Accountability, business literacy, Distributing organizational power

Football has long been a big part of my life. I played in high school, was a scholarship athlete at Miami University, and coached high school football in my first career as a public school teacher. So I was particularly interested in a recent NPR interview with New York Jets head coach Rex Ryan, who mentioned a guiding principle we believe has strong benefits for business leaders and managers.

In the interview, and in his new book Play Like You Mean It, Ryan boils down his foundational coaching strategy to one elegant sentence: “Everybody is in the same room, and there is accountability because you all know each others’ jobs.”
NY Jets Coach Rex Ryan

Everyone in the room, at the same time.

As defensive coach at the Baltimore Ravens, for instance, he didn’t meet with groups of defensive players depending on their roles or positions — the entire defense was in the room at the same time, each player learning to understand the roles of his teammates. Ryan carries on this philosophy as the Jets’ head coach.

“It may sound complicated [but] it’s not,” Ryan says. And his simple approach works. Since Ryan took over the struggling Jets in 2009, the team twice has been within one game of the Super Bowl.

He says his philosophy was influenced by seeing some of the mistakes made by his legendary father, Buddy Ryan, who worked as head coach for the Philadelphia Eagles and the Arizona Cardinals. “He was more strictly isolated on players,” whereas the younger Ryan’s goal is making developing and strengthening the entire organization.

Coach Ryan’s approach is one we long have used in our work — we also consider it foundational. It is another iteration of what we call business literacy. Our experience and others’ has shown that a key element to business success is helping everyone in the organization see and understand the big picture. This means setting up mindful processes and procedures that foster in-depth knowledge of how the business operates, and the environment in which it must thrive. It means everyone acknowledge and strengthen the interdependencies required for the success of the whole. When people are committed to serving each other, their customers and learning together, it not only enhances results, it helps create meaning and purpose at work.

In Rex Ryan’s world, players develop interdependent thinking and understanding through this “whole system” approach. Coaches supply team members with in-depth information, along with a framework and strategy for engagement. This is tested and refined while preparing for games. This environment creates collective wisdom, and the sum becomes greater than its parts.

Leaders would benefit from embracing this simple principle. Make it your personal mission to build a stronger team by distributing business information from top to bottom, side to side. Begin meeting regularly as a whole system/unit. Create a culture of transparency and interdependency. Foster collective wisdom.

It might not get you to the Super Bowl, but it will get you better results.


Written by Maren and Jamie Showkeir

Owners of henning-showkeir & associates, inc., and co-authors of Authentic Conversations: Moving from Manipulation to Truth and Commitment.


David Sokol, a top Berkshire Hathaway executive who once was speculated to be Warren Buffett’s next-in-line, resigned under a cloud when it was revealed he purchased $10 million worth of Lubrizol stock a day after he set in motion a merger with Berkshire. The company’s acquisition of Lubrizol for $9 billion increased Sokol’s holding by $3 million. Although Buffett initially defended Sokol, at a shareholder’s meeting on April 30, he called Sokol’s actions “inexcusable” and “incomprehensible.”

What got our attention about this coverage was the nattering in a New York Times article on April 23, which quoted a series of experts who wondered whether Buffett’s management style is too “hands off.” It cites a paper from Stanford University’s Graduate School of business: “Did Sokol’s actions reveal shortcomings in the company’s governance system that need to be addressed?” We think it’s the wrong question, and illuminates the thinking that has created and fostered the entrenched parent-child cultures that are so damaging to organizations.

This is fed by the mythology that one person can be in charge of another’s accountability. If Sokol’s actions were unethical (as most agree they were), why speculate about whether Buffett’s hands-off management style is to blame? The fact is, a trusted leader made a choice to behave in an unethical way. Unless Buffett was actively encouraging an unethical culture, why castigate his management style? Would a more stringent management style have prevented that from happening? Maybe. And maybe not: All kinds of abuses and unethical behavior can and have emerged in hierarchical, strictly controlled business environments.

Buffett also announced at the shareholder meeting that he had no plans to become a “stricter parent” in the wake of Sokol’s resignation. It would be a shame if he had. Many people have extolled the generally ethical environment at Berkshire Hathaway. As Berkshire’s vice chairman, Charles Munger, pointed out, “We’ve had a close brush with scandal two times in 50 years. We’re not going to devote a lot of time to this.”

Buffett’s business philosophy, as outlined in a recent Vanity Fair article, has long been to let the leaders of Berkshire Hathaway’s subsidiaries run things as they think best, based on their experience and expertise. The company is decentralized and the responsibility for operations rests solely in the hands of local managers. And this clearly hasn’t inhibited Berkshire Hathaway’s success.

Can promoting this kind of management freedom result in abuses and bad choices? Of course! (And it also presents opportunities to learn from the fallout.) But when a smart, experienced adult chooses to behave in an ethically questionable way, the blame should land squarely on the person who made the choice, not on the boss for being a “bad parent.”


Written by Maren and Jamie Showkeir

Owners of henning-showkeir & associates, inc., and co-authors of Authentic Conversations: Moving from Manipulation to Truth and Commitment.


The first newspaper I worked for as a freshly minted journalist had a monthly bulletin that doled out kudos and critiques to the writers and editors. We would applaud our colleagues for snappy headlines, great writing, and beating the competition on a news story. We were invited to nominate the best news and feature articles, with the final winners chosen by a committee. It shined a light on the unsung heroes of the copy desk, publishing the mistakes they caught before our readers ever them, and helping us learn what not to do again. It also pointed out the mistakes that did get through, and areas that needed improvement. Everyone was encouraged to contribute.

One of the monthly “awards” I have learned to particularly appreciate over the years was called The Good Try that Didn’t Work.

Our editor, Max Jennings, believed passionately in helping us learn to take the initiative to try something different. Whether we were crafting a story, photographing a news event, or designing a page, Max didn’t want us to be afraid to butt our heads against perceived boundaries. And he wanted to make sure we celebrated attempts to push beyond our comfort zones, even when those attempts fell flat. One of his favorite sayings was, “If it ain’t broke, let’s break it so we can fix it.” It used to drive us crazy, and we used to tease him that his motto should be “Ready, Fire, Aim.” But his influence fostered one of the most dynamic, creative, passionate organizations I have ever worked in.

I was reminded of this when I saw that Seth Godin had released another book called Poke the Box. In a Q&A published on his Amazon book page, he says that conformity once was crucial to success, but compliance has become a killer in today’s competitive world. “We need to be nudged away from conformity and toward ingenuity. Even if we fail … we learn what not to do by experience and doing the new.”

So take the initiative to try something completely different. Maybe it will be a mistake. If it is, you will still have a reason to learn and celebrate.


Written by Maren and Jamie Showkeir

Owners of henning-showkeir & associates, inc., and co-authors of Authentic Conversations: Moving from Manipulation to Truth and Commitment.


Constancy and consistency are rare in relationships, whether at work, in families or among friends. As we grow and change, it makes sense that some relationships might no longer fit so well. Letting go of those that no longer serve us could be the answer. But when we want or need relationships, we can renegotiate boundaries or ground rules.

At work, for instance, you may not have the option of abandoning a relationship that isn’t working well. In a family or friendship, a sense of history and love keeps you bound, but you want to shift the ways you relate. A conversation of renewal can help.

Here is an outline of a conversation based on two people who have a history of being indirect — or even untruthful — about how they really feel, which has eroded trust. When having this conversation, authentically choosing goodwill and connection is foundational.

* Be clear about the purpose of the conversation: “I want to talk with you about some difficulties (or changes I’d like to see) in our relationship. Are you willing?”
* Name the issue: “My experience is we don’t feel comfortable telling each other the truth.”
* Ask for their views of the issue and your contribution: “How do you see the situation? What have I contributed to the lack of trust between us?”
* Extend understanding and own your contribution: “You’re right. I haven’t always been honest for fear of losing the relationship. In addition, sometimes I have told you one thing, and then talked to others about how I really feel.”
* Frame choices about how to proceed: “The way I see it, we can continue this way or make conscious changes to create trust in our relationship. That’s what I would like. What choices do you see?”
* State your intention to make it work: “I am committing to tell you the truth as I see it, and to hear the truth from you without getting defensive or combative.”
* Ask for agreement and commitment: “Are you willing to make a similar commitment? Are there other commitments you see we should be making here?”
* Talk about future steps or another conversation: “My intention is to start changing today. But I’d like to keep this conversation going. How would you like to proceed?”

Changes won’t happen overnight — and forgiveness and letting go of the past are essential. But this conversation is a great start for living out your intentions authentically. It will create relationships you can believe in with the people who are important to you.


Written by Maren and Jamie Showkeir

Owners of henning-showkeir & associates, inc., and co-authors of Authentic Conversations: Moving from Manipulation to Truth and Commitment.