A World Series Run or a Basement Dweller?

Over the years I’ve become less interested in watching professional sports – for myriad reasons – and instead become more connected to college sports. I realize college athletics aren’t without baggage, but it’s hard to beat watching the NCAA champions piling on their teammates after the last out of the College World Series, the jubilation following a Final Four title game, or the almost riotous celebration at the end of contests that become instant college classics (think Boise State during 2007’s Fiesta Bowl).

As we head into the first week of the 2010 NCAA football season, one of the challenges of any head coach is taking inventory of the talent, leadership and possibilities of the team:
• Who will be the leaders in the locker room?
• Where are the weaknesses?
• What players will provide the biggest surprises in game situations?

Coaches like to have these questions answered before they head into the season, but because of graduation, transfers, eligibility issues, etc., they really won’t know the answers until game day. So you do the best you can to plan for the season with the information that’s available.

In many respects, CEOs do the very same thing. Each year, they take inventory of the competition, talent and leadership, look for those rising stars, and understand what gaps need to be filled based on the strategic direction of the organization. And successfully filling those gaps can make all the difference. Or put another way, they can mean the difference between a World Series ring or a disappointing season as a “basement dweller.”

Years ago we restructured the company and moved several team members into new leadership roles. Those roles and responsibilities required that as leaders, we all understood our strengths and weaknesses and, perhaps more importantly, how our team members viewed us. Over the next three years, I worked with my leadership team to better understand what leadership means, what’s required of leaders, how to earn our team members respect and accept their feedback in order to make improvements.

Once we had the right team and leadership philosophy in place, we turned our focus to operational excellence. As a company, we were a long ways from executing at an optimum level. In some cases, it was just the basic things that needed to be addressed. In others, we needed to throw away the playbook and start over.

Now that we’ve established a solid operational foundation with smart and experienced leaders, we’re moving into another interesting period as a company where we see many opportunities for smart growth. To do that, we’ve shifted our thinking once again, from risk mitigation to risk tolerance and becoming more entrepreneurial. For example, this summer we launched a sister company in Denver called 29 Stories. It’s a content strategy and development company that is tightly aligned with Sundog, but with its own vision of providing content strategy, creation and measurement.

All of this has taken years to build with hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars invested into leadership development. But as with any great sports program or any great company, a winning tradition is built over time and developing leaders isn’t something that happens by accident. To use a quote from the Intelligent Investor: “understand the difference between investing and speculating.” It applies to your workforce as much as your portfolio and a smart plan for leadership growth and development is the first step in building that winning tradition.

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