"Any fool can criticize, condemn, and complain, and most fools do. But it takes character and self-control to be understanding and forgiving."
"All I know is, I did MY job."
How many times have each of us heard or said those words? In most corporate situations, we expect a certain amount of ducking and hiding when things go wrong. If things look dicey, just make sure to cover your own butt and do YOUR job so the boss’s hammer misses you.
That strategy might work to a certain extent in protecting your neck when a major project goes bad, but it is short-sighted and the coward’s way out. I know because I’ve taken it. And as long as I was willing to deflect blame or point to the guy standing next to me when things got stinky, I never moved past my own level of incompetence and I was never the real leader of a team.
In order to win consistently, a team must have a clear leader who is willingly accountable for every task and duty. I didn’t say everything was "their job," but that they willingly step to the front of the room to give an account for the team’s results. When the results are good, they give credit. When the results are bad, they accept responsibility and make changes. Assigning blame seldom solves anything, but taking responsibility can change the world. It’s a simple equation but it is seldom applied.
A glaring example of the two ends of the spectrum showed up in NASCAR this week (the highest level of professional stock car racing for those that don’t know).
Four-time defending champion, Jimmy Johnson, is fighting tooth and nail for his fifth consecutive championship and came into the weekend’s race trailing this year’s leader, Denny Hamlin, by a slim margin. The reason I like the leadership comparisons in sports, and especially racing, is that there are dozens of people involved in every team that you never hear about. Just like with any business.
A typical NASCAR team has an ownership group, engine builders, car body professionals, garage personnel, race spotters, pit crew, crew chief, and driver. That isn’t an exhaustive list, but it gives you an idea. The driver and crew chief are the ones that typically end up in front of the media, but that doesn’t mean they are the leaders of their team. They are only obligated to the mouth-piece.
One of the biggest pre-race stories this weekend was that Johnson changed his pit crew. They had consistently underperformed and a change was made. In every press conference and sound bite, Johnson spoke in "we" not "they." He talked about team decisions and how important every contribution is to winning. He and his crew chief, Chad Knaus, are a unified front and don’t point fingers. They lead a team that has won four consecutive championships in a sport where a 1,000th of a second often determines winning and losing. Their team must be on top of their game and they respond to the actions of the leader. The speed of the coach is the speed of the team.
Johnson and his team finished 5th in the race and closed the already narrow gap between them and Hamlin’s team in first.
Hamlin competed well all day but finished 12th because his team decided to take a pit stop when Johnson and a few other racers opted not to stop. Those that stayed on the track finished ahead of Hamlin.
I’m keeping the strategy explanation simple because it isn’t the issue here. Johnson and Hamlin both made team decisions about their fuel situation at the end of the race and Johnson’s team won. The lesson is in what happened during the post-race press conference.
Obviously disgusted, Hamlin said that he thought everyone was in the same boat when it came to how far they could go on the fuel they had and so he never thought about conserving fuel in order to avoid the costly pit stop. "I was never alerted to save fuel. I didn’t even think it was a question," Hamlin lamented. "Like I said, I did MY job."
Really Denny? Is this just about doing YOUR job?
In the same press conference, Johnson, Kevin Harvick (3rd in the standings), and Carl Edwards (won the race) all talked about their thoughts around conserving fuel. Johnson talked about having to fight himself regarding his anxiety toward conserving fuel, still yet, Hamlin says he never thought about it because he wasn’t told to.
Step up Denny! No one wins by themselves. The same team and crew chief you are pushing under the bus is the same team that has you in 1st place… for now.
I’m not saying to let it go. An error was made that might cost Hamlin’s team the championship and it needs to be addressed, but handle it in-house. Don’t try to distance yourself from a bad decision by claiming ignorance. Unless of course, you have no intention of being the leader of your team.
Leaders aren’t ignorant and they aren’t uninformed. Turning a blind-eye to issues or acting like you don’t know there are problems isn’t the same thing as being good. Concerning yourself with only YOUR JOB is a bad, employee mentality. The purpose is to save one’s own neck. To hell with team when it doesn’t serve me.
Today’s lesson from the track: Leaders are responsible. Period.