Dear CMO:

I realize there are members of your extended team over the Atlantic who may not be intimately familiar with “American Football”, so I apologize in advance for any American ethnocentrisms that may manifest itself in this note. I’m sure there’s a FIFA analogy to be had somewhere, but I’d be the last to find it for you. Substitute at your convenience.

For those who aren’t familiar, and to further illuminate the subject for those on the team on our side of the world, the above photo is of LeVar Arrington. Former Washington Redskin, and now former New York Giant. “Mister Nickels, school of hard knocks.” Known in the Redskin press guide simply as, “The Beast.” The guy who sent Troy Aikman blissfully and semi-consciously into retirement. The best linebacker in the NFL. Currently unemployed, injured, and at the ripe old age of 27, contemplating retirement.

LeVar appears to be the physical embodiment of unlimited potential. A frustrated leader, a benched starter, a star player backing up a nobody and wondering why he’s not on the field making plays. A victim of politics? A round peg in a square hole? I don’t know. If it’s the former, it’s a shame; if it’s the latter, fix the hole.

I bring up LeVar because he’s a powerful metaphor. That, and I’m a Redskin fan, and once a Redskin, always a Redskin. But back to the metaphor thing. LeVar evokes memories of people, projects and even companies with which I’ve been associated in years past. I can recall two instances where I walked away from a job thinking, “what a shame… this company could really be something IF…” Ever worked with a guy who was loaded with creativity, passion, charisma… but who didn’t get along with the boss’s boss? Ever seen a project that was a license to print money that was spiked or pidgeon-holed because it “wasn’t invented here“?

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Key Takeaways:

> It’s our job as manager of people to find ways of extracting the right performance out of the right people. When you’re faced with a 260 lb. diamond in a bit of rough, it’s your job to figure out how to make it (or him) work in the system, harness the passion, and then let the bullets fly. Sometimes you have to find the right system to get the most performance out of a team. Sometimes it happens all by itself.

> Team chemistry is more important than individual performers every time. Don’t get me wrong. Graveyards are full of indispensable men. But this is no excuse for not finding ways of integrating those indispensable men into a cohesive group. If it can’t be done, it can’t be done — but it needs trying. But that’s OK. You’ve got the time. That’s your job as a manager.

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Back to Robert Ardrey again, who raises a fascinating point about territory defence which I find a very thought provoking parallel for “the office”. Most observed species will prioritize the defence of their exclusive territories from interlopers of their own kind before they will defend their young from attack by natural predators. I’d rather make sure another male competing for my piece of turf is shown off than stop a snake from eating my young. I can always have more young — but my ego’s a bit fragile. That’s how important intra-species territory defence is. Is there a parallel in the modern enterprise, football franchise or not? Maybe.

So the rhetorical questions to all of us is, “how do we channel our own inner LeVar?” Who or what does the LeVar metaphor fit? Can you integrate and harness a super player or a ground breaking new project, or is the inertia of “not invented here” going to drag it to the ground?




Copyright (c) 2007 Stephen Denny


PS: Rumor has it that while he’s still in rehab for the Achilles injury, he might be signing with the Rams. Update us all if you know differently. And I’ve always wanted to blog on LeVar. But, like avoiding politics, I try to keep my eye on the marketing ball here.