One sour aspect of the World Cup that is quite a bit like some professional sports in the U.S. is the tendency of many good players to lose sight of the fact that they are plaing a team sport. Take this guy, who pulled this move immediately after scoring a goal for Argentina. I’m sure he was happy and exctited, and I am also sure that in order to be playing in the World Cup at all, he is an extraordinary athlete. For that matter, the ability to do a standing flip is impressive in itself. But of all the things to do to express the joy of scoring in a team sport, pulling a stunt like this to draw the attention of tens of thousands of people in the stands and millions watching on television to himself, rather than the team, strikes me as both egotistical and somewhat ignorant.
Just like the American football player who dances in the endzone after scoring – apprently so impressed with himself that he forgets about all the blocking it took to get him there – this guy seems to have forgotten that there is a field full of guys wearing the same colored jersey, sweating and sore, who just made his goal possible.
This self centered view is fueled by fans who really don’t know much about the sport and who idolize the player who touched the ball last, and by the media who often knows even less. All over Argentina I am sure there are folks who think this guy actually did score all by himself. The media is surely splashing his picture in full color on every TV and newspaper.
I bring this up because it was the comparison that immediately came to mind when I read a couple of recent business articles. One of them was another executive compensation story, this one stating that the average big company exec makes 262 times as much as the average employee.
In another story, a company called Steelcloud is under SEC investigation for illegal stock option deals, joining a shamefully long list. It turns out that it is pretty common for the execs to huddle in a back room and selectively backdate their stock option deals to whatever date the company stock was at its lowest. Martha Stewart went to jail for lesser greed. The long list of companies under investigation is just the tip of the iceberg.
This is driven by exactly the same sense of exaggerated self worth, and egotistical disregard for the contributions of the rest of the team. If the company is making a lot of money, it is solely the result of brilliant executive leadership. The boss believs that, as does a cadre of business reporters who have never worked in a similar operating environment, as does a reading public.
Business writers theorize and speculate for pages on end about the poor track records many ‘superstar’ execs put together when lhey move to another company – the mediocre performance of the ‘GE alumni’ comes to mind. The reason for their failure is no different than the reason why Michael Jordan was not the superstar in Washington he was in Chicago. In Chicago he part of a great team. In Washington he wasn’t. Those hot shot GE execs were great because they had a whole lot of great people working for them at all levels at GE.
Take away the talented, committed workforce and the exec is nothing special. Take away the blockers and the dancing running back is working on a garbage truck somewhere. Take away the passing that set him up and the Aregentinian soccer star is doing his backflip trick on a street corenr in Buenos Aires for pesos. In sports or business we are all as good or bad as our teammates enable us to be.
The execs have a habit of losing sight of that. Jack Welch epitomized it. Everything good that happened at GE was because of him and him alone. He was only too glad to smile for any magazine cover that would have him – and if he weren’t so old, I am sure he would have done a back flip in front of the GE headquarters building for the cameras.
The last article is one about Ford and their aggressive overhaul of their product development process. It is very impressive, very lean and very much the right thing for them to do. It also sounds like a whole lot of very hard work on the part of thousands of engineers and engineering managers. If it works out – and I believe it will – it will be because of effective leadership and clear vision on the part of Bill Ford and Mak Shields and because of very hard work on the part of many smart people throughout Ford.
The real test of leadership, however, will come when the process begins cranking out quality new products in short cycle times and Ford is making a lot of money again. Then we will see if Bill Ford and Mark Shields rush to grab all of the credit from a gullible media, splash their pictures in front of the world, pay themselves 262 times what the engineers who did the work make, back date their stock options and turn back flips for their adoring fans.
Or maybe, they will turn out to be team players. I hope so. We’ll see.