Tim Duncan: The Selfless Leader

July 15, 2016

Earlier this week a great leader and perhaps the best power forward to ever play in the NBA quietly retired from the game. In his typical understated fashion, Tim Duncan stepped away from the game he played with passion, consistency and unselfishness for 19 years. His presence will be missed beyond south Texas.

Unlike talents such as Kobe Bryant, LeBron James and many others who receive so much of our collective attention, Duncan played in the relatively small market of San Antonio and didn’t seek out the spotlight he so much deserved.

Duncan’s five NBA titles (including three NBA Finals MVP awards) and two regular season MVP awards along with being selected a record 15 times on the NBA All-Defensive Team secured him as one of the best NBA players of all time. Duncan is also one of only three players to win the Wooden Award, NBA Rookie of the Year, NBA MVP, NBA Finals MVP and NBA All-Star Game MVP, joining Larry Bird and Michael Jordan.

Rather than taking advantage of all the praise for himself, he spread it around to his teammates and to San Antonio Spurs fans. In this age of Facebook “Likes,” Twitter followers, selfie sticks, and year-long victory tours (e.g., Kobe Bryant), Tim Duncan represents the kind of old-school leader we should be celebrating both on and off the court.

As Duncan explained recently, he took less money from bigger market teams in order to give the Spurs more ammunition to field successful teams. The money had “not ever been a deal for me.”

“Honest truth is I didn’t really know from year to year what people were making,” he said. “I think that was the best perspective to have.”

Tim Duncan’s leadership includes taking personal responsibility, leading by example and growing other leaders.

Leaders Take Responsibility

We live at a time when taking personal responsibility for our actions has become so rare that many people expect teachers and police to serve as parents. Tim Duncan is the kind of leader who demonstrates what Jim Collins described in his book Good to Great as one who looks out the window when things go right and in the mirror when things go wrong. Duncan held himself to a high standard and took responsibility (and blame) when it was warranted.

Leaders Lead by Example

Nothing builds up engagement among the ranks like the leader who is down in the trenches doing the grunt work. Tim Duncan was relentless in making his presence known on both ends of the court. Rather than seek out opportunities to make ESPN’s highlight reel, he did the things that helped his team win. While slam dunks are fun for fans to watch, what’s most important is winning the game and that was always Duncan’s focus.

Leaders Grow Other Leaders

Rather than be threatened by the arrival of Tony Parker and Manu Ginobli, Duncan demonstrated servant leadership principles by giving away his power to enable the entire team to achieve greatness. Together they won 575 regular-season games and 126 career playoff games—both the most by any trio in NBA history. Despite the fact that the media promotes individual All-Star players who are the face of each NBA team, basketball is ultimately a team game where every member has a role to play and how well they work together determines whether they win or lose.

When Duncan was a young boy, his mother taught his sisters and him the nursery rhyme: “Good, Better, Best. Never let it rest/Until your Good is Better, and your Better is your Best.” He cited his mother as his inspiration and the nursery rhyme as his personal motto. This is how he was able to achieve personal greatness.

Ultimately, what Tim Duncan demonstrated as a leader was to put his team above himself. In the same way a corporate executive should put the needs of employees, customers and shareholders above his or her personal needs (and I believe they should be in that particular order), too often executives begin with themselves and work backwards.

Whether you’re leading a company or a basketball team, the best leadership should be measured on overall performance of the organization. Tim Duncan’s leadership demonstrated consistency, competency and quality execution. He should be a model for all of us.

Perhaps Duncan put it best when he summed up his career: “It was just about being in the right situation with the right bunch of guys and getting it done.”

photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/24887901@N04/14261831767″>2014 NBA Champions</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a> <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/”>(license)</a>

Judging Leaders Beyond Financial Performance

October 28, 2015

Amazon’s Jeffery Bezos is no longer at the top of the Best-Performing CEOs in the World ranking, even though his company just posted an unexpected profit and added $25 billion to its market capitalization.

The CEO at the top of the list is now Lars Rebien Sørensen of Novo Nordisk, the Danish pharmaceutical company. If he were ranked entirely on financial performance alone, Sørensen would still earn a respectable sixth. However, when you include the company’s decision to offer a steep discount for insulin to people in developing countries, transparent and limited lobbying practices, and responsible policy on animal testing, Sørensen shoots to the top.

A recent Harvard Business Review article outlined the reasoning for this new metric in measuring the value of a CEO above and beyond financial performance. The ranking does not dismiss bottom-line performance as 80% of the score is based on shareholder return and market capitalization. However, the researchers wanted to include other important aspects of leadership that include the longer term by including environmental, social and overall governance or ESG.

“Corporate social responsibility is nothing but maximizing the value of your company over a long period,” says Sørensen in the HBR article. “In the long term, social and environmental issues become financial issues.”

According to HBR, the rationalization for the new metric is that in this “era of big data and greater transparency, consumers and investors increasingly want to understand a company’s culture and values.” While previous rankings were based entirely on stock market numbers, the researchers at HBR say they didn’t reflect a company’s reputation and aspects of leadership beyond market performance.

The researchers track and analyze each CEO’s performance from the first day of his or her tenure with the goal to create a list that goes beyond recent quarterly or annual results and evaluates long-term performance.

The new metric for this rating is a very good thing as consumers and shareholders already do and will continue to make choices that align with their own personal values. Leaders should take note and invest, develop and market products and services that are about more than profits alone.

In order to measure the ESG, they used calculations of Sustainalytics, a leading provider of environmental, social and governance research and analytics. They then applied the weight of long-term financial results at 80% and ESG performance at 20%.

Those better-known and often larger than life leaders elevated by the press are not necessarily the best performing. Here’s the rest of the top ten to make the list:

  1. John Chambers, Cisco Systems
  2. Pablo Isla, Inditex
  3. Elmar Degenhart, Continental
  4. Martin Sorrell, WPP
  5. Stephen Luczo, Seagate Technology
  6. Jon Fredrik Baksaas, Telenor
  7. George Scangos, Biogen
  8. Michael Wolf, Swedbank
  9. Fujio Mitarai, Canon

More familiar names further down the list include: 12. Howard Schultz (Starbucks), 38. Blake Nordstrom (Nordstom), 46. Marc Benioff (Salesforce.com), and 75. Frederick Smith (FedEx). Meanwhile, Amazon’s Bezos dropped all the way to 87 based on the new criteria.

Leadership is, of course, more than financial performance. The best CEOs are knowledgeable and skilled individuals, effective team members, competent managers, and, of course, effective leaders. But the very best have a combination of personal humility and professional will. These are what Jim Collins calls Level 5 Executives.

In his classic book Good to Great, Collins found that every one of the good-to-great companies he studied had Level 5 leadership during the pivotal transition years. These Level 5 leaders are a study in contrast: modest and willful, humble and fearless. They look out the window when things are going right and in the mirror when things are going wrong. Think Abraham Lincoln; not Donald Trump.

REI’s recent decision to close all of their 143 retail stores on the busiest shopping day of the year so their employees can get out to enjoy the outdoors is an example of a company living its values.

“For 76 years, our co-op has been dedicated to one thing and one thing only: a life outdoors,” said REI CEO Jerry Stritzke in a statement. “We believe that being outside makes our lives better. And Black Friday is the perfect time to remind ourselves of this essential truth.”

It’s no wonder REI has earned a spot on Fortune Magazine’s “100 Best Companies to Work For” every year since they began compiling the list in 1998.

What about your company? Is there a match between your corporate values and the actions taken by your leader? Can your leader earn a spot on the Best-Performing CEOs in the World list because they excel not only at financial performance, but in social, environmental and governance as well?

Great Leadership Requires Asking Questions

November 27, 2013

So often we look to leaders to provide answers to the most challenging problems we face whether in politics or business. In fact, great leaders are those who instead ask the right questions and engage others to arrive at the best answers together.

The media overly promotes a single businessman, politician or sports star as responsible for overall success. As a result, it’s hard to think of Apple without Steve Jobs, J.P. Morgan Chase without Jamie Dimon, and the current Denver Broncos without Payton Manning.

We tend to therefore associate the success of any group as overly reliant on those who lead them. Leaders are vital, of course, but the best are those who inspire others and share leadership to arrive at the most creative solutions.

Leaders play a pivotal role yet achieving success is predicated on getting more from the individuals they lead. This means engaging everyone to contribute fully because the best solutions come when the whole is truly greater than the sum of its parts.

A recent Forbes magazine article discussed the book Multipliers: How the Best Leaders Make Everyone Smarter by Liz Wiseman, and quoted the author as writing that the best multipliers “are leaders who bring out intelligence in others and get the best ideas and work out of the people they lead. ”

One of the trappings of leadership is thinking you have to have all the answers and that it is entirely up to you to provide people with the right answers. This is narrow-minded and it is detrimental to multiplier thinking.

“When a leader asks the questions,” says Wiseman, “they channel the energy and intelligence of their team on the challenge at hand, and they shift the burden of thinking onto others.”

Instead of looking to answer the big and important questions on his or her own, the multiplier asks provocative questions of the group and encourages them to work on it together. This engages employees like nothing else and no longer has them sitting on the sidelines awaiting the answer from their leader.

In his book Living the Questions: Essays Inspired by the Work and Life of Parker J. Palmer, he writes:

“The great gift we receive on the inner journey is the certain knowledge that ours is not the only act in town. Not only are there other acts in town, but some of them from time to time are even better than ours! On this inner journey we learn that we do not have too carry the whole load, that we can be empowered by sharing the load with others, and that sometimes we are even free to lay our part of the load down. On the inner journey we learn that co-creation leaves us free to do only what we are called and able to do, and to trust the rest to other hands. With that learning, we become leaders who cast less shadow and more light.”

Leaders who encourage this co-creation demonstrate humility in the face of the attention attributed entirely to them.

Jim Collins stated that great leaders are those who look out the window when things are going right, and in the mirror when things are not going right. It is this strength of character that enables great leaders to ignore the limelight society wants to throw upon them and instead diffuse it by sharing the glory with others with success and taking responsibility with failure.

This takes courage and patience. It takes resilience and persistence. And ultimately it takes trust that the individuals you lead have the ability to reach the best solutions collectively.

These best solutions require the best questions and a collective approach to reaching the answers.

Prepare to Hire the Right People

August 26, 2011

At a time when the stock market is a frightful roller coaster ride, consumer confidence is extremely low and the US unemployment is over nine percent, it may seem silly to talk about hiring again. But things will improve and you need to be prepared for when it does.

In Jim Collins’ seminal book Good to Great, he stated: “Get the right people on the bus. Get the wrong people off the bus. And then get the right people in the right seats on the bus.” Everything begins and ends with the right people doing the right jobs at the right time.

So just how do you hire the right people? How do you ensure that at a time of high unemployment you sort through the many potential candidates and get the best possible employee?

In most businesses the people you employ are your most important asset. They make or sell your product or service, and they determine whether you are successful or not. Therefore, hire winners. Hire people who are smart, hard working, ambitious and nice to be around.

Be certain you know exactly what it is you’re looking for. Commit this to paper and circulate it to everyone likely to work with this person. Ask for advice and comments from everyone on your team. Make sure you have thought beyond the knowledge and skills of your current people to include all the qualities you are seeking in an ideal candidate.

In Full Engagement: Inspire, Motivate, and Bring Out the Best in Your People, author Brian Tracy suggests the Law of Three in Hiring. He says this technique can increase the quality of your hires to a 90 percent success rate.

The Law of Three in Hiring

  • Interview Three Candidates – Choosing at least three candidates to interview can give you three different perspectives on the kind of people who are available. Don’t underestimate how powerful this can be in helping you identify the right fit.
  • Interview Three Times – Interview the person you like at least three times because with each interaction you will see another side of the person to evaluate. You may also learn further details or discrepancies in the stories the candidate reveals about his or her experience.
  • Select Three Different Meeting Places – This is helpful because people are subject to the “chameleon effect” and often change their personality when you move them around. Meet the candidate in a coffee shop or restaurant to see them in a more relaxed and public setting. You will see different sides of their personality that may be admirable or not so admirable.
  • Have Three Different People Interview the Candidate – This is especially important for the people who will be working directly with the candidate. And be sure to take their feedback seriously when making your decision. Ideally, you’ll want 100 percent agreement on who to hire.

Most importantly take your time in making a decision. This is currently an employer’s market and you have the luxury of taking time for fact checking the resume, contacting references for more than cursory information, and evaluating whether this is truly the right person.

It can cost between three and six times the person’s annual salary to hire someone who doesn’t work out. This cost is made up from the time spent on interviewing and training, the person’s salary and benefits while they are learning the job, and the lower level of productivity in the first few months of any new hire. Employee morale can also suffer with high turnover in your place of business.

Finally, it is important to trust your gut. Your intuition will tell you whether this is the right person and your brain will then logically justify your decision one way or the other.

Take the time and effort to get the right people on your bus.