Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Fans and Critics

This weekend is probably my favorite sporting weekend of the entire year as a sports fan. The NFL Division Championship games, to decide who plays in the Super Bowl, are usually better games than the big one, with teams who know each other and one has a clear home-field advantage (The Super Bowl is played in different cities decided on in advance and there is only a 1 in 16 chance one of the teams involved will be in their home city). I've even sworn a verbal agreement with my wife to clean as much as she wants so long as there will be zero distraction during the game.

It's interesting because as a fan- I get very passionate about these affairs (my wife has put the kibosh on ever watching Buffalo Bills games with me again). As an athlete, you get such a charge out of a cheering crowd - it really does have the potential to lift your performance to the next level. On the flip side- professional athletes must learn to separate themselves from too much hype (and buying into that) or too much criticism on the other side. It's an interesting conundrum, and one that actually affects us all.

Success as we know, brings attention. Strike a million dollar deal for your employer, and chances are you have fans (your boss, potential other employers, industry analysts, etc) as well as critics (jealous co-workers, etc).

It's interesting to note that in many cases, the more responsibility you take on; that is, the harder you work - the fewer fans you have and the more critics you gain. Think back to the NFL example.

How many people will be cheering for the underdog Philadelphia Eagles this weekend? millions.
How many people will cheer their do-it-all running back Brian Westbrook? millions.
How many people will be cheering for their head coach Andy Reed? hundreds.
How many people will be cheering for their owner Jeff Lurie? hundreds? tens? anyone?

The same example rings true in customer service. A great leader will put others in the spotlight. Those people, if they do a great job - deserve a lot of credit.They usually get all of it. In many cases, even if they do not do a great job - they are not held responsible. The best example would be the waiter/ service rep/ etc who may be personable but complains of their wage. How many people out there feel sorry for them and assume their employer is cheap, and how many people realize that this is a disgruntled employee and wage should never be discussed with customers?

The point of the above example is not to have people feel sorry for the boss. They usually do make more money, in many cases they do less of the front line work, and they accept a greater level of responsibility with that title.

No instead of being directed at customers to get them to lighten up judgement, this message goes out to leaders. The cheering will go the way of the front line worker and that's actually a good thing - it serves as a source of motivation and job satisfaction. What the leader must remember is that they started their role as a leader with vision. A vision for themselves and a vision for the company.

It is that vision, and not other people's opinions, that must be the guiding light; the barometer, of how you are doing. If you base your decisions and your job satisfaction on other's approval- you'll never be successful and you'll never have fans.

Stick to your vision. Collect advice from others you see as successful, not the popular opinion. Get second opinions. Collect feedback in meaningful constructive ways (not just approval ratings). And then relentlessly execute your vision until your achievements silence even the loudest critics. It's the only way to pack the seats, and believe me - the NFL teams this weekend get that.

If they listened to the fans - they'd air it out every down going for the big play. While that's nice to see - it's short term thinking and planning. By instead committing to win, the coaches pack the seats through their vision. Because whether they like the coach or not - everybody likes a winner and that's why the seats will be full this weekend, Hail Mary pass or not.

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