As you wrap up the year and catch your breath…are you still marveling at the talent wars we have all been engaged in? And once you do get someone in the door, keeping your top employees from moving on to another company is almost as tricky. If so, you should consider an unpleasant thought: Your organization may be employing a bosshole.
It’s a fact that this type of manager gets operational results. Yet, in getting results, he or she may be taking down the organization in the process. These managers visibly gain ground in the organization, while simultaneously creating a path of destruction. They destroy morale, derail the efforts of others, and may ultimately destroy the company’s culture. We like to call these managers “abrasive leaders,” “competent jerks” or “bossholes.”
What Makes a Bosshole a Bosshole?
If you have one in your organization, they may not even be self-aware enough to know how they show up to their team. According to Laura Crawshaw, Ph.D., researcher, coach, and author of Taming the Abrasive Manager, “One of the characteristic aspects of abrasive leaders is they do not perceive themselves to be abrasive,” she explains. “They tend to be blind to their behavior, or think that it is necessary, that the only way to deal with employees is to be aggressive.” Essentially, these are the “red flag” behaviors that might be exhibited by a bosshole:
Unfortunately, these types of behaviors rarely remain contained at the manager level. As in any culture, the behavior at the top can trickle down throughout the entire organization. People might rationalize the behavior and say, “We are getting results, so what’s the problem? I know people can’t stand her, but she delivers!” So, what is the problem? For starters, these individuals often maximize their own results at the expense of others. This manager is focused on operational metrics but forgets that results cannot always be immediately quantified in terms of sales dollars, increased contracts, or great audits. Are operational measures important? Absolutely! Are they complete? Not at all!
This type of manager’s long-term impact can devastate an organization. Unfortunately, many have risen through the ranks because of their ability to hit the numbers…their behavior is reinforced with each promotion or additional assignment. When I work with teams in organizations, I sometimes see specific “symptoms” in the rank-and-file employees that might indicate that there is a bosshole on the team. These include:
• People are afraid to challenge the leader or take risks
• Complaints regarding the individual’s interactions with coworkers
• Requests to transfer out of the leader’s department
• Attrition of valued employees
• Decreased morale and motivation
• The company gets a bad reputation from various stakeholders
• There may be increased litigation costs in the company
Everyone in the organization knows the damage these managers can cause, however the organization puts up with their behavior for the sake of bottom-line results. But are the results from these managers really the results a company wants?
The Ripple Effect
Unfortunately, the impact these bossholes have on the culture of the organization can be devastating. Certain people in the organization may have worked for years to build up the culture, only to have it destroyed by one or two people in the company. These are the behaviors that employees report when working for a boss hole:
When looking at these percentages, it is obvious the impact that bossholes have on an organization. However, the research indicates that their “Impact” may not match their “Intent”.
Myths and Truths about Bossholes
Contrary to popular misconceptions, bossholes are not necessarily awful people. They may buy into their idea of success and not be aware of the damage they are doing to the constituents they serve. Research by Lynne Harrison from Black Tusk Leadership states the following is true about these abrasive leaders:
Bossholes are especially sensitive to anything that challenges their position, success, self-perception, authority, or need to please. Therefore, they tend to overreact. From experience, they have learned to survive by deploying unacceptable behaviors and will defend against any threats to how they are accustomed to achieving success. Again, we want to emphasize that they may be shocked to find out that they are hurting the people around them.
In order to stop the destruction that occurs in organizations due to bossholes, people at the top have to take action. They have to realize that while these individuals do get results, they are not the results that build a strong culture or typically align with company values. These are critical to being successful in taming your bosshole:
In summary, we have all either worked for a bosshole in the past or know a “living and breathing” one in our organization today. It is essential to understand that the current culture may unintentionally encourage such abrasive behaviors. But, the truth is that none of us has to continue to subject the people we are entrusted with in our organizations to these bossholes. Any company with a relevant core purpose (that goes beyond making money) and truly lives by its core values will not allow a bosshole to continue to wreak havoc on the culture.
Shark Tank has been in the news lately…Mark Cuban plans to leave after 16 seasons. The following is a relevant, yet vintage, video about Mr. Wonderful on the ABC television show “Shark Tank” – a behind-the-scenes look at a self-proclaimed bosshole.
Have you ever crossed paths with that one remarkable person who makes you feel truly special? The kind of individual who not only listens to your words but holds onto every sentiment you share. Someone who remembers your most significant milestones, birthdays, pivotal life moments, and even goes the extra mile to check in on others’ well-being? This is the caliber of people who are the very heartbeat of an organization’s culture. They are the connectors, the nurturers, the colleagues with doors wide open. Regrettably, it’s all too easy to take for granted the invaluable contributions these remarkable people bring to the workplace.
We’re all familiar with the fast-paced nature of the modern workplace, where we can easily be swept away by the whirlwind of tasks and deadlines. We often find ourselves moving from one project to the next, working tirelessly to meet our goals, sometimes forgetting to take a moment to acknowledge the incredible people walking alongside us. But today, let’s pause and reflect on something profoundly important…expressing gratitude for the people we work with, especially considering the recent loss of a colleague.
In the most gut-wrenching moment recently, our Steople family was shaken by the loss of a beloved friend and colleague, Kristi Gifford. Kristi had been an integral part of our team, weaving her presence into the fabric of Steople since 2009. Her departure has reminded us of the fragility of life and the value of the bonds we share. It has underscored the significance of showing gratitude to those who stand beside us, navigating every triumph and tribulation together.
The Importance of Everyday Gratitude
How do you rate yourself showing gratitude to those who now sit around your table? We must become intentional because true appreciation shouldn’t be a one-time event reserved only for moments of loss or significant milestones. It’s a daily practice that should seamlessly permeate our everyday work lives. Recognizing the efforts, dedication, and unique talents of those around us not only fosters a great work environment but also strengthens the bonds of all our relationships.
So, why don’t we show gratitude more often? In a recent study, respondents unanimously agreed that saying “thank you” to colleagues “makes me feel happier and more fulfilled”—but on any given day, only a mere 10% acted on that impulse. A stunning 60% said they “either never express gratitude at work or do so perhaps once a year.” In short, Americans actively suppress gratitude on the job, even to the point of robbing themselves of happiness.
Why? It may be because, in theory, no one gives away anything at work; every exchange is fundamentally economic. You don’t deliver that memo to your boss at three o’clock sharp out of the goodness of your heart, but because that is what you’re being paid to do. Your paycheck becomes the equivalent of a “thank you.” Fail to do what you’re “asked,” and you may not see another one.
But, we cannot fall into that dangerous trap. If you really want to be an employer of choice and cultivate a strong culture, expressing gratitude must become a habit. Small gestures of appreciation, such as handwritten notes, picking up a lunch tab, highlighting a colleague in a meeting, or sincerely expressing appreciation for their contributions, are powerful ways to convey the depth of our gratitude. These actions celebrate the unique qualities that make our colleagues indispensable and contribute to a workplace culture that thrives on genuine appreciation.
The Power of Appreciation
In the aftermath of experiencing such a profound loss, we are reminded of the immense impact a single person can have on an organization. These moments underscore how deeply we cherish the presence and contributions each of us brings to the collective table. It’s important to acknowledge that every individual adds a unique set of skills, experiences, and diverse perspectives to our shared endeavor. Together, we operate like the pieces of a complex puzzle, harmoniously fitting together to create something far greater than the mere sum of its parts.
Reflecting on Kristi’s time with us, it’s undeniable that she brought an invaluable richness to our collective experience. In times of grief and loss, appreciation takes on an even deeper meaning… it becomes a way to pay tribute to her contributions, friendship, and legacy. While there are countless ways to honor Kristi’s memory, we have carefully chosen the six most meaningful ways to remember her, highlighting what made her an exceptional part of our work family.
As I reflect on the void left by Kristi’s absence, I remember the warmth of her smile, the wisdom of her counsel, and the deep camaraderie we shared. I remember when we laughed together, overcame challenges, and achieved great things as a team. We also had so many heartfelt thoughts and memories shared by our clients about Kristi – I honestly am not sure how much each of us realized the impact we might have on others in our daily lives. It was remarkable and a good reminder.
Moving Forward Together
Kristi’s legacy highlighted the value of each person in our organization. It urges us to appreciate the living, express gratitude, and strengthen the bonds that hold us together. In doing so, we honor not only the memory of our friend but also nurture the whole reason we are together as colleagues and friends. We truly are sitting around the table together, working to make a difference in the world.
The team and I recognize that appreciation must transcend mere moments—it should be ingrained in our daily lives. Reflecting on the days since Kristi fell ill, we’ve openly acknowledged that we don’t celebrate and appreciate as much as we should, so we are working to fix that. We believe it’s how we can celebrate the remarkable group of individuals who make our organization great.
Here is a rallying cry. Can we all commit to making this a priority as we move forward together, ensuring that we appreciate one another? Making sure we look across the table appreciating our similarities and differences, fostering a culture of gratitude, and working towards making all workplaces a place of support, respect, and camaraderie.
Of course, we held onto the fun, enjoying tours of fantastic wineries, competing fiercely in scavenger hunts, hiking through picturesque landscapes, and savoring Melbourne’s finest coffee. But this time, we wanted more than just numbers; we wanted to focus on the heartbeat of Steople – our staff experience as a team member.
In planning for the offsite, as a leadership team, we posed a fundamental question to ourselves: “What does this team need most right now?” It had been somewhat of a rollercoaster over the past 12 months, and we knew we needed to do something a little different – connecting the heart with the work. This led us to two of the most impactful sessions we’ve ever had – crafting individual Core Purpose statements and revitalizing our Employee Value Proposition.
Why did we embark on this journey? We firmly believe that aligning an individual’s core purpose with their role in a company is a potent strategy that fuels results and elevates our work with clients. When employees are driven by a sense of purpose that resonates with the company’s mission, their engagement, commitment, and enthusiasm soar.
Clarifying Core Purpose Statements
For me personally, I’ve always kept my Core Purpose at the forefront of everything I do. My life is a seamless blend of work and home life. So my Core Purpose is:
Now, to some, that might sound too holistic, and indeed, many others in our group had more business-focused Core Purposes. But that’s the beauty of a Core Purpose – it’s uniquely yours, and it only needs to resonate with you. As we guided our team through this process, we emphasized a few key principles:
1. Engage in Open Dialogue: We encouraged open and honest conversations with our employees to understand their personal values, passions, and aspirations. This required active listening and empathy to uncover what truly motivates them.
2. Identify Common Ground: We looked for intersections between our team members’ values/purpose and the company’s values, purpose, and vision. We plan to continue seeking areas where their passions and skills align seamlessly with the company’s goals.
3. Provide Autonomy and Ownership: We encourage our employees the autonomy to make decisions and take ownership of projects that resonated with their passions and purpose. This autonomy fosters a sense of responsibility and commitment.
4. Foster a Supportive Culture: Every week, we make it our mission to cultivate a workplace culture that values purpose alignment and encourages individuals to pursue their passions. This includes fostering an atmosphere of trust, open communication, and mutual support.
5. Encourage Reflection: We will encourage our employees to periodically reflect on their work and its alignment with their Core Purpose. This self-awareness has the potential to lead to adjustments and improvements over time.
Employee Value Proposition Alignment
An Employee Value Proposition (EVP) is pivotal to nurturing a strong culture. It serves as the promise to everyone within the company and distinguishes your organization from others. But what about our EVP? We realized that while our Client Value Proposition was in great shape, our Employee Value Proposition wasn’t leaving a lasting impression or resonating with our staff. It wasn’t necessarily “wrong,” but we understood that it must be deeply embedded in our culture.
We rolled up our sleeves and got to work on it. It’s still a work in progress, but we know that elements like Autonomy, Variety, Impact, and Support will be featured prominently. We plan to wordsmith it and then pressure-test it across the company.
In the end, our meetings were a resounding success, and we’re committed to weaving these principles into the very fabric of our culture. This journey is a testament to the power of aligning personal purpose with organizational goals and how much we value our staff – a fusion that holds the potential to drive not only individual growth but also the collective success of our company.
As a psychologist, my fascination with tribal culture runs even deeper, anchored in the rich tapestry of human behavior and our innate reliance on one another. It’s intriguing to consider that, for the better part of the past 100,000 years, our ancestors thrived in tribal societies, where cooperation within tight-knit groups was the cornerstone of survival. These societies, with their unique languages, rituals, and distinctive attire, symbolically marked the boundaries of in-group unity. It’s here, in these ancient lessons, that I believe we can find profound insights that resonate in the modern world of business.
In my own recent reflections, I’ve turned my attention to the dynamic of teams, recognizing that, like tribal communities, they too require periods of reorganization and reconnection. There are these little unwritten rules or boundaries that may be negatively impacting the team and need to be brought to the surface. If you have ever experienced issues on a team, you were a part of or leading, I want you to know that all of us are right in there with you! I have and will continue to face challenges that need to be addressed, much like you have. Most recently, I sought external guidance, and with my coach, I gleaned a significant ah-ha moment: for me to be an effective leader, I must stand unwaveringly on the battlefield, laser-focused on the vision. Distractions, whether past grievances, internal struggles, or external disruptions, can divert my attention from our Core Purpose. In essence, a cohesive team is only as strong as its weakest member, and the strength of the tribe hinges on each member’s commitment to supporting one another. The old saying of you can’t see the forest for the trees is absolutely applicable here. And those small revelations can help any leader course correct.
Tribal Laws That Must Be in Place for a Successful Team
This reflection brings me to the heart of the matter—tribal leadership. To navigate the complex landscape of modern business, we can draw inspiration from the timeless wisdom of tribal norms and unwritten rules that have evolved over centuries. Let’s explore some of these norms and their profound relevance in the context of contemporary business leadership and teams:
1. Lead by Example: In tribal cultures, leaders didn’t just command; they led through actions and deeds, setting a standard for others to follow. Today, effective leaders inspire and motivate by exemplifying the qualities they expect from their team.
2. Collective Responsibility: Tribal communities understood that every member bore responsibility for the tribe’s well-being. In business, fostering a sense of collective responsibility among team members encourages them to take ownership of shared goals…and for the team members to address individual issues that are holding the team back.
3. Conflict Resolution Within the Group: Tribes prioritized resolving disputes within the community to maintain unity. In today’s workplace, addressing conflicts directly and constructively is vital for a positive and productive environment. A friend once told me that unresolved conflict is the biggest source of waste on teams.
4. Respect for Differences: Tribal societies celebrated the diversity of skills and roles within the group. Modern teams should embrace diversity, recognizing that varied perspectives enhance innovation and problem-solving. Diversity increases productivity by 66% and should be part of the team fabric.
5. Interdependence: Tribes thrived on the contributions of every member. In business, emphasizing interdependence reinforces the importance of each team member’s role in achieving collective goals. Knowing strengths and weaknesses of each member and accounting for that is crucial.
6. Trust and Loyalty: Trust was the bedrock of tribal leadership, earned through actions and fairness. Trust remains the cornerstone of effective leadership today. Trust is so intertwined with loyalty and is the bedrock of great teams throughout history.
7. Protection and Provision: Tribes cared for vulnerable members, fostering empathy. In organizations, promoting a culture of support enhances employee well-being. Ensuring that team members feel a sense of community and care is key and should be reciprocated across all levels of the organization.
8. Celebration of Achievements: Tribes celebrated together, reinforcing unity. Recognizing and celebrating accomplishments boosts employee morale and motivation. This one is so important, but so neglected in most organizations we work with, unfortunately.
Incorporating these tribal principles into modern business teams can create a more inclusive, cooperative, and engaged workforce. These principles instill a sense of shared purpose, unity, and responsibility, forming the foundation upon which strong and successful organizations are built in our rapidly evolving world. Learn from the past so you can build a stronger future!
As we venture forth in the dynamic landscape of business, let us remember the lessons of our tribal ancestors. Let us lead by example, nurture collective responsibility, resolve conflicts constructively, celebrate diversity, embrace interdependence, build trust, provide support, and never forget to celebrate our collective achievements. In doing so, we can forge bonds that transcend the ordinary, transforming our teams into tribes of resilience and excellence.
Yes, you read that title right…I wrote this blog on my vacation! No, I did not bring a computer or a pad of paper and pencil – I designed it in my head as I walked around London, had my morning coffee, toured historical sites, and had lively discussions over dinner. Some people think in the car, at the pool, or even in the shower. I do my best thinking when I get out of my regular routine – as I take off on the runway and know that I am about to embark on an adventure…a sense of excitement about the possibilities comes over me. I don’t have to be “on” for anyone, live by my calendar, pore over spreadsheets, or jump on Zoom meetings. I love my work, but there is still a sense of freedom!
We saved our American Airlines and Marriott points this year and took the family to London. Some of us had visited before, and some hadn’t. We stayed for ten days and had a fantastic time. So much of what we saw was historical from Churchill’s War Room to The Tower of London. So what exactly did I think about during this vacation? It was random musings on leadership, of course, since that is what I live and breathe every day. I distilled it into three concepts that are easy to understand but hard to practice. If you take on the challenge of these disciplines, your leadership could be greatly enhanced. All of this being said with the awareness that we are all naturally good at many things and have developmental opportunities in other areas…so a lot of grace for all of us as I push our thinking!
3 Strategies to Accelerate Your Leadership Capabilities
1. Protect Your White Space.
So back to my vacation…Every morning I would get up and walk around the Chelsea neighborhood we were staying in. I would get a coffee, do a little reading, people-watch, and daydream. I always get lost in my thoughts during this precious time, and time can escape me if I’m not careful. I do my best thinking during this time to myself – using both the creative and strategic sides of my brain is a gift I am always thankful for. Free time or “white space” to relax or enjoy an activity will give you that opportunity.
A sense of being lost in activity is what Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, a guru in the motivational psychology world, calls “flow”. If you’ve ever heard someone describe a time when their performance excelled and used the term “in the zone”, then they are experiencing flow. It occurs when you concentrate completely on the task, your “work” is effortless, you get clarity in thought, and time seems to stand still. I would give myself a B on this one – always working on making that space. How about you?
Leadership Challenge: What activity (or non-activity) can you integrate into your week that allows you to have some white space allowing free-flowing ideas that will positively impact both your creative and strategic thinking? Can you eek out even 30 minutes a week to be by yourself, in nature, or do something you enjoy to free up your brain?
2. Be The Rock During the Storm.
On June 4, 1940, the future of Great Britain seemed to hang in the balance. Nazi tyranny had spread to Western Europe, and bombing campaigns were becoming more widespread. “We shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be,” Prime Minister Winston Churchill urged his fellow countrymen. “We shall fight on the beaches, and we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender.”
Though our leadership stakes are far different than Churchill’s, the notion of being resilient and never relenting inevitably appears in various aspects of our lives. Leadership can be lonely. It can feel like you get one problem solved and another pops up. I know sometimes I feel strong in those challenges and other days I can feel defeated and want to give up. But, you are that person in the organization that people look to for guidance. You have influence and what we know from research is that people want a steady hand. How do you do in this area? Anything you need to improve?
Leadership Challenge: Resilience isn’t just about getting through tough times; it’s about returning stronger and wiser. Is there someone you can do a post-action debrief with and have an objective view of what you might do differently next time? Are there strengths you need to leverage or your reactions that need to be managed?
3. Aspire To Be Known As a Benevolent Leader.
During this trip to the UK, it struck me how important Queen Elizabeth was to this country. She never wanted to be queen, but she gave her desired life of living with her horses and dogs in the country to serve Great Britain. She knew her needs should be overshadowed by the subjects she was charged with loving and protecting. There is an important message for leaders here. Be a benevolent leader.
Benevolent leaders stay above the fray. They see the big picture. They know what is happening around them and have grace for others. They take very seriously the welfare of those in their charge. They ask what it will take to create a better environment for themselves and those around them. A benevolent leader is pragmatic, has a generosity of spirit, and always looks to create a sustainable future for all stakeholders. I am constantly looking to improve this – I’m not there yet. Dig deep…how are you doing?
Leadership Challenge: Listen to and observe those leaders that you find inspiring. What is it that most resonate with you? Choose one behavior they have and try it out in your leadership journey. Remember, it is not a full makeover…just a small tweak that will make a difference in your leadership, making an even bigger difference in your culture.
This week choose the one of these three that you know is a challenge for you and try out a few new behaviors…then let us know what kind of change it has made for you and your team. Good luck and have a great week!
Do me a favor and Google yourself. Seriously. Right now– Google your first and last name. What comes up? What is the first thing people see when they look you up online? This is your digital footprint. When people Google you – is it clear who you are, what you do, what your values are? If you’re happy with the results, keep up the great work and continue posting! If not- it’s time to start thinking about your personal leadership brand! In today’s evolving world, where technology continues to expand its reach, establishing a personal brand has become more crucial than ever. With the rise of artificial intelligence (AI) and the pervasive influence of social networking platforms, the digital landscape is constantly shifting and it seems like every other day there is a new platform to navigate.
Just this week Instagram released “Threads” in an attempt to compete with Twitter. Threads allows Instagram users to connect with their online communities through text conversations. But your personal brand doesn’t mean downloading every single new app or posting each hour. It’s about making sure people know who you are and what you stand for. Getting the word out about you and your company is crucial.
Now, you might be asking, why are we talking about Your Brand? We aren’t a marketing company, but when we work with clients we look at the whole person. And we strongly believe that a part of that is your Presence. Whether it is Executive Presence or Leadership Presence Online Presence. It all says something about you whether you are an entrepreneur, business owner, or leader.
Shaping your online presence, connecting with others, and standing out amidst the ever-changing tech landscape are vital aspects of personal branding. Your digital footprint, which is how you and your business show up online, plays a significant role in shaping perceptions when someone Googles you. It’s crucial to ensure that people know who you are, what you do, and what value you bring. For me, as a business owner, when I am recruiting I look at a candidate’s online profile. If they don’t have a profile then it really gives me pause. It really does matter!
Here are the top four things to consider as you build your online presence and personal brand:
These four points form the core of a strong personal brand: having a clear brand identity, providing value through content, and actively engaging with your audience. By focusing on these aspects, you can establish a compelling and distinct online presence that helps you stand out among your competitors.
Above all else, the most important key to building your personal brand is authenticity. Authenticity is the cornerstone of building your personal brand. Stay true to yourself, your audience, your customers, and your company’s mission and values. Focus on putting out useful and memorable content that aligns with your values and helps showcase the type of business leader you are. It’s not about chasing every trend but staying true to what matters to your personal brand.
One leader who exemplifies success is the entrepreneur Gary Vee. Known as a social media powerhouse and the founder of VaynerMedia, Gary Vee has mastered the art of building a powerful personal brand. His expertise and insights on personal branding are invaluable. I highly recommend checking out this video: How To Start A POWERFUL Personal Brand In 2023 – Gary Vaynerchuk Motivation where he dives into the profound impact and the building of your personal brand. By learning from industry leaders like Gary Vee, we can gain valuable knowledge and inspiration to elevate our own personal brand and make a lasting impact in the digital landscape.
If you’re unsure where to start, I recently partnered with talented individuals to conduct an audit of Steople’s online presence, including our website and social media content. I highly encourage you to consider doing something similar to gain valuable insights. If you need recommendations, I’d be happy to share their names with you. Building a strong personal brand takes time and effort, but with the right strategy and authenticity, you can differentiate yourself in the competitive online landscape. Now go update your LinkedIn and start connecting!
Over the last couple of years, I have been awed by the dominance of the University of Oklahoma women’s softball team. As many of you know, I’ve been a huge college football fan since I was a kid, but with recent changes such as the player portal (giving players the ability to easily transfer to another school) and the NIL rules (allowing players to get paid for their Name, Image, and Likeness) it just doesn’t feel the same. It feels like college football went from selfless teams with individuals you felt were like family members to feeling disconnected from the “team” concept and uninspired by some of the “what’s in it for me” stories coming out about the players. Super disappointing to millions of us fans. There is definitely a gravitational pull to finding sports that feels a little more authentic and inspiring…
But, hold on, this blog is not able college football, it is actually about leadership and building a high-performing team. Research tells us that, at best, 20% of leadership teams are high performing. It also tells us that at least 50% of teams in organizations are underperforming. So, of course, one of the best routes to success a leader can take is being able to build an effective team. A high-performing team can be a game-changer for any company as it can significantly impact productivity, engagement, innovation, and profitability. So, today I am going to introduce you to the OU Women’s Softball program (if you don’t already know of them) and understand what nuggets of wisdom we can glean from the leader of that team to use in your own leadership journey.
When Patty Gasso first arrived in Norman, Oklahoma in 1995, she was overwhelmed. After five years at Long Beach City College, this Californian was hired to take over Oklahoma’s softball program. While the work was the same, the grind and heightened workload of being a Division I coach left Gasso feeling underwater. “I thought going from junior college to Division I was kind of the natural step, but I found out it is absolutely not a natural step,” Gasso said. “The workload, the stress factor, the recruiting, everything is magnified by 1,000. And I didn’t know what to expect, but I didn’t expect it to be as tough as it was.”
Back in those days, before OU softball called their current Marita Hynes Field home, it had Reaves Park. Don’t be fooled by the name. Reaves Park stretches from Timberdell Road to Constitution Street, just east of Jenkins Avenue, in Norman but was no mecca for softball. Yes, it’s where OU played its home games and even hosted postseason events before its current stadium opened in 1998.
But it’s quite literally a park. Home to family picnics, youth sports leagues, and the city’s annual Medieval Fair, Reaves Park provided humble beginnings to the Gasso era. OU’s dugout wasn’t big enough to hold its entire team, forcing a few players to sit on nearby wooden benches, meant for spectators. Recruiting was tough. Team activities often included picking up trash, such as beer cans from the adult baseball and softball leagues that shared the venue, often before and after practice and games. Games, mind you, that the team could hardly charge fans money to attend, because, well, there weren’t exactly gates to keep anyone out. And, worst of all, no excitement for the sport.
Fast forward to what Gasso’s Sooners have done since those early days. It is dynastic. They’ve won six national titles in the past decade, starting with the 2013 championship, and continuing their latest last week. So, what exactly does this leader do to create such extraordinary results? Here are three of the most relevant lessons from Gasso:
1. Surround Yourself with Great People
Gasso learned in her early years that the rigor of being a Division I coach could not be taken on by one person alone — it required an elite staff working together. The ability to craft a staff that’s able to execute her vision has been crucial in maintaining success. “It’s about trusting your assistant, trusting your staff, appreciating your staff so that they’ll work for you,” Gasso said. “And when I first was here, I was trying to do everything myself, and that’s part of why I was so underwater. When I started to bring in coaches and give them bigger responsibilities that allowed me to oversee things versus trying to control everything, which was not working well for me.”
Gasso cultivates that trust in her staff by keeping those duties in the family of OU softball, and sometimes even within the Gasso family. All of Gasso’s assistants in 2019 had some connection to the program before being hired as coaches. Her oldest son JT is an assistant, and her youngest son DJ is a graduate assistant. Associate head coach Jennifer Rocha played at Oklahoma from 1996 to 1998 and was a graduate assistant from 1999 to 2001 and Gasso hired five recent former players as assistants this season. That’s no accident. Gasso intentionally and proactively hires people who have seen her coaching style — a unique combination of tough love, compassion, and life lessons — up close and personal.
Business Questions: Are you surrounding yourself with the best talent? Do you trust people on your team? Is there diversity on your team? Are team members loyal to one another? Do you feel people on your team are competent and do what they say they will do? Are people motivated and passionate about what you are trying to accomplish?
2. Evolution is Necessary for Survival
Gasso has evolved over time as a leader and attributes that change to part of the formula for success. “When I got here, I wasn’t a player’s coach,” Gasso said. “I pushed, pushed, pushed. I was a discipline coach. I didn’t let players get away with a lot of things. I just ran a very tight ship.”
Kelli Braitsch, a freshman on Gasso’s first national championship team, knows that version of Gasso well. Following an expo tournament at Reaves Park, Braitsch and her mother, Judy, met with Gasso, who was still recruiting her at the time. Judy Braitsch inquired what position Gasso envisioned her daughter playing at the next level and received an answer her daughter can’t forget. “Coach Gasso looked directly at me,” Kelli Braitsch said, “even though my mom asked the question, and she said, ‘Kelli will play whatever position she earns.” Braitsch now admits “In the end, I earned the spot that I deserved and that is one thing that I love and respect still to this day about Coach Gasso. She doesn’t care who you are, she doesn’t care what stats you had the year before or what you did in high school or whatever. Who cares that you’re an All-American one season, because the next season, you could be the worst player on the team.”
Gasso saw a need to change. She didn’t want to compromise her authenticity, but she understood coaching the way she did in the late 1990s wasn’t the way her program would sustain. “I knew that there was a generation change happening, and I knew that my style was not going to fit them,” Gasso said. “That’s when I knew I had to meet my players halfway. ” Yep, she had to tweak her style to fit new circumstances.
During this time, Gasso naturally became the coach recruits wanted to talk to — a stark contrast from when Gasso was first cutting her teeth in big-time college softball, doing all she could to convince players to come to Norman at a time when softball championships ran through UCLA and Arizona. Perhaps as important to anything she’s done as a coach, Gasso has learned how to uphold her lofty standards, while also building those meaningful bonds with her players and staff. “The goals from my side are to make them understand that, win or lose, you’re loved, you’re appreciated and you’re fabulous.” Players matter to this coach.
Business Questions: Do you emphasize the results AND the relationship? Are the “goalposts” established so people know how to succeed? Does your team have one another’s back? Do people perceive that you really listen to their feedback? Are members of the team continually growing?
3. Remember, There is Life Beyond Work
For those who have played for, coached with, and been raised by Gasso, the part of her style that stands out most has nothing to do with batting stances, throwing motions, or base running techniques — it’s her emphasis on preparing players for life beyond softball. The crux of Gasso’s coaching isn’t separating teaching the minutia of softball and teaching broader concepts about life, she combines the two and uses athletic lessons to inform life lessons.
“It’s cool to be able to see how things correlate on and off the field — she teaches us to be tough on the field and to stand our ground,” said Keilani Ricketts, who played for Gasso from 2010 to 2013. “And she teaches us off the field to have a voice and stand up for ourselves whenever we’re dealing with conflict… It inspires us to advocate for ourselves.” Inspiring her players to advocate for themselves is exactly what Gasso aims to do. A coach directs, instructs, and trains her players to succeed on the field. But as an advocate, Gasso tries to transform her players from teenage girls to young women ready for professional softball, coaching, the workforce, or whatever else may await them.
She also utilizes some other interesting tactics for life skills. “What we have started to do now is create like a blue-collar day, where after practice, they’re all given job responsibilities. Last night, we were raking leaves, we were blowing out the dugouts, we were down on our hands and knees picking up little pieces of trash from the indoors. They’re picking up trash behind the grandstands. I mean, they are sweeping off the turf. Everybody’s got jobs. Like, you get to learn how to take care of your house. So this is our house. You want to know what it means to keep your house in order. This stadium is going to be in order as long as we’re here. So we’ve changed a few things and put them to work.” It’s probably not the most popular thing she’s ever done, but for this team, there are new opportunities for team bonding, building a sense of pride, and taking care of the “little things.”
Business Questions: Do you care about your employees beyond what they bring to the job? Do you have a mentorship program? Does your team think outside the box when creating team bonding experiences? Can everyone on the team tell you what the purpose is of what they do every day? Do you spend informal time together as a team?
In leadership, you always hear the stories. The tough road that had to be traveled, the grit and determination that was needed, and the lessons learned along the way. I’m sure you have many of those same stories. Patty Gasso is no different and we can learn a lot from her experiences. She would tell you the word “lukewarm” is a dirty word in the OU program. To her, it means someone is either half in or half out…They need to be either all in or not be in at all. I actually feel that way about leadership. Of course, there will be days you feel a little “off”, but if you are not totally committed to those three tenets laid out by Gasso… surround yourself with great talent, adapt your leadership when needed, and truly care about your employees…it will be tough to build that high-performing team you are working towards.
*Interview excerpts from OU Daily News
“People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” –Maya Angelou
Last week I was in a meeting with a client I hadn’t worked with in about four years. In that time, as CEO of her organization within a larger global organization, she had doubled the company’s size. I asked her how she got those types of results in such a short amount of time. She felt that certain strategic initiatives, some operational efficiencies, and the most significant one, an MMFI rallying cry.
In fact, when this young female CEO mentioned MMFI on a global call, the enterprise CEO turned to his leadership team and said, “That is what the rest of our company is missing.”
What exactly is MMFI? It essentially is the belief, that when you see anyone who touches your business you should envision them with an invisible sign that says, “MAKE ME FEEL IMPORTANT!” In a world full of big box stores and impersonal online businesses, it is more crucial now than ever in our business world.
The reason for this is simple: when people feel important, they are more likely to stay loyal to your company and continue supporting your mission. Whether it’s providing excellent customer service, developing innovative products, or being an active member of the community, making everyone feel important can create a strong foundation for your business that can lead to growth and success.
Tenets of MMFI
To really embed “make me feel important” in a culture it is essential that every single person in your organization prioritizes it as a commitment. This means that everyone from the top down is actively working to ensure that anyone who touches the business feels valued and appreciated including customers, employees, vendors/suppliers, or members of the community. It means being responsive to their needs, taking their feedback seriously, and always striving to exceed their expectations.
But how exactly can leaders make everyone feel important? Here are a few tips:
1. Listen Actively: People want to feel heard and understood. Ensure you actively listen to your employees, customers, and vendors to understand their needs and concerns.
2. Show Appreciation: Don’t just say thank you; show your appreciation in meaningful ways, whether it’s through bonuses, public recognition, or a simple thank you note.
3. Under Promise and Over Deliver: Hold back on overselling and instead be both proactive and thorough when taking care of all your stakeholders.
4. Be Transparent: Honesty and transparency build trust, and when people trust you, they feel more important.
5. Foster a Sense of Community: When people feel like they are part of something bigger than themselves, they are more likely to feel important and valued.
I remember a trip I took to one of our most loyal client’s headquarters. A new HR VP had been appointed and she was moving fast to make changes…including potentially heavily impacting our long-time relationship. I flew in to meet with her and instead of taking a defensive stance, I listened to what she saw needed to be changed in their established programs. Then I spent about 2 hours offering very objective reflections and options…and it was from a very selfless perspective. That was the turning point in our discussion because she then saw us as a partner that was there to take things off her desk instead of a line-item cost. She got the depth of the partnership our two companies had and we got off to a great start.
What is a Rallying Cry?
So how can you get everyone in the company to buy into the MMFI framework? Make it a Rallying Cry! That means rallying around the single most important thing we can be doing, especially in moments of dramatic change (the story of our life in business the last few years!), does more than aid progress on a single objective — it sets a sequence of events in motion that will significantly impact your team and embed what you are driving in the culture.
The concept of having a rallying cry and defining objectives is a simple one, and therein lies its power. It provides us with a manageable list of relevant issues that we can get our hands and minds around over an extended period. And just as importantly, it gives us permission to ignore other issues that would otherwise compete for our attention. Essentially it is the One Big Thing we are working on together!
In conclusion, making everyone feel important is essential to the success of your business. By making it your rallying cry and embedding a culture of MMFI, you can create a strong foundation for growth and success. So, as a leader, take the time to listen, show appreciation, be transparent, overdeliver, and foster a sense of community. By doing so, you will make everyone know how important they are to you and promote loyalty, respect, and inclusion. Don’t we all want that?
Here is a great resource if you want to learn a little more about a rallying cry!
As I was walking to dinner with my family in Kansas City last week, I was updating one of my business partners about a tough situation and decision I was having to make for the good of the business. It was something that I didn’t want to do, but a decision I knew needed to be made. Then he said, “I know you have the RESOLVE.” That word stuck with me and carried me through that week. Little did I know how rough last week was going to be. Not only did I have to make that difficult decision, but I also lost my lifelong mentor and had numerous other issues that every business owner encounters. As a business owner, I wish I could say that life gets easier. That it gets to be more predictable, smooth, and easy. But that would be unfair because it’s not true. Business life can be heart-wrenchingly gritty and will poke at your sore spots.
There is a quote that says, “True courage is not the brutal force of vulgar heroes, but the firm resolve of virtue and reason.” One of the biggest gains I have had as a leader recently is building my resilience and confidence in my decision-making. Many of the leaders I coach, just like the rest of us, had to make some tough decisions in the past couple of years while maintaining our “True North”. Now is my decision-making always perfect? No. But with good intentions and good reason, I know I can get close.
Do we ever need to pivot as leaders and go in a different direction? Absolutely. Sometimes, knowing when to give up can be just as important as knowing when to keep going. In any organization, there will always be times when the going gets tough and it seems like the only way out is to give up. But great leaders never give up on the mission even when they must chart a new direction. They have the resolve to see things through to the end. So, what is the secret to their success? How do they always seem to find the strength to keep going when the road gets rocky? That is what I’ll be discussing today!
1. Differentiating Between a Setback and a Roadblock
One of the first things that need to be clear to you and your team is whether you are encountering a setback or a roadblock. To differentiate between them, it’s important to understand what each term means. A setback is an issue or obstacle you encounter along the way that can be overcome. It does not have to be a huge or devastating issue – it can be small or large, but the important thing is that it can be moved past with some effort and perseverance. On the other hand, a roadblock is an issue or obstacle that is much larger and cannot be circumvented no matter how much you have planned or how hard you have worked.
A good example of a setback is when your team encounters a small problem while completing a project. This is likely to be a relatively minor issue and something that can be fixed with some hard work such as a supply chain glitch or an employee that quits. In contrast, a roadblock is an issue that cannot be easily bypassed, such as an unresolvable technical problem or a larger financial concern.
The reason this differentiation is important is that I’ve worked with teams and individuals on teams that “catastrophize” even the smallest hurdle. Understanding the difference between a setback and a roadblock can help your team to settle down a bit and for you to know the best course of action in any situation. You and your team know you keep going and put in more effort when you encounter a setback, or if you need to seek alternative routes and workarounds when you encounter a roadblock.
2. The Importance of Resilience
Once you have identified if you are dealing with a setback or a roadblock, it’s vital to have
resilience and perseverance. In any situation, good leaders keep pushing forward in pursuit of a
goal, despite the challenges or obstacles they face. To become a great leader, you need to
cultivate qualities of resilience and commitment to your cause to be able to find solutions to
problems and move forward, rather than giving in to the status quo. The most resilient leaders have
a growth mindset and are continuously learning. So you might be asking yourself if you are
considered to be resilient. Here are a few questions you can ask yourself to see:
● Are you exhausted when faced with setbacks and find it hard to keep trying?
● Are you unable to sustain your energy long enough to bounce back after adversity?
● Are you unable to adapt well to change?
● Are you unable to maintain a positive attitude when faced with conflict?
● Are you unable to find solutions to problems when faced with ambiguity?
● Are you unable to maintain a growth mindset during difficult times?
● Are you unable to be coached?
If you answered yes to any of these questions, then you could use a tune-up on your resiliency skills. Great leaders often exhibit resolve when facing difficult situations, inspiring their team members to achieve more than they initially thought possible. Leading by example and showing just how far you can go with hard work and dedication can be outstanding examples of what is achievable. With perseverance, you can reach your goals and build even great resiliency for both you and your team.
3. The Difference Between Grit and Determination
Grit and determination are closely related, yet there is a critical difference between the two. Grit,
simply put, is making a concerted effort, and staying focused and determined to reach a goal.
Determination is an internal drive to achieve something. When you are determined it takes a goal
further, giving it context and passion.
Grit requires strength, dedication, and repetitive effort while determination requires mental
discipline and an unwavering commitment. Having grit and determination will help leaders stay the
course and reach great heights. It’s also crucial as a leader to share your experiences and stories
when you have hit rock bottom and stayed strong to keep moving toward the goal. After a bit, you
might get a few eye rolls from people you have worked with for a while, but don’t be fooled! They
find it inspiring! Sharing stories of grit and determination gives team members confidence and
when they find themselves in a position of struggle, they will remember the stories which will serve
as motivation and reassurance to keep pushing forward until they have reached their goal. People
who have storytelling skills are not given enough credit in business.
4. How to Develop Mental Toughness
Developing mental toughness may seem like a daunting task, but there are some simple steps
one can take to develop it:
1. Acknowledge Your Feelings – The first and most important step is to acknowledge the difficult
feelings you are having and face them head-on. Understanding that these thoughts/feelings are
normal and temporary will help in the long run. It is because you care!
2. Develop a Positive Internal Dialogue – One of the best methods for developing mental
toughness is by changing your internal narrative. Replace negative thoughts with positive and
encouraging ones. Optimism can be developed!
3. Focus on What’s in Your Control – Learn to tell yourself what is truly within your control and
what is out of your control. Being mindful of the things you can and cannot do will help you not
get frustrated and expend energy on things you cannot change. Then focus on what you can!
4. Strategic Flexibility – Realize that you are always looking for the best way to achieve the
mission with others. So, while you have a definitive way forward, you must remain flexible leaving
room for continuous learning and improvement.
5. Take Action – Acting is one of the best ways to release energy and focus on the task at hand. It
doesn’t have to be a big step; taking small and measurable actions with confidence in your
reasoning will help in the long run. Plus, your decisiveness will be noticed!
5. The Role of Hope in Leadership
I have always said that people need HOPE! Hope is the cornerstone of any successful change leader. As a leader, it is important to remind yourself and your team that difficult situations and times will pass—there is a shrinking light at the end of the tunnel. As a leader, you must also be aware of how each team member is feeling and respond to them with kindness and compassion. Reminding yourself and others that all these tough times are short-term issues can bring solace and lift morale. Maintaining this positive mindset is an important way for a leader to stay in control, even when the situation feels beyond their control. It is essential to keep the end goal in sight and not get too weighed down by setbacks.
If you are feeling overwhelmed, find something that can give you comfort and hope—grounding yourself in your “Why”, going for a walk, talking to trusted advisors, or even hanging out with your furry friends helps. Having a few small moments of hope in your day can help to bring your energy and focus back on track. There are so many ways to find hope; it is up to the leader to find the one that works for them and their team.