acquisition business unit. Apparently there was a bust in the calculations and these two investors would be receiving less than what I had told them. They were still receiving a substantial gain on the sale, but not quite as much as the expectation I had set. The mistake was honest and unfortunate but it still had to be acknowledged. Thus, I went about the task of eating crow.

I called both investors and said the following, “I’m sorry to tell you that the distribution figure I provided the other day was erroneous. We made a mistake in calculating the sale proceeds and your new amount is $X. Happily your profit is still much greater than we projected when you made your investment three-and-a-half years ago. I wanted to get back to you as soon as I learned of the error and I hope that you will still be interested in looking at future investments with us.”

Because we are a team I did not point a finger at the person who was responsible for the calculation. Instead I said that “we” made a mistake. I did not make up an excuse for what had happened. Simple but painful. The result was an expression of understanding on the part of both investors. I’m sure they were disappointed but there were no angry words and in both cases, an indication of interest in looking at the next deal.

Relationships are built on trust and can be strengthened in situations where things don’t go as planned. But this happens only when honesty and transparency are the top priority.

This blog is being written in tandem with my book, “An Entrepreneur’s Words to Live By,” available on Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle (My Book), as well as being available in all of the other major eBook formats.

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