Saturday, March 28, 2009

Leadership Lessons - Jerry Sloan Edition

This snippet from Peter Vecsey's profile of Cleveland Cavaliers' Mo Williams (who began his NBA career with the Utah Jazz) caught my eye:
Five and a half years removed from the episode, there's still alarm in Mo Williams' voice when describing his introduction to Jerry Sloan's methods of coaching and communication.

It was the first drill of the first day of Jazz training camp in 2003-04.

... On day one of practice, Sloan directed the Jazz to stretch and then called for a three-man weave. Fresh from re-signing (six years, $84 million) with the team, Andrei Kirilenko jogged through the drill while everyone else sprinted. Next time it was his turn, the same thing happened, at least at the outset.

"I'll never forget Sloan's reaction," Williams said with a shudder. "He came storming onto the court screaming, 'Damn you, Kirilenko, you think just because you've got an $84 million contract you can do whatever the bleep you want to do out here! Well, I've bleepin' news for you . . .' "

Williams said Sloan's earthy message was the best thing that could've happened to him . . . and the team, a consensus pick to go nowhere fast, yet finished 41-41.

"Man, if Sloan was gonna get on Kirilenko like that, I knew damn well what I had to do," Williams said. "I was like Speedy Gonzalez. I did exactly as told and then some. The funny thing is, everything I'd heard about Jerry turned out the opposite."

Well, almost, anyway. Sloan pushed and got on players, no doubt, Williams accented.

"A lot of bad words come out of his mouth. But, if you do it right the next time, in his next breath, he'll praise you just as heatedly. A lot of coaches don't understand; they beat you down without picking you back up," Williams said.

For me, the most sobering aspect of leadership is realizing that your words and actions are influential, as much due to what is said and done as what is not. From my own experience and from observing others', those in leadership positions often do not take the time to recognize the good among the bad, being more conscious of deficiencies as opposed to accomplishments. Which is not to say that one should carefully spend a certain percentage of their time criticizing and the other praising their minions; formulaic management reeks of insincerity and worse, is obvious in its amateurishness. Dale Carnegie in all his books of wisdom, almost always based his advice on something straightforward and sincere such as...if you want to earn people's respect, you need to truly care for their interests. That said, we have all at some point enjoyed working for tough leaders who criticized a lot and praised little, probably because we perceived some internal consistency in their method. Which I think is the crux of the matter: we want our leaders to be fair above all else. Whether they are effusive or overly critical, we want them to be consistent in how they treat us and our colleagues, treating each according to their performance measured by a clear standard. So, even though Jerry Sloan was a hard-ass, by praising his players if they did it right he displayed that internal consistency in his leadership, showing that he cared about good performance above all. More importantly, he held all his players to the same standard, even the star players.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

As I Was Saying About Iran...

It's good to see that the powers that be are finally reading this blog. Two months ago, I pointed out that Iran is the key to easier access to Afghanistan, and that the road India built in Western Afghanistan to link up to an Iranian route to the coast could be useful to the U.S. as a better supply route in the future. We currently depend on a tortuous Central Asian route that is notable for how many unstable countries it traverses, not to mention how it depends on Russian magnanimity to let us play in their backyard...for now. Which is why it is good to see the Pentagon at least considering a future route through Iran and by way of the Indian-built road.
...Pentagon and NATO planners, as part of an effort to consider every contingency, have studied Iranian routes from the port of Chabahar, on the Arabian Sea, that link with a new road recently completed by India in western Afghanistan. The route is considered shorter and safer than going through Pakistan.

“In the course of prudent planning, our military planners have looked at virtually every conceivable avenue of supplying our forces in Afghanistan,” said Geoff Morrell, the Pentagon press secretary. “However, as you would expect, they have done so with an eye on logistical feasibility rather than political reality.”
Indeed. The political reality is something else. But if necessity is the mother of invention as everyone says, we could add logistical feasibility to the bucket of common interests between the U.S. and Iran. Also, little matters such as reestablishing diplomatic relations might be required before we can even discuss this in seriousness. Not to forget that whole Iranian-pursuit-of-nuclear-weapons fly in the ointment.

Just one little step at a time...