Tim McCarthy and the Business of Good

Newsletter: Success in the Balance

Jun 15, 2009 5:17:00 AM / by Tim McCarthy

Successful organizations are more about hard work and effectively deploying people than they are about great ideas.  Great ideas must be balanced by great work ethic, leadership and a balanced approach to people. [more]

Balance, I believe, is critical to success, in life and in business.

To be healthy, we must be disciplined and balanced about simple things like diet, exercise and rest.

Business wise, balancing financial with human concerns; self interest with others' interest are constant challenges.

Here's the problem I've noticed: consistent balance and discipline are boring!

The extremes, out on those edges where I spent much of my youth, are much more exciting and create better stories.

I'm asked frequently to recount the history of my twenty year odyssey in building a very successful business. It's always tempting to tell my audience a tale that is "based on" a true story. That is, I'm tempted to cite the moments that I made (in retrospect) a good decision as a "moment of genius." I could weave a yarn, and do at times, that makes business success look more exciting, and therefore more brilliant, than it actually was.

Business success for me was a day to day slog; working very hard, paying very close attention to detail and balancing the myriad interests of clients, employees, vendors, bankers and myself.

My business success was actually not even about me. It was about balancing my own strengths and weaknesses with the individual strengths and weaknesses of the team we assembled over those twenty years.

I got to thinking about this when I was reading a post-mortem on the Cleveland Cavaliers, whose season ended recently with a loss in the NBA championship semi-finals. While it's hard for me to use a millionaires' club sports team to discuss the business of good, the Cavs have a lesson for all of us who want to be part of winning organizations.

Most people only hear about our superduperstar, LeBron James. To most people, he is the sole reason for the current success of this previously moribund franchise.

That is simply not true. And I believe LeBron would be the first to tell you that it's not just him but the balance of power and distribution of roles among five parties: their owner, general manager, coach, superstar and other players.

The Cav's owner is a guy named Dan Gilbert. He grew a billion dollar mortgage business (Quicken Loans) with hard work and attention to detail. Despite the crash in housing, his company still prospers. Quicken's corporate team disciplines must have been in place and in balance.

In basketball, Gilbert sees his role as the banker, visionary and risk manager. Unlike most billionaire sports owners, he focuses on what he's does well - business - and leaves the basketball decisions to GM Danny Ferry.

Danny Ferry's overriding and publicly proclaimed focus is to build the organization on character and culture and fit. That's something anyone might say but Ferry does it. And it is no doubt difficult to balance players' interests when one player - LeBron James - dominates the national as well as local spotlight.

An old boss once said to me, "If you want to build a great choir, you don't start by hiring a soloist."

James' presence also makes Coach Mike Brown's job trickier. On superstar dominated teams, the star often overwhelms the coach.

When Brown arrived four years ago, LeBron was already here. Despite the presence of a superstar, Coach Brown announced that his priority is team defense, which of course is not what most superstars want to hear.

And of course there is LeBron himself. I've studied the game for 40+ years and seen dozens of superstars. But I've seen very few - Michael Jordan, Tim Duncan, Magic Johnson and Larry Bird are the only ones I can think of - whose self interest clearly includes team goals and winning it all.

And so, Dan Gilbert works on building new practice facilities and creating great game presentations.

Ferry focuses on bringing in talent that fits his overall plan. (Last season he even said "no" to Gilbert and James on trading for aging superstar Jason Kidd. It had to be tough for the owner and the superstar to respect Ferry's role and accept his decision.

And Coach Brown's defense-first philosophy has made James, who was an average defender at best four years ago, a member of the 2009 All-NBA first team defense.

LeBron? He focuses on team balance so much that he's criticized by reporters when he passes up game winning shots. To his critics, he says, "Get used to it. I'm not going to change. If I see my teammate has a better shot than me, I'm going to pass the ball."

What do the Cavs teach winning non-profit and for-profit organizations?

Start with a plan; define each role within that plan; then seek the discipline of balancing all interests as you proceed and amend your plan.

No one party in a winning organization can dominate if they are to be successful - everyone's interest and talents must be served and used in balance.

No matter what our goal might be.

Tags: Monthly Newsletter, Professional Growth and Development, Communication & Relationships

Tim McCarthy

Written by Tim McCarthy