The Leaders Notebook

Hard questions, ambiguity and opinion for leaders

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We See What We Are Looking For

May 25th, 2010 · No Comments · Great Questions, Playing a Bigger Game

The World Cup begins next week in Africa.  Ironically, according to a recent publicity poll, about 30% of those reading this blog post from the U.S. do not know what I am talking about.

The FIFA World Cup is possibly the largest and best known single sporting event on the globe.  Literally billions of people follow the international football/ soccer event with an intensity and team loyalty that we in the U.S. reserve for college football.  While commerce slows and fortunes rise and fall based on the performance of teams at the world cup, the U.S. remains the only developed country that is so statistically oblivious.  How is it possible for us to be so largely unaffected and unaware of an event this important to most of the world?  Despite references in major media, the recruitment of David Beckham to a U.S. team  and a new generation of kids who have played soccer from childhood, we are still largely nonplussed.  We even hosted the World Cup and much of the country was oblivious.  So, what is the point?

If that is possible, how likely is it that there are major events happening in your own organization that are all but invisible.  Is there a financial policy that is too tight, allowing a compromised piece of safety equipment to go without repair?  How about a risk management standard that allows for too much exposure?  Perhaps there is even a part of the organization involved in lines of business that leadership is completely unaware of,  All of these examples as you no doubt have already noticed come from recent business news.

We in the U.S. do not put the same attention on the World Cup because teh game is not deeply embedded in our culture.  Everyone has areas that they are interested in and feel comfortable with and others that are less familiar.  Our natural tendency is to pay more attention to what we know and be less vigilant about parts of the business with which we are unfamiliar.  One CEO I work with came up through finance.  Even after 4 years in the big chair, he still has a financial view of the business.  Recently, she authorized a new GL system when the service organization was desperate for help and she is infamous for reviewing the financial aspects of all new proposals first.  Sometimes, she does not even read the narrative.

No leader can be everywhere and certainly no one should expect to be an expert in everything.   That is why teams are effective governance organizations and why we have boards of directors.  But the savvy leader is willing to put time and attention into what is not his strong suit- both to learn and to avoid nasty surprises.  And if you think that important things cannot be invisible at the corporate office as well as in sport, have a look at what some of these CEO’s discovered by going undercover at their own companies.

Oh, and by the way, the U.S. does have a team at the World Cup.  We open against England on June 6.  More information here.

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