Saturday, January 15, 2022

Four Leadership Lessons Learned from St. Paul's Crusaders

Leadership is taking limited information and striking down a path with the commitment needed to succeed in the endeavor. It is motivating others to follow you into uncertainty, while maximizing their ability to contribute to success. It is filling each teammates emotional tank so they self-motivate to maximize their strengths and contribute to the team. 

I moderated a strategic planning retreat where bankers were debating employee development. A senior manager quipped about "coaching." The CEO asked, "do we really coach?" "I'm reading a book by Bill Cowher (former Pittsburgh Steelers head coach), and we don't do what Cowher has done."

Coaching sports is a highly accountable form of leadership. Are you maximizing the talents of individual team members? Are you improving how they work together to create a high functioning team? In sports, the results are on the board. Wins and losses. Statistics for nearly every function. In my book, Squared Away: How Can Bankers Succeed as Economic First Responders, I told how the Positive Coaching Alliance helped me become a better girls lacrosse coach, and as a result, a better leader.

The banker's comments on Coach Cowher got me thinking about coaches in my life and what they taught me about leadership. Two such underappreciated coaches were Coach McLaughlin and Coach Hewitt from my middle school basketball team: St. Paul's Crusaders in Scranton, Pennsylvania.

St. Paul's

First, a little background. Most people that grew up in Scranton when I did were Catholic. And the middle school Catholic basketball league was highly competitive. St. Paul's usually fielded an excellent team, as was the case in 1979-80. 

I was an average player at best. A couple notches down the bench from our best. But I had some skill and probably more potential. But my attitude got in the way. I could have been a better player. But I thought the effort wasn't worth it because I was, shall I say, in a different economic situation than most of my teammates. My father passed away when I was young. Most of my teammates had both parents, and were more affluent than me and my family. I was fortunate to receive discounted tuition so I could attend the school. My mother told me that my father, prior to his death, asked her to keep us in Catholic school as long as she was able. 

This situation resulted in a chip on my shoulder that impacted my attitude, and therefore my effort. Why put forth what it will take to hone my skills only to see the privileged kids get the playing time anyway? This attitude manifested itself when a player brought up from the 7th grade team started getting more playing time than me. I promptly quit.

I was deep in the victim rabbit hole.

But my coaches wouldn't let me go. Although, looking back at it with open eyes, they should have. My bad attitude was impacting other players. My biggest regret from 8th grade basketball was not my attitude and effort, and the ease that I painted myself a victim (although both were lamentable); it was that I influenced others to share my victimhood. 

Lessons Learned

What did I learn from Coaches McLaughlin and Hewitt that are instructive for us as leaders?

1.  Think Big Picture. I was what is currently termed an "at-risk" kid. I was in a single parent household where the parent worked and my choices would have a big impact on the direction of my life. I didn't know this. I was 14! But my coaches did. If they allowed me to quit, how would I spend that newfound time? And how could they influence the direction I took? In other words, how could they coach me? If you are challenged by team members with a bad attitude that impacts their effort and performance, think about how you can positively impact that person's trajectory and be a transformational person in their lives. I'm not suggesting tolerating or ignoring the attitude issue, but tackle it in such a manner that makes them better and a team contributor. 

2.  Reward great attitude and effort consistently. As my attitude worsened, and my effort slipped, it opened the door for another player, likely without as much talent and potential as me (although it is difficult to self-evaluate), to get more playing time. This is exactly what happened at St. Paul's. My sulking on the bench led to another player's opportunity. He had a great attitude and worked really hard in practice. In fact, his hard work actually served as part of my rehabilitation. How can I slack while this kid is working it? The coaches rewarded him with more playing time for his attitude and effort. Even at 14, I realized it. And he deserved it. That kid went on to be a positive contributor to his high school basketball team.

3.  Learn the "Why". What if my coaches viewed me without context? Me quitting should have been accompanied by them muttering "good riddance." In my dark days of victimhood I was a detriment to the team. I was negatively impacting other players, my teammates, my friends! It would have been a very bad day for the direction of my life if my coaches had no context to my situation and what was driving my attitude. They took some lumps from me. They were stern when they needed to be. More so with me because of where I was, my behavior, and my situation. Short term I might have thought their treatment of me was relating to my economic and family situation. In retrospect, they understood my situation and tried to be the coach that I needed at that time. Each person needs something different from their leaders. It is the leaders' job to find out the "why" and approach the relationship from that context.

4.  Communicate! In a 2013 article, Lead Like Lincoln, I highlighted communication as one of our former president's greatest leadership traits. During the Civil War, I doubt any of the top generals asked themselves "I wonder where Lincoln would stand on this?" He used to communicate directly with his generals so there was no doubt where he stood on the big issues. Communication is a two way street. As the saying goes, you have one mouth, two ears. Active listening is important. When communicating with a 14 year old, my coaches not only had to listen to what I was saying, but the nuances as to what I was meaning. I certainly wouldn't come straight out and say "Why bother trying? The privileged kid has my position locked down." Classic don't try-can't fail. Even to someone my age, that would sound petty. So my coaches communicated what they were doing, and my role in it. This probably brought me back from the brink on that day that I handed in my uniform. I realized what they wanted and my role in it. They understood my attitude, and eventually I learned the basis for my attitude was wrong.

I got over it. Although it took time, and was a process not an event. By the time I crawled out of the victim rabbit hole I was no longer in middle school. So perhaps my coaches never knew the impact they had on me. But it was profound. And I have been a crusader against painting myself a victim ever since. And I credit the transformational leaders that helped me on the journey.

Thank you Coach McLaughlin and Coach Hewitt!

~ Jeff

Friday, January 07, 2022

Jeff For Banks: Top Five Posts of 2021

I don't expect followers of my blog to read every post. And my blog page shows the top five posts of all time. In fact, the content in my book, Squared Away: How Can Bankers Succeed as Economic First Responders, was driven by the top 20 most-read posts of all time.

But what about recently? Here are the top five most-read posts of 2021. In case you want to read them.

1. The Death of the Community Bank

Pundits make predictions. And I jumped in with both feet with a presentation I made in 2008. When I dug it out of my archives, I reviewed those past predictions with what actually happened. Where was I right? Where was I wrong?

2. CFPB: Are They Coming To Get You?

Written in March in response to questions a bank trade association CEO asked me as he was penning an Op-Ed, I did not know how prescient this piece would be. The questions were relating to the CFPB director contemplating taking "aggressive action" against those that were perceived to engage in Covid relief violations. Well that turned out to be the first piece of popcorn on the trail of a far more aggressive CFPB that is likely to get the majority of good banks sucked into the vortex with the few bad ones.

3. Squared Away: How It Happened

Since I had never published a book, I had no idea how to approach writing a book. Perhaps many of my readers are contemplating putting pen to paper and sharing what they've learned with a larger audience. And this drew them to how it came about for me. Hint: It wasn't all sunshine and rainbows. It took discipline. Except for the title. That was a family fun brainstorming session.

4. Memorial Day: Remember Maurice "Maury" Hukill

One thing I have learned about community bankers is they truly appreciate the sacrifices others made that allowed them to pursue a career in community banking. I highlight a fallen service member every Memorial Day. And this one had the most views of all of them. Perhaps it was boosted because Maury was a native of my hometown, and I pushed this out to my Facebook friends too. So there were probably a bunch of views that were not bankers. But still, I salute you, my readers, for elevating this tribute.

5. Bankers: Seven Questions to Determine if You Have a Strategic CFO

The consulting firm Deloitte posited seven questions to determine if the reader was (if he/she was a CFO) or has a strategic CFO. I posted the questions, provided the Deloitte meaning, and then connected it to banking. I hope you or your CFO fit the bill.

My Pick

Probably because it was such an important and high-level issue, Banking's Execution Imperative was my favorite. Although it did not take home Top 5 hardware. I rarely see bankers determine their strategy willy-nilly. Instead they put in the effort. Get executives and the Board involved. Dig through data to come up with the best strategy for their bank, in their current situation. And a year later when we follow up on progress, we hear about their "day job." If you're an executive, strategy development and execution is your day job. 

Honorable Mention

Although this post was published in November 2020, it still had enough legs to be one of the top read of 2021. Dorothy has been a mainstay of our blog. She had been writing her commentary for some years for physical distribution to her bank's customers. Finally, the Marketing Department was on to her and began posting directly to the bank's website. She'll be missed on these pages. But you can catch her on our next This Month in Banking podcast waxing eloquent on what bankers should do in this uncertain interest rate environment. That release date is January 26th. Get it here or wherever you get your podcasts.

Thank you to all of my readers. I don't take you for granted and will continue to be thoughtful in how I, and my colleagues at The Kafafian Group, can bring value to you and your teams. WE WANT YOU, YOUR EMPLOYEES, CUSTOMERS, COMMUNITIES AND SHARHOLDERS TO WIN!

~ Jeff