Leaders Must Have Answers
“I don’t know” is never a good response.
There are moments in a post-game press conference where the media run out of questions to ask. The reason this occurs is that the person (Coach or Manager) who is the subject of the press conference, also is at a loss for words. “Dead Air” as it is called in the radio and television business. Not only is it awkward but it is embarrassing.
There is only one sports coach who makes “awkward” press conferences with deadly silence an art form; Patriots Coach Bill Belichick. His barley audible one-word-responses to reporters are must watch press conference's! However, generally, having no answers and no responses to your team’s bad performance will eventually get you fired.
June 6, 1990, the Yankees then manager, Bucky Dent, sat in a press conference packed with local reporters in a tiny office in Yankee Stadium, running his hand through his hair in frustration. Worst of all, he had no answers on why his team was in last place. The next day he was fired by “itchy trigger finger” George Steinbrenner.
A high-ranking Yankee official revealed late that George Steinbrenner was angered by Dent’s posture and body language.
“George thought Bucky was always looking confused,” the source said. “Look at his pictures in the paper. From day one he was always hanging his head, rubbing his hand through his hair like he didn’t know what was happening, or he was looking grim.
“On TV he always had his arms tightly crossed. He never seemed sure of himself. I guess George could have handled all of it if the team was winning, but the team stunk and Bucky looked bad as they stunk. And George began to think that maybe Bucky didn’t know what was happening.”
Faking Confidence until Reality Catches up!
The art of successful Leadership is giving the appearance right from the beginning that you have everything under control. This means, walking into a horrible situation of low morale and limited production and reflecting the same energy level as if you are winning the game, the boardroom, or that you are in first place. Sticking your head and your right arm in to a hornet’s nest and pretend that no one is stinging you. At first you your staff will look at you strangely as it you have lost your mind. Then, all you need is a few employees to catch on and turn the tide of negativity with you. This is called the “buy-in”. Usually these are employees who have been out-numbered and swallowed up by the majority of negative people. These few hard working employees have been waiting for you to come along and save them. They just needed the right person to see what they were noticing and want to feel that someone is finally on the same page with them.
The second phase will be to identify those employees who have never had any intentions of wanting to work hard or have a positive attitude. Those employees are expendable and you need to work with Humans Resources and upper management to remove those employees as professionally as possible. Retirement packages or a simple conversation asking them what their intentions are for their future. Sometimes simply saying to them:
“You know, you do not have to work here. It is still your choice”.
Many times upper management will get hung-up on not wanting to remove negative employees because “At least it is a body to fill a position”. That is the wrong approach. Removing unmotivated negative employees will actually strengthen your department. How? Well the good employees will take notice that bad behavior is not rewarded with simply keeping their job and allowed to coast paycheck to paycheck. They will feel that you now value their hard work and will want to work harder for you. Meaning, they will then accelerate into overdrive and do the job of two employees rather than that of just one. In turn you have now gained the respect of the good employees and saved money and benefits on an empty position that was not reaping any rewards to begin with.
Speak from Experience
When I started a new position at an insurance company that I had been working with for more than 25 years, I took over a department that was practically on life support. Most of the employees had been working with little or no management direction and for a new Director who was trying to find his footing on a grander scale. I had employees that were trying to run the department without an official title and they were turning on each other. There was anger and resentment and even with my positive attitude there were two employees who did not want me there. They did everything they could to make my life miserable. At least they tried to but I wouldn’t give them the satisfaction. With persistence and belief in their abilities the very same two associates who tried to run me out become two of my strongest workers and to whom I relied on in major crises specifically Covid 19. We needed to design an alternate mail room to scan and process mail while the rest of the company was on lock down. They were instrumental in creating and running our department in an alternate site. In fact, due to the prolonged impact of the pandemic we had to move the alternate site twice. They were critical with assisting and coordinating the movement of all equipment and assuring that everything ran with little down-time. Once they knew that I wasn’t gong anywhere and I was not there to push them out, they bought into my vision.
Q & A
No matter how distant upper management is from your situation they know generally the mess you have inherited. The reason why they hired you was to make sure that you pulled their department out of the depths of hell with little or no need of their assistance. In-other-words, they hired you to handle it without crying the details everyday. This sounds harsh and at times you feel alone and want to cry. However, slow and steady wins the ultimate race. The little you need upper management to intervene or ask for help the more you will be respected.
Results rule the day! Remember that during the steady climb out of the black hole your bosses may have the nerve to become impatient. The same bosses who know you inherited a mess have no real concept of time. Meaning, they will forget that it only has been a few months since you accepted the dumpster fire but they have budgets to forecast and their big bosses to answer to. The last thing you want to do is not have any answers for where you are in your rescue mission and why you might be struggling in some areas. Again, manager Bucky Dent running his hands through his hair looking distressed and bewildered is never a great look. Over time your bosses will lose confidence in you and ultimately you may lose your job. Hold steady to the same energy level they hired you with and give them the improvements you have implemented and always come with suggestions on how you need to proceed over the next year. Always throw in some cost cutting measures within reason. Maybe suggest not hiring a replacement for someone who just retired to save on salaries or suggest an outdated vendor your department had been using since before your were hired, for a more cost effective one that offers additional benefits for less money. For example, go with WB Mason rather than Staples etc.. Show the cost cutting measures with improved service to validate your suggestion.
All ‘Dent’s’ are not Created Equal
Be Bucky Dent the Hero and not Bucky Dent the Manager
It was at Fenway Park in 1978 that Dent hit a three-run home run, rallying the Yankees to a 5–4 victory over Boston in a playoff for the AL East title. The Yankees went on to win their second straight World Series but have been back to postseason play only twice since. That is the manager George Steinbrenner was expecting. Instead he received the Bucky Dent that had the Yankees in last place in the American League East. When Dent was fired their record was 18–31, this was the worst in baseball at the time.
The unfortunate part was that Dent’s strongest argument about where his club was and the reasons they were struggling came in quotes in the paper after he was fired;
“There is no way I feel good about this. We were in 15 one-run games. If we had won half of them (instead of 4–11), there wouldn’t have been a change. I thought we were about to turn the corner.”
Where Dent failed was in his ability to project confidence as a leader knowing he was being watched by every camera possible. Through the lense of a real camera and through the lense of his players Bucky did not give the presence of confidence. You can extract more nectar from a limited talented team but you need to get your players (employees) to believe in you.
Fortunate for me and seven years later I was successful in turning my unit around and was able to replace the employees who didn’t want to be there. Never wavering in my confidence in my team members allows me to manage them with little or no intervention. I have a sub-layer of veteran associates policing the newer and younger employees similar to what Tom Coughlin did as coach of the New York Giants. He created a sub-group of veteran players to be the mentors to new and inexperienced workers. Carry your hard hat and lunch box everyday and your employees will feed of your positive energy and tough work ethic. “I don’t know” should never be an answer to your Boss.