How do we drive the right performance out of our teams, ultimately affecting the profits of our business? Often, we have to look introspectively at ourselves as leaders and say, “are we doing everything we can do?”
If you’re a football fan, you know the names Jon and Jay Gruden. Jon is the head coach for the Oakland Raiders. Jay used to be the head coach for the Washington Redskins. Unfortunately, after a 0-5 start, Jay was called into the office at 5 am on a Monday morning after his last game and was ultimately let go.
Why Do Awesome Teams Fail to Perform?
Go back to Jay’s previous history. In the mid-2000s, he used to work under his brother as an offensive assistant for The Tampa Bay Buccaneers. They ended up winning the Superbowl. Obviously, things changed as he became the head coach of the Washington Redskins. Keep this perspective in mind: their payroll was about $180 million a year. Their salary cap was around $194 million so it’s not like Jay didn’t have great team members to use. He actually had an awesome team of individual performers. Sadly, they didn’t work as a team and he was let go because of that.
His story reminds me of Adam Neumann; everybody’s heard of him because of what’s gone on in WeWork. Here’s a guy that started a business a few years back and took it to a valuation of $47 billion just over a month ago. Then he was ousted as the CEO of that same organization in the past few weeks. Jay and Adam’s lines of work are very different from each other, but there are some similarities as leaders that we can draw from both. Think about some of the things that have been reported in the press about Adam Neumann – in the way he led (or should I say dictated) to his team. Things like he and his wife didn’t feel like certain team members had enough energy, so they let them go.
The Law of the Lid
What do these two have in common that we need to understand? There’s this thing that I call “the law of the lid.” In essence, your team is only going to perform as well as you allow them to, based on your experience as a leader.
Jay Gruden had a great team of individuals, but there was likely a limitation to his ability to coach the team to perform. Maybe he should’ve stuck with being the offensive assistant. Adam Neumann clearly didn’t have the experience to lead such a broad team. Of course, there are other issues with WeWork’s business model and so forth, but the team can only perform to the “lid,” that we as leaders put on people.
Looking Inward vs. Looking Outward
Here’s an example from early on in my career while I was growing my primary business and bringing on leaders. When there was an issue, I tended to look at everybody else and not my own ability or inability as a leader. It was easy to pass the blame for problems when the company wasn’t performing in some way or another. Instead of looking introspectively at myself and the “lid” that I placed on the performance of my team, I faulted somebody else for it. I had a COO who was a leader, but I ended up firing her. Not because she wasn’t doing the job, but because I wasn’t doing the job and didn’t realize it. I felt like I needed to look at somebody else in order to say “it’s your responsibility. You’re the one who’s going to take the fall for this.”
We all place these artificial caps on our ability and our potential as leaders. When I began my business, it wasn’t uncommon to work 60, 70, 80 hours a week to create a certain amount of success. In order to be more successful, we often spend more time working. But that doesn’t compound success. If we increase our understanding of what it is to lead, we can actually pull back on the amount of work that we do and focus on what gets our teams to actually perform. So it’s not about you spending more time in your organization; It’s about increasing your ability, your experience, and the tools you have as a leader to make sure you’re driving the possibilities of the team that you have working for you.
There are a few questions that I want you to really think about and be honest with yourself on. I’ve seen a lot of leaders completely change their approach to leadership after reflecting on these things. They’ve “lifted their lids” to become very successful and not end up like Jay Gruden or Adam Neumann.
Ask yourself these questions:
When something doesn’t work in your department, in your division, in your company, is your first reaction to say, “I’m going to fix it” or “who can I bring in to help?” Leaders don’t just swoop in and fix it themselves. They assemble teams to be able to deliver. The more people working on it, there’s going to be a greater amount of success. Unfortunately, less successful leaders (I admit I was one of them) will swoop in and say “I will fix it. It’s all about me.” Think about the last decisions you made as an actual leader.
When there’s a personnel problem, a quality of work problem, a lost customer problem…etc. Is your tendency to look at you and your leadership team, or is your tendency to look at the team that’s actually executing? The first thing we need to look at is ourselves and the leadership that we’re either showing or not showing. Consider where you spend most of your time looking.
As leaders, we can’t think the same or act the same in a world that doesn’t stay the same. If you looked at your calendar for this week, how much time have you set aside to develop your own leadership skills? Maybe you think you’ve already arrived and there’s nothing else that you can learn. This third question is especially important as it drives the performance of the team. There were many reasons that Jay Gruden was ultimately fired; But if he had spent more time developing himself as a leader, could his team have succeeded? If the lid had been raised so that they could perform better, would he have lost his job? Adam Neumann’s story is a bit different. From the outside, it seems as though there was more of an ego trip. But it’s clear he wasn’t investing in his own leadership skills.
I’ve been challenged with all of the above at different times in my career and have changed my approach after learning the hard way. Remember that all of us leaders place a “lid” on the performance of our teams. If you only point fingers but forget to look at yourself or the leaders on your team, you’re missing a great opportunity to create people that perform, and to drive profits for you and your business.