For those of you in Michigan, you know the name Rich Rodriguez. He coached football at Michigan for several years and was fired for not being successful. The ironic thing is that he was successful before Michigan (West Virginia) and he has had success since (Arizona). The story I have about him is about being a new neighbor. I was teaching a class and in small talk I met one of his neighbors in Ann Arbor. She told me a story about him moving into a house that had 6-12 trees in the front yard and he did not like trees so he cut them all down when he moved in. The neighbors were angry, and by this time he was also not winning on the football field, so the story ended with they were still angry and ‘he was a bad coach‘ on top of it.
Leadership is about managing change, and part of managing change is picking your battles initially until key people know you and trust you. In any role there are a few key people that have to be on your side, and the key to success initially is taking steps to build trust with them. These are called stakeholders, key people, or sometimes just neighbors. A leader has 3-12 months to win over these stakeholders.
I specialize in leadership transitions, and one rule is not allowing a new leader fire anyone for 3-6 months. My second rule for a new leader is to get a ‘grace’ period light on deliverables for about 3 months so they have a chance to build relationships with people. When they do get deliverables they need to be heavily focused on getting wins with the people that need to trust and support a new leader when they do make mistakes, and mistakes are a given.
Back to Rich – as a leader and homeowner he can do whatever he wants. His mistake at his house was cutting down every tree before people got to know him – which was only made worse when he did not win on top of it. Ironic thing, he did the same with the program and alienated many people so fond of traditions he cut (like a weekly radio show) that when he started to lose more than win they did not support him. The lesson, as a new leader ask before you cut down any trees – maybe by asking first which trees need to be cut down. What does that sound like in a conversation? Imagine interviewing all your new team and asking:
- What questions do you/the team want to ask me?
- What is working here?
- What needs to be fixed?
- What is one thing I could do to make you more excited about your job?
Listen well and they will tell you which trees to cut down. My experience tells me that their list will look eerily similar to yours.
It is not that Rich Rodriguez is not an effective coach – he has proven he can win in the right situations. His problem is that he does not adapt well to situations where he has to be patient and cannot just cut all the trees down at once. What kind of leader are you?
Here are my proven processes on change. I use them because they are people-centered and less focused on the outcome and more on emotionally moving people through the change. Still performance focused, but people-centered.