Category Archives: Leadership & Coaching

Whiplash Movie is Case Study for Terrible Leaders

“There are no two words in the English language more harmful than good job.”

So says  tyrannical band leader Terence Fletcher, brilliantly portrayed in an Oscar-winning performance by actor J.K. Simmons in the movie Whiplash.

J.K. Simmons (r) and Miles Teller in Whiplash. Credit: Sony Pictures Classics.

The psychological thriller provides a springboard into a number of rich discussion areas, including leadership and coaching.  I can see this movie being used as content in business schools and corporate training sessions to help teach leaders what not to do. 

For example, toward the end of the movie, emerging drummer Andrew (Miles Teller) is conversing with Fletcher.  The topic is just how far a leader can go to get the best out of someone, and via what methods.  Andrew asks if there’s a line that shouldn’t be crossed.  It’s clear he’s referring to Fletcher’s button-pushing, take-no-prisoners approach to make people the best they can be (according to him).  The response: No.

My response: Absolutely yes.

Band leader Fletcher sprints across that line from the get-go.  His abusive toolkit also includes: Continue reading

Surprise Performance: Kids Movie Characters Teach Adults How to Thrive at Work

What possible business insights can we glean from children’s movie characters Dusty Crophopper, Skipper, Classified and SpongeBob?

No, I haven’t lost my mind.

Being an uncle to young boys, I’ve seen The SpongeBob Movie, Penguins of Madagascar and Planes: Fire & Rescue in the last six months.

While these movies aim to entertain (and make a profit – SpongeBob was number one last weekend), they are also embedded with social lesson skills for young children, especially group dynamics.  And, if you think about it, those same dynamics translate to important business organization themes that can either fuel success or cause dysfunction.

In each of the three movies, the main characters have to navigate situations and challenges that teach the critical importance of the following:

  • Leadership
  • Teamwork
  • Collaboration
  • Adaptability
  • Dealing with Change
  • Organization Alignment
  • Positioning Employees for Success
Dusty Crophopper - Planes: Fire & Rescue. Credit: http://movies.disney.com/planes-fire-and-rescue

Dusty Crophopper – Planes: Fire & Rescue. Credit: http://movies.disney.com/planes-fire-and-rescue

In Planes: Fire & Rescue, main character and flying ace Dusty Crophopper has to cope with the challenge of joining a new company and adapting to a different job. At first, he’s a cocky, hot-shot.  He has trouble performing due to a lack of focus and unwillingness to get aligned with the objectives and needs of the team/organization.

Dusty grows with the help of wise, mentoring colleagues, and actual trial by fire. He learns to understand his role, and how to contribute to and be part of a winning team.  He also understands that self-sacrifice is sometimes necessary for the team to win.

Skipper - Penguins of Madagascar. Credit: http://madagascar.dreamworks.com

Skipper – Penguins of Madagascar. Credit: http://madagascar.dreamworks.com

In Penguins of Madagascar, we get a variety of lessons about leader evolution, encouraging initiative at all levels,  and knowing when to ask for help.

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Decisive Super Bowl Play Demonstrates Power of Being “Always Ready”

My last post was about why the Coast Guard motto, Always Ready, is also a valuable mindset for business and marketing teams.

Because something unbelievable happened at the end of Super Bowl XLIX between the New England Patriots and the Seattle Seahawks, “Always Ready” is a pertinent topic again.

Malcolm Butler wins Super Bowl XLIX for the New England Patriots. Credit: New England Patriots.

Malcolm Butler wins Super Bowl XLIX for the New England Patriots. Credit: New England Patriots.

Unless you’ve just come out of hibernation, you’re well aware of what happened Sunday night in Arizona. This is not the place to critique Seattle’s play selection.  You can find that everywhere.

Instead, let’s go behind the scenes and understand how one player made one of the all-time best plays in American sports history.

His name is Malcolm Butler.

In an interview on ESPN’s Mike & Mike radio program Monday morning, the rookie cornerback explained why he was ready.  Pay special attention to the end of the audio excerpt:

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Rabbi’s “Look Up” Sermon Reminds that Attitude Essential in Life and Business

What does a Rosh Hashanah sermon have to do with marketing and business?

I’ll explain.

Looking from Dante's View across the Badwater Basin salt pan to Telescope Peak, 11,049 feet, at the top of the Panamint Mountains. Photo Credit: National Park Service.

Looking from Dante’s View across the Badwater Basin salt pan to Telescope Peak, 11,049 feet, at the top of the Panamint Mountains. Photo Credit: National Park Service.

At Dante’s View in Death Valley National Park (CA), it’s possible to see both the highest point in the contiguous United States (Mount Whitney) and the lowest (Badwater).

Rabbi David Nesson described this geological marvel in his Rosh Hashanah sermon. Noting the volatile, dangerous world in which we live, and in the religious/spiritual context of the new year, he identified a life-management choice.  We can either Look Up or Look Down.

No surprise that he encouraged Look Up.  It’s a powerful idea with significant personal meaning.  And, it definitely applies to the business world as well.

Outlook and attitude make a difference in life and in business.  An enthusiastic, can-do approach is positively contagious across the organization. It’s much more fun and productive to work in that kind of environment. Unfortunately, the opposite is also true.

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Nuclear Sub Commander Transforms Leadership, Gets Winning Performance

TurnTheShipAround Book CoverA nuclear submarine commander has written a must-read book about how to achieve great performance at every level of your organization.

David Marquet’s  Turn The Ship Around! A True Story of Turning Followers into Leaders is terrific for all team players in your company.  It’s especially powerful for those entrusted with leading direct reports.  

I loved the book.  Marquet has distilled his philosophy into a concise, attention-keeping,  easy read filled with examples of how he and his crew turned the worst performing nuclear sub into the best.

You, too, can apply this philosophy, but first you’ll have to adopt a new mindset that will lead to different actions.  Marquet’s thesis is that we need to transform leadership from a “leader-follower” mode to one of “leader-leader.”  That’s how he transformed the USS Santa Fe from a dysfunctional “one captain and 134 crewmen” into a high-octane operation of “135 thinkers.” Continue reading

Survival Lessons from 3G Capital Takeovers at Burger King and Heinz

What would you do if your career depended on how you answered three questions in a fifteen minute interview with the new CEO?

That’s what faced the headquarters staff at Burger King upon being acquired by Brazilian-owned private equity firm 3G Capital in late 2010.

And, earlier this year, the leadership team at H.J. Heinz went through the same experience when they became 3G’s latest investment.

The three questions, discovered by Fortune reporter Jennifer Reingold:

  1. What have you done for the brand?
  2. What can you link to driving sales traffic or relevant financial metrics?
  3. What suggestions do you have for the company?

Tough stuff for sure.  As Reingold relates in her article:

“It was nerve-racking, another former executive says.  People were throwing up in the bathroom because their whole career comes down to this.”

Image: iStock.

Image: iStock.

Surviving new management is difficult, especially when it results from merger/acquisition activity.  New bosses often want their own people, regardless of the strength and talent of the incumbent teams.  While assessments can be legitimate, they’re more likely to be incomplete, arbitrary or just a formality.

If you’re on the receiving end, the overall process probably seems unfair, and there’s little you can do about it.  Except, plan ahead for next time.

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For Growth & Success, Get Out of the Office

There’s only so much you can do sitting at your desk.

Let’s face it.  If you’re not engaging off-site with everyone and everything that makes your company tick, that’s a problem – and lost opportunity.

That’s why you and your business team colleagues need to periodically get out of the office and, for example:

•  Listen to your customers;

•  Get direct feedback from your ultimate end-users;

•  Work with sales colleagues;

•  Investigate and learn about important marketing geography;

•  Talk with manufacturing colleagues in the plant.

Photo: Company Facebook.

I was reminded of this critical factor for success by Starwood Hotels & Resorts.

Twice in the last two years, Starwood has temporarily moved corporate HQ to another country for month-long immersions:

“To get to the heart of two of Starwood’s key markets — China and the Middle East, which account for 75% of its growth — the hotel group’s leadership team, including Mr. [Phil] McAveety [Executive VP-Chief Brand Officer at Starwood], the CEO, chief financial officer and others, took a month to immerse themselves in each location. The team spent March in Dubai and visited China in 2011.”

(Emma Hall, Advertising Age, A Peek Into Starwood Hotels’ Marketer Immersion Program)

Starwood does this to learn.  Here’s what they said in a company statement: Continue reading