Friday, June 26, 2009

Pickup Basketball and Company Crisis, Lenses Into True Colors

(heads up since this post has religious references)

"An entrepreneur shows his true colors in a period of crisis, not in a period when everybody is having success." — Giorgio Armani on the opening of his new $40 million Manhattan store in the middle of the recession.

When I saw this quote in Fortune magazine a couple of weeks ago, I immediately thought of personal experiences seeing people for who they are under intense, competitive athletic contests, such as pickup basketball. The mild mannered guy in my dorm or the well-liked summer intern became complete morons on the basketball court. One of them was a raving lunatic who prompted me to say outloud, "Who are you?"

In some cases you can excuse rude and unsportsmanlike conduct due to ignorance, especially if the offender rarely played basketball. But for those who knew how to play, there was no excuse or cover from the clear lens that pickup basketball provided into the character of people. On the basketball court, tortoise shells disappear and your character is naked for people to see. If someone you knew was already labeled as a prick, playing a few pickup basketball games confirmed these truths and probably enhanced your perception of their character deficiencies. It’s like bad skin in HDTV, pockmarks look like craters and wrinkles like canyons.

The same goes for crisis situations in a company, especially if you’re an owner or executive. The more at risk you feel, the more your raw emotions and character comes out. Are you going to step up and execute or are you going to fade away from the challenge? Are you going to remain a supportive team member or are you going to succumb, pointing fingers and backstabbing your colleagues?

One company I was advising had an executive with a sterling reputation; The ultimate “nice guy” loved by everyone in his past firms. But he never encountered a downturn in his prior companies. When this company came under financial distress, his true colors were revealed. He became like a man in the desert for 40 days without water. Nothing mattered besides his own reputation and stake in the company. Some of the employees were wondering who Mr. Hyde was that was sitting in Dr. Jekyll’s corner office. He shifted his responsibilities to his colleagues as he looked for his next position, which created more distress on the company. The company needed him to step up instead of trying to step out. He left before the company survived and turned the corner from their crisis.

This reminded me of Peter’s denial of Jesus during the intense episode of his arrest. Peter denied his association with Jesus three times because he was fearful of also being arrested and possibly facing death. Peter denied his greatest responsibility and commitment during this time of crisis.

Then he began to call down curses on himself and he swore to them, “I don’t know the man!”

Immediately a rooster crowed. Then Peter remembered the word Jesus had spoken: “Before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times.” And he went outside and wept bitterly.” — Matthew 26: 74-75

Is your company going through a crisis in this downturn? How are you responding? Are you satisfied with your performance? What areas can you improve upon? Are these situations allowing for a period of self-reflection? Would your colleague say these times are bringing out the best in you…or the worst? How do you know that?

Originally posted at InsideWork.

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