Leadership: Style vs. Substance

By February 21, 2014 Uncategorized No Comments

I have been contemplating an unexpected intersection of leadership stories that resonate with me. The intersection happened at the corner of Texas A&M football and the launch of my forthcoming book on leadership, Peerless: Defy Convention, Lead from the Heart, Watch What Happens.

Full disclosure: my engineering degree was bestowed by A&M so naturally I have reflected with some pride on the football programs’ emergent success in the SEC and the uncommon success of the quarterback, Johnny Manziel, awarded the Heisman as a freshman in 2012.

Underneath these headlines of rah-rah, razzle-dazzle, emerge several leadership lessons that revealed clues that the A&M “organization” could be poised for long-term success. And the focal point of that belongs to the convictions of their head coach, Kevin Sumlin. What got my attention was Sumlin’s decision, during national same-day two weeks ago to honor Cedric Collins’ high school sophomore year verbal commitment to play football even after learning that Collins’ diagnosed congenital cervical abnormalities would prevent him from ever playing college football. Sumlin awarded the scholarship anyway, saying “Cedric Collins is a guy that committed to us early and I thought it was important we showed the same commitment.” Here’s the rest of the “underneath story” of hype and style.  

  • During this season after weekend games Sumlin holds The Truth meetings were coaches and players are allowed to discuss and confront one another over the preceding weekend’s events.
  • To maintain focus, Sumlin’s mantra “It’s About Us” ensures that teammates concentrate on supporting each other, not on externalities or competitors.

Back to the intersection. In my book, we interviewed CEOs that had a reputation for building organizations based on living out their personal convictions while embracing the entire organization’s reciprocal commitment to the leader’s vision. One of our executives interviewed, Dan Wilford, retired Chairman and CEO of Memorial Hermann Healthcare System (17 hospitals in Houston) believed healthcare was a calling … even a ministry. He communicated that clearly and passionately for years and found that people thrive in such an atmosphere or culture that gives their work meaning and purpose. He led his employees to create Partners in Caring, designed to provide help and counsel to employees in need.

From this intersection comes this “truth”.  People are inspired to perform for leaders who declare and live out their convictions … their True North.  Success … winning a game or performing heart surgery comes more from effort than talent.

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