Bhrett McCabe

The Foundations of Leadership: Leading, Customer Service, and Coaching

There is a phrase that has become commonplace in the business industry that drives me crazy. This phrase seems to have morphed into the "go-to" excuse when a failure happens, or a customer service disaster unfolds.

"You know how hard it is to find good people! It is just what it is!"

Can you imagine your favorite coach conducting a press conference after a disappointing loss and saying, "Sorry that we blew that lead, but finding good players is just so hard right now"? You would probably think the coach was transferring the blame on their players for not being good enough and trying to defer any responsibility, but for some reason, in sports, you would see that as a failure of the coach instead of the players.

Now, don't get me wrong. I have witnessed many coaches throw their players under the bus. There have been some very funny press conferences and one-liners, including the late John McKay, former coach of the winless Tampa Bay Buccaneers. After a game, a reporter asked him, "Coach, what do you think of your team's execution?"

McKay fired back, "I am in favor of it!"

Recently, I have dealt with several companies trying to rectify a problem for us. I have received the same excuse from different organizations, each proclaiming that they "won't apologize, but getting good people is just so hard, so you have to lower your expectations right now." When it happened once, it made me stop and kind of empathize with their dilemma. That is the problem with excuses – they initially work. But when leaders from multiple companies used the same line, I found it was hilarious. I am sure you are thinking, “what if that is true?” Finding good people is hard, but leading them is the most challenging, no matter who you have in your organization. Your job is to lead them!

If you are a leader in any organization, I know things have been difficult since COVID. Reports are published daily about fewer people looking for work than ever before, and those who do look for work seem to want it on their terms – working from home, reduced responsibilities, and longer timelines with more breaks. In fact, recently surveyed over 800 employers and the results were presented on Fox Business, highlighting the challenges of interviewing recent college graduates. Over 50% of respondents reported that candidates had trouble maintaining eye contact, wanted unreasonable compensation, and did not dress appropriately. If they were to be hired, those issues must be addressed before starting any job-specific training.

It must be challenging to be a leader in today's world. So many issues to deal with somewhat unrelated to task at hand. No wonder why customer service is failing.

It is also challenging to coach today's athletes. Athletes often make more than their coaches, which will be the high school standard in the next decade. Athletes have more coaches and advisors in their corner than ever, and they deal with more significant pressure than in years past.

But great coaches find a way, regardless of the changes of the athletes.

So can leaders in organizations.

This whole endeavor got me thinking about the greatest lessons I have learned from some of the best leaders, coaches, and bosses I have experienced. For those new to me, I worked in the pharmaceutical industry for eight years before returning to private practice, so I understand the corporate game.

"Consistency is the key to great feedback, but do not use sarcasm or make it personal. As a leader, the fastest way to lose the trust of your team is to lose their respect"

The MindSide Foundations of Leadership:

1. Person First

Every person in your organization deserves your time and attention. Coach Patrick Murphy of Alabama Softball has a sign in his locker room that says Person First/Player Second. 

If you can carve time out of your busy schedule to meet with your team, even 15 minutes per week, you will know when they are having a tough time, need space, or want more from you. You will learn about their dreams and aspirations and how you can help them get there. You can help them reach their needs in your organization but never at your organization's expense. Regular meetings and drop-ins can help develop discussions and foster a more effective mentoring relationship.

2. No Transferal of Blame

Every baseball player suited up at LSU Baseball under Coach Skip Bertman knows about the dangers of the blame game. No one cares about your excuses. I know it is hard to find good people, but you have to manage what you have, invest in those who are there, and, more importantly, make the most of what you have. If your roster is not good enough, improve it. Very simply. But do not allow your team in sports or business to get comfortable blaming others because it will spread like wildfire. 

3. Establish Excellence

I spent ten years around Coach Nick Saban, the most successful coach in college football history. I worked closely with him to get the most out of our players so that they would be ready in the most significant moments. His PROCESS was his formula that demanded an unwavering commitment to the individual contributors of success, and by focusing on the PROCESS, the results would take care of themselves. Coach Saban spoke my language because Coach Bertman had the SYSTEM

Their SYSTEMS/PROCESSES are why they have won 12 national titles combined. Your job as a leader is to drive excellence in every facet of your organization. No detail is worth less of your time. Coaches, look at the locker rooms and your coaches' offices. Do they look like an organization of excellence? Leaders, look at your organization's bathrooms, kitchens, and workspaces. Trust me, your customers do. Do not overlook any detail. As a leader, you must educate your teams, hold them accountable (more on that next), and be consistent with the details, or your team will drift away from excellence. Those teams drifting away are quickly heading to mediocrity, resulting in a poorly performing team.

4. Consistent, Time-Sensitive Accountability

Bob Starkey, the legendary assistant coach across women's championship college basketball teams, told me years ago that immediate feedback is the only feedback worthy of delivering. If you are not consistent, your team will be shocked when you deliver immediate, direct feedback, and as a result, you will lose your message. 

Consistency is the key to great feedback, but do not use sarcasm or make it personal. As a leader, the fastest way to lose the trust of your team is to lose their respect. If you meet with them regularly, you will know their areas of improvement and can be consistent with those foundations. If you are not meeting with them, you become way too reactive, providing layers of feedback that are not focused, consistent, or often relevant to what the player is working towards. 

Business leaders, you have to provide this level of coaching as well. If you do not provide guidance, their behavior will be too far gone for correction, leading to the uncomfortable "Corrective Action Plans" that regular feedback could have avoided.

5. Be Human

Great leaders must have a connection to those they lead. They must have high standards, drive regular accountability, and consistent feedback. Outstanding leadership is not about creating a fun environment, regular "social nights," or the dreaded "love-based" coaching that has been frequently misconstrued. 

My manager in pharma was Kim Herriott, one of the best leaders I have ever been around. She cared about my professional vision and helped create opportunities to learn skills in our six years together. She had a way about her that was very disarming, as she would talk about her own professional pursuits, vision, and developmental plan. She knew about my family, and I knew about hers. 

But, woah, she could also show you she was the leader if you failed or made a mistake. I was not scared to bring her problems. She delivered feedback, guidance, and even course corrections with directed compassion. Sometimes, it hurt, but it always had my future in mind. 

About a decade ago, I started getting calls from leaders asking, "Does my team know I love them if I have to correct them? I need to provide an easy, non-stress environment for the love-based coaching to work." I think this approach was misunderstood more than any other approach I have studied in the past 20 years. True "love" based coaching has higher standards for someone than they have of themselves, which means being honest, direct, and sharing the truth with them, as long as it fits their developmental plan. It has been misunderstood by those entering the workforce and young athletes who have never been coached, received honest feedback, or been told the truth. I have found they feel "love" based coaching is stress-free, has no negativity or corrections, and has zero accountability standards. 

Why do so many young workers want to work from home? Limited accountability or standards. It is that simple. As a coach or leader, being a human means that you have emotions, can show empathy, and even celebrate successes. You don't have to disclose your greatest fears but must avoid the walls they cannot connect with you. Connection will always lead to an environment for correction, but you cannot coach without a connection.

6. Surround Yourself with Great Mentors

Leadership is a tough job, and you often take accountability for your team's struggles. 

This past season, Coach Nate Oats of the University of Alabama Men's Basketball team brought Coach Murphy in to speak to his team. Coach Oats has led Alabama basketball to much higher expectations than ever before, and he knew this year's team could win at the highest level. However, he also knew that his very talented roster was struggling with their own needs and goals. 

Coach Murphy has led his team from the perspective of MUDITA – a term that refers to the unconditional support and joy for another team member's success. Every competitor wants to be the one to deliver on the biggest stage, but a great team shows that joy NO MATTER who succeeds. You don't often read about a men's basketball coach inviting the women's softball coach into to speak to their team. I don't know why that fear exists, but Coach Oats and Murphy are colleagues and rely on each other. 

The athletic department at the University of Alabama, led by Greg Byrne, is just that way – we support everyone on our campus and encourage players, coaches, and administrators to meet with academic faculty members as well. That culture leads to excellence and support. It can be lonely as a leader, but you must find that support around you, or you will drown. 

Find 3-5 people (read The MindSide Manifesto to understand the 5 People you need) to build the support network. By the way, Coach Oats led Alabama to their Final Four this past season.

What Happened to the Issues I Experienced?

So, here we are: my thoughts on leadership and coaching in today's environment. I know it is difficult, but you cannot accept mediocrity because it is hard. You must recruit, coach, and develop those on your team. If they want to avoid coaching, move them along the best way you can. But underperforming teams reflect on you as a leader, not validate all the excuses you have at your disposal.

What has happened to my issues?

One of the issues is being resolved. The individuals in the organization openly stated that they had to be better and are working on it. It is accountability and a breath of fresh air. Mistakes and errors will happen, but if you take accountability, you can withstand the anger and frustration of those who are upset much better. But do not just have the canned answer of "Sorry, we will be better."

The other issue?

I have received the "sorry, we need to be better." It sounded good, but then I read their Google reviews, and it was the canned answer to every negative review, and it has been the answer for each issue I have had with this company over the last seven years. You can say sorry all you want, but improvements simply must happen. If not, your answers are just tools to get the heat out of you.

I know it is hard, and people are tough. But leadership is not for everyone, either. I have been very fortunate to be part of excellence at multiple organizations, and these items simply make it better to reach your and your team's goals.