How the Executive Leader Made Out in the NFL Draft


How the Executive Leader Made Out in the NFL Draft

This blog was started just as the NFL draft was about to get underway and so I hope you will forgive me if I use the NFL Draft for this week’s leadership reflection. I was somewhat pleased, I must admit, when a defensive lineman named Vita Vea was drafted by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. As you might imagine, we have a particular affection for any name that begins with a “V!”

There is a strong point I’d like to bring up in this week’s VIM Executive Coaching blog that should be quite logical even if you don’t know the first thing about professional football.

Life is not a draft
A professional sports team, much like any organization, is built by adding employees in various ways. For example, potential employees often submit resumes, some take qualifying tests, others join a company through mergers or acquisitions. Drafting new employees is a somewhat odd circumstance though it does happen on a limited basis. An example that comes to mind might be a top-flight law firm or architectural firm reaching out to the top law or architecture graduates of a prestigious school. I am sure a line similar to, “We’d like you to join our team has been uttered on many occasions.” The phrase undoubtedly has its roots in professional sports.

However, for most of us, when we seek a position we approach companies or associations and not the other way around. Therein lies the basic problem for any executive leader. When an executive leader joins an organization or assumes management of a new department or section or branch, she or he has a well-established team in place. Though an inefficient or sub-par employee can be fired or replaced, the process is not like drafting one athlete and trading away another athlete.

While in professional athletics “new employees” can be picked up through free agency after another “employee” has been terminated for any number of reasons, in an organization the process is quite different.

In fact, whole laws and departments are in place to make sure an employee can’t be capriciously traded or dismissed without additional training or given the opportunity to improve, change behaviors or even to get drafted to another department within the organization.

The team on the field
The situation that confronts the executive leader is often one of uplifting and improving the performance of the team in place without benefit of trading or acquiring.

A sport such as football relies on drafting athletes with incredible physical talents along with a set of intangibles including intelligence and work ethic. In most organizations the opposite is in place. For example, an effective employee who uses a wheelchair for her form of mobility cannot be replaced at whim by someone who is applying for the same job who might be an Olympic athlete. Even more “out there,” is the case of an executive leader (and sadly this has happened) who wants to replace any employee who is arbitrarily deemed overweight for an employee who is deemed “attractive.”

If an executive leader or entrepreneur walks into a department where there is any kind of employee conflict or disagreement, the leader cannot easily say, “I don’t like either of you, I am trading both of you away without cause just because I don’t want to deal with this stupidity.” Very often, good employees can be at logger-heads over a problem and it is up to the leader to help them resolve the problem.

Additionally, there are times when an effective, highly professional employee might be the best choice for a job but could be having personal problems or conflict with another highly professional employee. It is up to the executive leader to solve the problems at hand.

The tools the executive leader must employee include mindfulness, authenticity, compassion and a responsiveness to a situation, not mere reaction. The challenges of an executive leader in an organization are often compared to a hard-driving football general manager or coach but they are not equivalent. Both are very tough jobs, to be certain, but it is not always easy to draft a new department as one might draft the top players on a football team.

Sometimes, the team the executive leader has on the field is plenty good enough, but it takes insight, compassion and understanding to get the most out of them. That is what we teach at VIM Executive Coaching.

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