Six Causes of Corporate Stupidity

When it comes to leading humans, companies can do some stupid things.  I don’t mean arguably wrong decisions – no, I mean flat-out stupid things.

A true example: an employee takes a three day leave to attend to her sick child.  After the first day of leave, her supervisor calls to explain that they are desperately short of staff for the next day, and asks if there is any way at all she could come in to help out the following morning.  The employee calls her husband at work, explains the situation, and he agrees to change his schedule for the following morning to allow her to go in and help out at work.  She does so, then takes the next day to again be with her ill son.

When she comes back to work the following week, she is told by her supervisor that unfortunately, she has now had five approved absences in a one year period, requiring a mandatory write up for the HR file.  She says that is not accurate – she has only had four leave requests approved.  Her supervisor then explains that this last leave to take care of her son counts as two leaves because she came back in to work that morning and then was gone again the following day, making it count as two separate, approved leaves.

Flash forward two months to her annual review.  All is glowing, but because of the one write up for excessive leaves, her salary increase will be reduced by 1%.

Now if we told this story to 100 random people on the street and asked them for their reaction, I suspect 98 would say that the company’s actions were ridiculous – and even stupid.  Here we have a loyal employee who responded to the call of her company to show up and help in a time of crisis, and the company subsequently punishes her for the effort.

Now most of you reading this are thinking this is so stupid that it could NEVER happen in my company.  Well, maybe.  You see the leaders in the company that did this also likely would have once said that.  Heck, I am sure many in this large company have no idea this now occurs in their system, and I can assure you that the folks who presently occupy the C-suite positions in this company did not awake one day and decide to do what they could to see that their company made incredibly stupid decisions.

So what can account for such a situation existing?  Here are some of the conditions and themes that can result in leadership stupidity:

  1. Bureaucracy. There is a positive correlation between size of organization and a propensity for stupidity in HR.  Why?  Because as companies grow, there is often a passionate desire by those at the top to minimize chaos.  How can this be achieved?  By limiting human judgement and emphasizing the importance of following policy as created by those with wisdom at the top.  Never let policy trump common sense.
  2. Lethargy.  Front line supervisors should be willing to fight for their good staff members.  If they are not passionate enough to fight, then they are not fervent enough to lead.
  3. Fear.  It is possible that the front line supervisor may have once been passionate enough to fight for a good employee – and they got hammered by upper management for their efforts.  This is the corporate version of no good deed shall go unpunished!  Nothing will improve at such a company until the C-suite is fumigated.
  4. Distance.  Upper management may be so far removed from the front lines that they have no idea what is happening.  Ignorance of the law is no excuse; ignorance of how your company is treating its employees is inexcusable.
  5. No consequence.  When stupid decisions are made consequence-free, they are likely to continue.  Great companies are always looking for ways to become better – and often the quickest way to accomplish that is to make sure there is a significant punishment for those who make, or remain passive in the face of, stupid decisions.
  6. No core.  Stupid decisions are more likely to occur within a system that lacks a clear set of leadership principles.  Lacking such, decisions are made in a vacuum.  Just as our values shape our personal conduct, leadership principles shape a company’s treatment of its employees.

Review the list above and consider if any of these factors are creeping up on you or your company to increase the risk of stupid decisions. MindSet can also help you improve – consider our offering below.

To learn dozens of proven MindSet insights and tools that will help you advance your business and avoid making these costly mistakes, consider investing in our upcoming MindSet Leadership Series.  Offered in partnership with the Greater Omaha Chamber, this elite program is designed to help executives, directors, and other key decision-makers propel their companies to even greater success.

Thoughts from Rome

Apr 2, 2017


In: MindSet Commentary

I was recently offered a unique opportunity. A large multinational corporation – having almost 200,000 employees around the globe – gave me the opportunity to deliver a keynote speech at their global retreat for their top 80 leaders. The meeting was held in Rome.

The focus of the meeting was how they could provide an even better work experience for their employees.

With leaders from around the globe, it was truly an international gathering. Yet what all of them had in common was the challenge of attracting and retaining high-quality talent.

I was particularly impressed with the CEO. In a room full of high-achieving, powerful individuals, it would have been easy to spend a good percentage of time congratulating one another and reflecting on all that had been accomplished over the past year. While the CEO was certainly positive and upbeat, he used the meeting to propel the company to even better performance, specifically focusing the attention of attendees on what steps they could take as leaders to make the work experience better for employees throughout their system.

They made use of a bold and innovative process I found to be flat-out terrific.

The company brought six employees, who had been hand-selected from throughout their massive corporation, to Rome to play leading roles in an experiential learning process for senior management that would take place the morning after my speech. Each of these younger employees was set up in a literal pod or tent that was large enough to hold about 15 people comfortably. They broke the global leaders into small groups of 12, and had each rotate from pod to pod in 40 minute intervals to listen to the stories and experiences of these young employees.

Each of the young employees were selected to share with these top leaders a less than satisfactory experience they had during their employment with the company. For example, one young man talked about his poor experience on-boarding with the company. Another young lady talked about the difficulty she had with the interview and recruitment process. Another employee talked with them about the difficulties she had initially learning the policies and procedures of the organization. Another talked with them about the stress he experienced when thrown into a difficult client situation without adequate training or support. Another talked with them about the stress of their first year and the loss of any sense of work-life balance. And another talked about how they felt there was little to no room for significant career advancement.

As you can imagine, these select, younger employees were a bit nervous talking so candidly with the most powerful people in their company. The CEO met with the six staff members the evening before they presented, however, to put them more at ease and to again request that they be open and candid.

After hearing the real life experiences of these employees, the global leaders then spent time in small groups discussing what specifically could be done to improve operations with respect to employee work experiences.

Changing or improving a huge system takes a comparably massive level of energy and continuous focus. And so it was particularly heartening to see so much top talent and corporate energy focused intently on what MindSet believes to be perhaps the single biggest ingredient to long-term corporate success: the ability to create and protect a dynamic and healthy work environment for employees. It was encouraging to see a group who “gets it.”

On a more personal note, we had a fantastic couple days touring Rome – a stunning place. We also benefited from having a wonderful, private tour guide – a young lady from the United States who has lived in Rome for five years. If you’re ever headed that direction, please contact us ( and we will be happy to give you her contact information – you’ll be glad you did. 🙂

Chick-Fil-A’s Secret Sauce

Mar 10, 2017


In: MindSet Commentary

Any organization that strives to rise above the mediocre must have at least one key differentiator from its competition.  Great organizations will have several differentiators, and truly elite organizations will make sure every employee understands those differentiators and frequently articulates them.

I’ve recently had the pleasure of spending time with a Chick-Fil-A franchise owner (Andy) here in Omaha, and after visiting with Andy and building a nice friendship, I’ve come to realize Chick-Fil-A is one of those truly elite organizations.

A few years ago, we wrote a blog that highlighted Chick-Fil-A’s remarkably consistent and high-quality customer service, and we contrasted it with the completely unpredictable (ranging from lousy to great) customer service that we find at other fast food restaurants.  After meeting and visiting with Andy, I now understand why Chick-Fil-A is able to offer superior customer service.  Their secret sauce is sound leadership (the signature Chick-Fil-A sauce is delicious, too).

I want to share a few of Chick-Fil-A’s powerful differentiators that Andy explained to me.  I found it fascinating, and I think you will too.

  1. Chick-Fil-A franchises are not for sale in a traditional way.  Anyone who aspires to become a franchise owner must complete an application and then go through a several month gauntlet of interviews, followed by an evaluation of performance while working at an existing Chick-Fil-A restaurant.  The select few individuals who earn the right to own a Chick-Fil-A franchise ultimately pay a modest $10,000 franchise fee, and Chick-Fil-A pays for all start-up costs including real estate, construction, and equipment.
  2. Once a Chick-Fil-A franchise owner is selected, the franchisee goes through a multi-week training program before they can open and operate their restaurant.  Perhaps key to their success, Chick-Fil-A franchise owners are also required to work at their restaurant.  Andy says that is a huge differentiator as most fast food chains that have franchise owners who own multiple locations and often hire under qualified managers to operate the restaurant.
  3. A line item in the financials that receives attention from Chick-Fil-A leadership is the amount of food that is given away to customers.  Andy is encouraged to give food away.  He shared that their belief is the food is so good that if you can get customers in the door to try it, it’s worth giving it away initially, because they will be back for more.
  4. Chick-Fil-A is fanatical about fresh food.  They thaw and bread their chicken at the local franchise restaurants every day.  Any chicken that is not sold within 20 minutes of when it is cooked will be thrown out.  They source their lettuce locally to offer fresh salads, and their biscuits are also made from scratch each day.  Andy gave me a tour of the kitchen and the freshly prepared food was clearly a source of pride for him – and another clear differentiator for Chick-Fil-A.
  5. Chick-Fil-A has a focus on creating raving fans.  Every customer who filled out a survey and had a poor experience receives a phone call from Andy.  Those calls start with an apology, followed by a request that the customer give Andy and his team a second chance.  Any customer willing to give Andy a second chance receives a complimentary meal.
  6. Continuing on the raving fan theme, Chick-Fil-A trains their employees on a simple four-part model when serving customers.  First, make eye contact.  Second, smile and strive to see the customer return a smile.  Third, engage personally – ask how their day is going.  Fourth, everyChick-Fil-A staff member has the unilateral power and they are encouraged to offer complimentary food in an attempt to make a customer’s day better.  For instance, if a customer shared that their day is going poorly due to a flat tire in the morning, the Chick-Fil-A employee is authorized to say something like, “Wow, sorry to hear about that.  Sounds like you need some good luck to get your day going in the right direction.  Your food is on Chick-Fil-A today.”

At the end of our last conversation, Andy shared that he enjoys visiting with me because he can tell how passionate I am about MindSet.  He then shared something I found to be profound: retiring after 20 years in the Army, Andy thought he would never be able to be as passionate or proud to be part of any other organization as he was the Army.  He is thrilled to have found that in Chick-Fil-A.

Chick-Fil-A was wise to have selected Andy as a franchise owner.  He’s a terrific leader and person.  If you haven’t tried Chick-Fil-A, we strongly recommend it!  The food is awesome, and the customer service is exceptional.  And if you happen to eat at the Chick-Fil-A across the street from QLI in Omaha, do yourself a favor and ask for Andy, introduce yourself, and let him know you read this blog post.  You’ll enjoy meeting him.

Thanks for your service to our nation, Andy.  Thanks for the lesson in leadership, too, my friend!

Employee Success – The Simple Path

So you have a colleague, friend, significant other, or child who wants to be a big success.  They want to rise to the top of their work environment – to be recognized as someone who is going someplace.  What advice would you have for them as to what it will take to excel?

Get an education.  Not bad, and sometimes even helpful – more so if you encourage them to obtain a degree that has practical utility in the real world, i.e., develops skills that will be of real value to a prospective employer.

Know your rights, and make sure your employer treats you fairly – stand up for yourself!  Ummm – not so good.  This should be reduced to the following: many employers are good, and actually, most are very good if you make a genuine and significant contribution to the success of the enterprise.  If you are not valuable, then there is no reason for an employer to be concerned about your satisfaction or ongoing plans to work there.  In the odd instance you are valuable and yet being treated poorly, life really is short, so I suggest you fire the employer.

We often make the path to big-time success in the workplace more complicated than it need be.  There are two simple pieces of advice that MindSet believes will assure success in the vast majority of workplaces.

1) Always, and under any and all circumstances, under-promise and over-perform.  This is such a simple piece of advice and so easy to understand – but so hard to relentlessly practice.  In MindSet training sessions, we explain why there is such a natural psychological pull for us to violate this rule; but for now, just sear it into your brain that if you want great success, you must get this behavioral pattern mastered.

2) You can carefully memorize your new job description or study the employee handbook every night before you nod off, but there is a much more effective and simple way to excel.  Find out what your supervisor expects from you, and then exceed those expectations every day.  And you need not play mind reader – your supervisor is almost always just a few steps, keystrokes, or a phone call away!  You can check in with him or her every week to literally ask if there is anything more you could do to be helpful or better exceed his or her expectations.

No doubt, some reading this will see this as hopelessly old school – the boss is always right, blah blah.  Actually, I am aware that the boss is not always right – but I am also aware that the boss is the boss.  This advice is not given for the purpose of achieving some abstract sense of justice or maximizing profitability for the company.  No – this advice is strictly given to help your colleague, friend, child, or significant other achieve a high degree of personal success within most any work setting.  It is a good example of common sense still working in the real world.


End note:  As the son of a school administrator and a former school psychologist myself, this is one of the reasons I cringe when I see parents who aggressively defend their wonderful little angel when they feel their child has been mistreated by a teacher, coach, or administrator.  First, 90% of the time the parent is flat-out wrong (failing to maintain what MindSet calls an adequate Region of Doubt) due to the likely possibility that their child just may not have relayed the full (or 100% accurate) story.  Yet even if there is a legitimate concern to be discussed with a school staff member, parents would usually do their child a service to not make their child aware of those discussions.  As far as the child is concerned, unless the authority figure’s misconduct was egregious or illegal, the best parents will supportively remind their son or daughter that the teacher/coach/principal is to be respected and their directions followed.  Such parenting sets a pattern for later workplace and life success.

Employee Resolutions

Resolution season is upon us, and many of us are focusing on personal and family goals for 2017 and beyond.  But MindSet suggests you also take a few minutes to consider some of the disquieting “resolutions” your employees may be making for 2017.

A study recently published by Career Builder, found that 22% of 3,411 employees surveyed nationally are planning to change jobs in 2017.  You might want to read that again – if you are an average American company, more than ONE FIFTH of your workforce is planning to leave you this year!

MindSet’s readers, on the whole, work for better than average employers.  But still, those are BIG numbers.  With average turnover costs of $3500-5500 per position, are you doing everything you can hold on to your talent?

Stick with MindSet in 2017 to feed your intellectual and leadership growth goals.  We promise to provide you a steady stream of insights designed to help you better attract, build, motivate and retain that most precious of resources – your talent.

What can I do to Help?

Apr 2, 2016


In: Original MindSet Material

A great work culture won’t just happen by chance.  It requires two basic steps that seem so simple, but are often overlooked.  First, the company or team must envision what a healthy culture will look like when it is fully built.  Without that clarity and focus, they are headed on a trip with no idea of the destination.  The second necessary component is to explicitly state the attitudinal and behavioral expectations the organization has for members of its staff.  What follows is an expectation that MindSet believes will help you build and maintain a healthy work environment.

What Can I Do To Help?

We can’t tell much about the cultural health of a company or team when all is going well – everybody looks great when we are winning 48-6.  But the opposite is also true: one of the most meaningful measures of the cultural health of a work team can be gained from an analysis of how employees respond when a significant problem occurs – those unfortunate occasions when things go quite wrong.

In a brilliantly healthy culture, employees respond to a crisis by a) showing up, and b) saying only one thing, What can I do to help?

It is important to proactively – and explicitly – set this expectation for all employees.  Having established this as an expectation, we can then use the occurrence of the problem to learn much about the strength of a team and the qualities of its individual staff members.  Just as personal adversity reveals character, organizational adversity reveals much about the health of your culture and the personal qualities of your employees.

Zombies & Cowards – And the Damage They Do

Mar 30, 2015


In: MindSet Commentary

MindSet Leadership Principle #4 of 7:  Good staff have a right to work with good staff.

Yep – we believe this to be a commitment that should be made to every employee – and it is a commitment that leaders must maintain if they hope to attract and retain great employees.  Unfortunately, it appears to me (and verified by our ever-accumulating, aggregate MindSet Survey data) that this is a standard that many companies are failing to uphold.

The consequences of not protecting the right of good staff to work with good staff is particularly damaging when the miscreant employee is failing to meet the company’s cultural standards, i.e., the company’s overtly stated attitudinal and behavioral expectations.  Bad attitudes and poor performance are seemingly allowed to go on unabated – and the blame for this culturally poisonous situation is appropriately placed on leaders who fail in their responsibility to hold employees accountable.

But there is another repository of blame that is often overlooked.  Two other groups of individuals who usually say, “Who, me?” if ever they are accused of also being responsible for the tolerance of poor staff performance.  I refer to these groups as the Zombies and Cowards.  And what exactly is it they do to be responsible for this situation?  Nothing.  Yep – they do nothing – and that is why they are also to blame.

Zombies and Cowards are not blind – they can see that one of their colleagues is poisonous to the health of the company and their workgroup – but they are not the supervisor, so they stand by and say nothing.  They walk by and do nothing.  And even worse, when the supervisor does finally take action to hold the rouge accountable – and the rouge inevitably screams that he is being treated unfairly! – what happens?  Well, our Zombie just goes on home; after all, it’s not her problem.  And our Coward quietly nods his head in agreement as the rouge claims unfair treatment and the union, an attorney, or some governmental agency springs into action to protect this unfairly treated soul!

John Stewart Mill – the man I would put my money on as the smartest person to ever live – long ago made a brilliant point I think we would be well-served to remember.  He cautioned that we should never allow ourselves to pacify our conscience by the delusion that we can do no harm if we take no part, and form no opinion.  Roughly 50 years later, Thomas Burke is attributed to have fleshed out the thought (and President Kennedy later made famous) this way: “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.”

MindSet implores leaders to grasp that the creation and protection of a great work culture is not only the right thing to do, it is the smart thing to do.  But a great culture can’t be protected by leaders alone.  It requires an awareness – and a willingness to defend – from everyone in the system.

MindSet will continue to push leaders to not duck their responsibility to uphold the right of good staff to work with good staff.  But for those who work within a system but don’t have the responsibility of supervision – MindSet wants to challenge you as well.  Zombies and Cowards are not neutrals – their obliviousness and silence contribute to the demise of cultural health: it is sin by omission.

Every staff member should recognize their obligation to notice cultural poisons and to speak up – and assertively – in support of a good supervisor who is tackling an unpleasant problem.  Defend your work environment and strive to make it even better.  Trust your own eyes and judgment to defend the culture – and even in the face of noisy protestations from those who would pull the culture down, find the courage to defend what you know is right.

“Tolerance becomes destructive when granted to a rogue.”
– Kim Hoogeveen, Ph.D.

Thomas Mann > Quotes

Leadership at its Best

Feb 18, 2015


In: MindSet Commentary

Rarely do I post blogs this closely together, but when something eventful occurs, it seems appropriate to make an exception!

It was announced Monday morning that QLI has once again been recognized as the #1 Best Place to Work in Omaha in the large company category for 2015.  This is the fifth time this honor has been bestowed on QLI – plus the unusual distinction of having also been awarded the Sustained Excellence Award.  It is great to see QLI again being recognized.

QLI is the birthplace of MindSet; it is the company where our philosophy and teachings were first developed and where they have been most fully implemented.  This latest recognition is a reflection of an exceptionally talented leadership team that makes the cultural health of their company a priority every day – and in every interaction.  Understanding theory and technique is important, but it is of little value without a team of leaders who have the talent and determination to make it come to life within their work setting.

So how is it that QLI continues to build and protect such a dominantly healthy culture?

It starts with a supportive Board of Directors; with drive and focus supplied by a brilliant CEO, Patricia Kearns; advanced by a gifted group of top-level leaders who unanimously recognize the importance of culture; and brought to life every day by a carefully selected, talented, and well-trained group of supervisors throughout the QLI system.

QLI goes all in on culture, meaning that cultural health is an unrelenting focus for leaders throughout their company.  QLI is committed to protecting a culture that can attract and retain outstanding employees, encourage both personal and professional employee growth, and assure employees the opportunity to work in a positive and dynamic environment.  And QLI has something else that I find to be unusual: they have a clear and explicit strategic vision for cultural health, including overtly specified attitudinal and behavioral expectations for the members of their staff.

Another key to QLI’s success is how they go about identifying individuals who they select to assume supervisory roles.  QLI has long understood that the ability to lead humans has little correlation with technical expertise or seniority, and after selecting wisely, they invest a good amount of time, energy (and yes, money) assuring supervisors have great support from colleagues and access to quality leadership training.

QLI operates under a system I would term “team leadership” – and again, I find it to be rare.  Leaders throughout the QLI system possess a common understanding of the leadership principles under which QLI operates, as well a common, shared knowledge of leadership terminology and practical implementation techniques.  These shared values and this common language allow leaders at QLI to be unusually supportive of one another across divisions and departments.  Corporate silos don’t exist.  All are committed to the same leadership philosophy – one that emphasizes high standards, a positive work environment, innovation, and employee growth – and mutual support is the norm.

QLI avoids the deadly sin of comparing themselves for the purpose of matching others.  When it comes to how QLI builds culture and staff pride, QLI strives to differentiate themselves from others – and so far, one would have to say their approach is paying substantial dividends!

Of course, there are literally over 100 specific tactics and techniques that QLI uses on a daily basis to create and protect their unusual work environment.  MindSet and QLI are now discussing the possibility of hosting a leadership insight event later this spring that would give attendees the chance to see a more detailed look behind the curtain at QLI’s leadership approach and the MindSets it uses to engender such a remarkably healthy work environment.  We will let you know when and if that gets scheduled – it should be an intellectually engaging and fun event!

The Truth about Human Resources

Feb 10, 2015


In: MindSet Commentary

Here is a link to an article that offers some worthwhile commentary on the status of HR:  The Truth about Human Resources.

If you have a couple minutes, I think you will enjoy it.  I did – and I particularly liked the following paragraph that emphasizes one of MindSet’s strongest themes for HR leaders:  Take away the crushing bureaucracy and corporate indifference to employee’s needs, and they’ll turn their attention to your problems instead of their own…. When you build a Human Workplace, you don’t get sued. Everybody’s bread is buttered on the same side, from the loading dock to the executive suite.

When I think about companies that are struggling and trending toward insolvency, it is interesting to ponder what department or part of the company has the opportunity to “save” the organization?  Oh sure, the CFO may be able to do some fancy financial maneuvers to delay the inevitable, or the CEO may be able to do some structural changes to fend off the end – but I believe the department most capable of playing hero is HR.  They are in the key position to gather (or retain in the face of difficulties) tremendous talent, build a sense of loyalty among existing staff, and encourage an approach to supervision that engenders innovation, ownership, and hopefulness among employees.

Now you may be thinking that a CEO could certainly do all those things, and in some instances you are right. I believe it is the responsibility of a good CEO to support (actually, to insist upon!) exactly this type of orientation and focus from their HR department. The passion and drive for the creation of a culture that can attract, build, and retain phenomenal employees, and to provide them an unusually healthy work environment, should be emanating directly from the HR department.  Such is the case with many of our existing MindSet clients, so as unusual as it may be, it can be done!

On the other hand, if a CEO is having to carry this ball while HR sits passively as little more than a referee…well, as pointed out in the linked article above, that constitutes a massive missed opportunity to advance growth and success. It will also, and usually sooner rather than later, become a ruinous problem for the company.

Leadership: Playing Out In Husker Nation

Dec 30, 2014


In: MindSet Commentary

A new football coach has been hired at the University of Nebraska – big news in these parts.  (For those readers who reside outside Nebraska or don’t follow the Huskers, Coach Bo Pelini was recently fired after seven seasons at the helm of the Nebraska football program.  The termination was not entirely due to wins and losses, but rather in good part due to Coach Pelini’s behavior and the culture his leadership had created within the football program.)  Before we close the door on the Bo Pelini era, let’s take a look at a few things we can learn about leaders and leadership from examining what occurred under his tenure.

MindSet has long stressed that selecting the right individuals for positions of leadership is critical for organizational success.  Yet many companies often fail to get these selections right.  All too often, supervision is awarded to individuals based on technical expertise or seniority – two considerations that have almost zero correlation with the ability to successfully lead humans and build cultural health.  (One of MindSet’s more practical consulting services is helping clients to more accurately spot leadership potential.)

When Coach Pelini was given the head coaching position at Nebraska, few questioned his impressive experience as a football coach at the assistant level, and he was widely regarded within the profession to have considerable expertise on the defensive side of the ball.  Yet he had never been a head coach, so there was no track record as to his ability to build and protect a healthy culture where success can thrive – a challenge that requires a distinct skill set.

Coach Pelini does exhibit admirable traits such as competitiveness, high behavioral expectations for players, hard work, and loyalty to his coaches and players.  Yet from a MindSet perspective, there exist three glairing holes in his profile as a leader.

1)  Exceptional leaders are not just open to new learning, they are aggressive in pursuit of it! Change is something they embrace – constantly looking at past performance to examine what needs to change and being willing to consider advice and input from a variety of sources.  Coach Pelini showed few indications of being an eager learner, and seemed outright resistive – even to the point of defiance – to input from others.  A healthy ego and a commitment to your own beliefs are good things – but not when they metastasize into stubbornness.

2)  Coach Pelini often talked about “pointing the thumb,” meaning whoever he was talking about needed to take personal responsibility for failure and not point fingers at others. (For those of you who want to go a bit deeper, take a look at the psychological concepts of locus of control and attribution theory.)  Yet beyond his surface-level acceptance of accountability, Coach Pelini was himself often quick to attribute causality to external factors beyond his control, blaming a hostile media, unsupportive administration, meddlesome former players, or ignorant and unrealistic fans for his perceived failures.

Such leaders often feel put-upon, and adopt a bunker mentality that can result in an environment tainted with self-pity.  Unfortunately, such leaders are often able to draw in those immediately around them.  Such followers will accede to the leader’s pronouncements that they are indeed operating within an unjust and hostile environment – creating a cloistered and eventually toxic culture that mistakenly advances the belief that all they have is one another to rely upon.  Intense intragroup loyalty results – but it is a seething form of loyalty that devolves into an ever more inwardly-focused, isolated culture that rejects outside input (or even support!), and impedes growth and lasting success.

This is a pattern often seen in work environments.  A given supervisor will make himself or herself out to be a hero by blatantly defending the workgroup from wicked outside forces such as upper management.  Such a leader will toss their superiors under the bus for the short-term benefit of ingratiating themselves with their direct reports.  Silos then begin to appear within the organization and communication between divisions deteriorates into a battle of us versus them.

3)  Coach Pelini’s largest red flag as a leader would seem to be his inability to control anger – and sometimes rage – a characteristic that is seldom helpful in a leader.

Using MindSet’s Conquering Thoughts analysis, we can speculate what might be the genesis of this challenge for Coach Pelini.  MindSet uses the term cognitive blunders to denote deeply seated belief systems that if not mitigated, will cause a leader to have intense emotional and behavioral reactions that will a) inhibit their ability to maintain rational thought and sound decision making, and b) have a negative impact on the work environment and staff members with whom they work.

Coach Pelini appears to be saddled with the cognitive blunder of I Crave Justice.  When events or situations occur which seemed unjust to him, the emotional reaction is often fury – whether that be an inappropriate question from the media, a bad call from an official, a player out of position, an action by University administration, or fans that didn’t stay until the last play of the game.  Coach Pelini appears to see himself as a tough guy – but given his external attribution for bad outcomes, he saw a work setting in Nebraska that was unjustly hostile to his success – an external world that was preventing him from getting the success and respect he deserved.  The subsequent fury likely degraded his ability to make rational decisions, and his behavior surely must have had a chilling impact on those around him.

But let’s be more positive and optimistic for this New Year.

The new head football coach at Nebraska is Mike Riley.  Coming from Oregon State, where football has little to no tradition, few would argue that moving to what is considered a “blue-blood football school” constitutes a substantial change for Coach Riley to a bigger stage offering far greater prestige and resources.  Given that, it is illuminating to notice how Coach Riley responded to a media question at his introductory press conference – and at the time I heard it, I will admit I cringed!  My initial reaction was that Coach Riley missed an opportunity to ingratiate himself with Nebraska fans (known affectionately as Husker Nation).  But the more I have considered it – and contrasted Coach Riley’s response to the attitude and behavior of Coach Pelini – I have come to see this following Q and A as an indication of a HUGE, and beneficial, change in leadership.  Here is the question and his response:

Q from Press:  What do you think of the difference between Nebraska and Oregon State in terms of resources?  Coach Riley’s Response:  “You know, I think that resource-wise I tend to be one of those guys that looks at the bright side.  So what you have you enhance, and what you don’t have you try to make better.  So it’s not really comparing or contrasting because that’s not important to me.”

With this response, Coach Riley passed up the chance to put into perspective some of his achievements at Oregon State despite a lack of resources – to have talked about the uneven playing field he may have faced.  But he did not – nor did he say anything that could be construed as anything but respectful and appreciative for his years at Oregon State: “I have to say here that I am very thankful for all the folks that I got to work with at Oregon State…. I got a lot more from Oregon State than they got from me.”

These responses, as well as everything I have seen said about Coach Riley from those who have worked with and covered him in the media, suggest that this is a man who attributes his success and failure to his own efforts, seldom focuses on disadvantages or small affronts, actively looks for growth opportunities, and accepts bumps in the road with calm and humility.

We don’t yet know if fresh leadership in Lincoln will result in better football outcomes, but as MindSet constantly reminds, we do know that culture is created and maintained by leadership.  It is going to be interesting to watch Coach Riley, and the group of coaches he gathers around him, as they set out to unwind some of what has been done by the previous leader.

Personal Note:  From all of us at MindSet, we hope that 2015 brings you great success and happiness.