Integrity is the currency of business. It takes a lifetime to develop and can be lost in a
nanosecond. Once it’s gone… it’s gone. Nobody can take integrity away from you. Only you can lose it or give it away. Don’t ever do anything that puts you in a situation where you feel compromised— just don’t do it.
Coach John Robinson is a former American football player and coach best known for his two stints as head coach of the University of Southern California (USC) football team (1976–1982, 1993–1997) and for his tenure as head coach of the NFL’s Los Angeles Rams (1983–1991). Robinson’s USC teams won four Rose Bowls and captured a share of the national championship in the 1978 season. Robinson is one of the few college football head coaches to have non-consecutive tenure at the same school. In 2009, he was elected to the College Football Hall of Fame. He is a Board Member for the Lott IMPACT Trophy, which is named after Pro Football Hall of Fame defensive back Ronnie Lott, and is awarded annually to college football’s Defensive IMPACT Player of the Year.
Coach Robinson has become a good friend. I had the pleasure of getting to know him almost 10 years ago when I asked him to present at a Molnlycke Health Care national sales meeting. Coach Robinson was the head football coach when I was at USC. So, while I knew of him, I had not met him before he came to speak to us at Molnlycke.
Coach had a number of key points about coaching and leadership that he made at the national sales meeting:
- Understand what (as a team) we do well.
- Teams often get distracted from their core when times are good.
- Great teams know their strengths and stick with them….the 49ers were a great passing team under Coach Bill Walsh.
- The Rams under Coach Robinson were primarily a running team. (The same is true about the USC Trojans during his tenure.)
- The Rams eventually lost focus and began to become a passing team…in the end, they were mediocre at both passing and running.
- Great organizations know who they are and they tell people who they are (they live their mission and values).
- Focus on the positive in all you do…remember the sales call where you really made it….not the ones where you failed…..the same is true about sports, focus on the positives.
- There is no substitute for practice: Kobe Bryant uses a number of drills to stay at the top of his game.
My younger son, Matt, and I were able to attend Coach Robinson’s 80 birthday celebration in Los Angeles.
Several years ago, when I was reading Sheryl Sanberg’s book, “Lean In”, I saw a reference to one of Sheryl’s favorite books, “Might Be Our Powers” by Leymah Gwobee. I picked up that book right after I finished “Lean In”. It is a powerful story of Leymah’s work as a peace activist responsible for leading a women’s peace movement, Women of Liberia Mass Action for Peace that helped bring an end to the Second Liberian Civil War in 2003. Her efforts to end the war, along with her collaborator Ellen Johnson Sirleaf helped usher in a period of peace and enabled a free election in 2005 that Sirleaf won. She, along with Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and Tawakkul Karman, were awarded the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize “for their non-violent struggle for the safety of women and for women’s rights to full participation in peace-building work.”
Leymah’s work and determination are an amazing and unfortunately brutal story of an
important peace movement; she is a strong person who was willing to always go way beyond what most of us could imagine. One of the quotes that are attributed to Leymah is:
“The one thing I have never been afraid of is standing before important people and speaking my mind. I represent women who may never have the opportunity to go to the UN or meet with a president. I’m never afraid to speak truth to power.”
Although the context was diametrically opposed to what we face every day in our
work/business lives, the message still holds for us…we have to be willing and free to speak our minds and to say what is right. At the end of the day, most authentic and grounded leaders want the truth, not something short of that.
“True Wisdom is Knowing What You Do Not Know.” – Confucius
Over the years, I have been most fortunate to have worked with many great leaders and managers and well as consulted with some great companies. I have seen that great leaders know what they do not know. It is one of the key ingredients to managerial success. Credibility and respect come to those who admit what they do not know. More than ever, in today’s complex information-rich environment, specialization is more important in a number of areas so it simply is not possible to have great depth and breadth. It is, as we know, the smart leader who surrounds himself or herself with people more talented than he or she; however, this necessitates an understanding and appreciation of personal weakness and gaps that need to be compensated and reinforced. The good news is that with a variety of analytical tools and assessments such as 360-degree reviews, there is no excuse for not understanding what you do not know.