Coaching in Awkward Situations


Coaching moments are not always obvious. What might start out as a humorous, questionable, or awkward situation may evolve into a perfect opportunity to step back and provide some impactful advice and counsel.

Our team’s global teleconference calls frequently provided just that chance. We regularly had ~300 people from more than 10 countries and 50 locations on our quarterly updates. Our operations reviews had slightly fewer participants.

You know the drill – regular, virtual meetings to update everyone on the progress and activities of the organization.

Typically, you learn to recognize voices quickly. Regardless, many insist on continuing to re-introduce themselves to the audience that already knows them well. “Yes, Emily, please continue.”

You also learn speakers’ habits … especially of those who participate frequently. Some speakers may have speech patterns or verbal ticks that can become annoying to some audiences. Some may even become chat-room fodder for the distracted teleconference meeting participants.

Let’s start here.


Saying Um

When Opportunity Strikes

Conference calls can be tough. Staying on track and being both effective and efficient with time is a challenge. Echoes due to poor phone connections, background noises, the unintentional use of the mute button, and questions such as “Can you go back one slide?” make achieving all of the call’s goals difficult.

One of our peer directors that had a key role in cross-organizational communications was required to speak often; he regularly led the conference calls. He had one of those vocal habits that grated on people, like fingernails on a chalkboard: he constantly used filler expressions. Filler expressions are useless words or phrases that create a pause in the conversation such as, “I mean” or “you know.” If used infrequently, they are less obvious as audiences usually focus on digesting key messages rather than analyzing every single word streaming from the speaker’s mouth.

Most of us are prone to use a filler word or two. Like, I mean, you know, those words that do, er, absolutely nothing for the content of the conversation other than creating an, um, you know, annoying or distracting pause. Right?

Derek’s vocalized pause of choice was “Um” and he said it quite often. Actually, he said “um” so often that nearly everyone on our calls became absorbed with keeping and posting the “count” on a subgroup instant message thread during our 100+ person calls.

“10! 25! 50!” And, so it went. Needless to say, this little “joke” got old fast and meetings devolved to the point where we all thought, “I hope Derek is not speaking today.” Unfortunately, he always did speak and everyone continued to keep score, whether consciously or subconsciously.

During one such two-hour meeting the count neared 100. Something had to be done. Instead of Derek’s intended message coming through to the audience, the “ums” seemed to completely obscure his important business communications.

What should be done about this?


Stop Saying Um Star Trek

Time to Coach

I thought about this for a bit after one call and felt terrible that one of my peers was unknowingly being mocked due to something that many speakers suffer from, so I called his office.

“Hey, Derek. What did you think of that call?” We chatted for a few minutes. “Derek, I have a question for you. Has anyone ever given you feedback about your speaking style?” “No, Michael, no one has. Why?”

I knew Derek well and I was confident that he wouldn’t mind my ribbing him so I decided to use his filler word of choice in my explanation.

“Derek, um, I want to share something about, um, the way you, um, speak during our calls. Um, you have a tendency to, um, say ‘um’ often. In fact, way too often.”

No one had ever bothered to share this issue with Derek. I was nervous at first, but he took it well. His involvement in our organization and business meetings was too important for his communications problem to be treated as flippantly as it had been.

Derek asked, “What should I do about it?” I inquired if he had ever considered Toastmasters. He hadn’t. I suggested that he seriously consider joining them and added that the company would probably pay for it.

He thanked me with deep sincerity and an also-noticeable degree of embarrassment. I told him that he’d do just fine!

Derek enrolled in Toastmasters shortly after the conversation. I told our boss what I had spoken to Derek about to ensure that the idea would gain traction.


Bad Habits Die Hard

And In the End

I shared the conversation with several of the scorekeepers over the next few weeks so that the background games would stop. Improving the habit of using filler words takes time.

At first, Derek’s pauses were more awkward than natural as he focused intently on reducing the “ums” that had infiltrated prior conversations. Sometimes improvement comes after a step or two back. By the time six months had elapsed, he was well on the way to being completely de-ummed.

At one point later that year we were together and discussed what he had been doing. Joining Toastmasters was a seminal moment for him. It had dramatically improved his speaking pattern in several ways and he was grateful that someone had been brave enough to make him aware of this habit. The conference call tracking games were now ancient history.


Making It Work … For You

What made this coaching experience successful? First, it started with a clear example of an issue to be resolved. Second, it was addressed during a private conversation because coaching is best done one-on-one as it keeps the recipient from becoming defensive or embarrassed. Third, the approach was rooted in trust, authentic concern and support. Derek had no reason to question my motives for speaking with him despite the levity of the approach I had elected to use.

As a professional, colleague, or leader, one has to remain conscious of what transpires in a given setting. Coaching moments rarely advertise themselves with bright, flashing neon lights. Most of the time, they are more subtle such as in the story above where they may present themselves in a more embarrassing or awkward manner.

True coaches and mentors do not shy away from these opportunities. Rather, they address the situation as a coach or advisor should, directly and candidly with the coachee. More often than not these opportunities develop into a successful endeavor.

It is very important to remain aware of the environment in which you and your colleagues are in. The subtle undertones of office humor may actually be a sign of the need for coaching intervention. The next time you encounter a situation that may require coaching, identify the issue, devise a plan, and, as a team, come up with a solution.


Michael Massetti is an Executive Partner with Gartner who really does enjoy being a supply chain professional! Seriously. All opinions are my own.

Additional articles about coaching and leadership from Michael …


Dear Dad …

Dear Dad,

Happy Father’s Day. The last time we got to spend Father’s Day together was 1979, a very long time ago. I was not yet 22. Just over one year later, you left us. It seems like forever ago. More time has passed since you died than the time I got to spend with you. We missed the best of times – the transition of a hyper-active, over-achieving first son into manhood and fatherhood.

You left suddenly on July 27, 1980 after a very long battle with heart disease. The same ugly disease that took your mom when you were only 9, your oldest brother before he turned 40, and your youngest sister. Thankfully, that gene seems to have been thwarted.


I was driven by you from as young an age as I can recall to be successful. No matter how well I did, “You can do better, Michael” was what you told me. It’s never left my psyche. I compete with myself to this day – sometimes that’s been great for me, others not so much.

I always wanted to live up to whatever hopes and expectations you had for me. I put the picture of you and me sitting on a dormitory bed at Notre Dame after the graduation ceremony in 1979 on social media every year. I know how proud that made you, you never got to finish high school. And, the one with us wearing hats on our couch with the caption “Men in hats!”

I never got to hear directly from you about how proud of me you were. Mom always told me when we reminisced about you. I learned a lot about it at your wake and funeral when the long line of friends and colleagues you had paid tribute. It did not take away the sting of your death.

I never got to call you when those life’s moments faced me and I was not really sure what to do. I never got to call you when celebrating a great moment, like the birth of my two daughters. They never got to see either grandfather as both of you died well before your times. Trust me, there were many times I needed to call you …

What lingered in my mind too long was the summer after 4th grade when you punished me to write “I must be good and I will be good” after a school year of straight A grades but “Not Acceptable” in conduct – I was very hyperactive and not challenged in school. Nevertheless, it was a very long summer being stuck in the house every day. Regardless, I knew you were serious.


What I know now that I did not know then is that you developed in me a very strong sense of self-confidence. The hyperactivity of youth became a constant personal energy source. I am always positive with a hopeful outlook on life. If I’m known for anything, it’s the smile and infectious energy that I exude, thanks to you. You instilled that hope and faith in me while pushing hard to be the best I could be.

You’d be very proud of many of the things that I’ve accomplished in my career. You’d also be disappointed of the mistakes and bad judgments I’ve made. It’s all part of life. If there’s one thing about life that I’ve learned, it’s the fact that there are no guides to al

l the situations that you will face. “C’est la vie” is one of my overused clichés.

I wanted to be a great father, a caring and loving dad. There are many great memories for my girls but many difficult moments, too. It was almost 10 years between your death and the day I got to hear “Happy Father’s Day” said to me. It was almost more 10 years afterwards that the enormity of you being gone really struck.

I was laid off of work in 2001 but was back working in just under a year, I was fortunate. But unemployment hit me hard, harder than I could understand or admit at that time. I recalled


how hard our lives were in the mid-70s when you were out of work. I feared that moment for my own life every day since and I still do as I approach 60. It scared me more than anything had up to that point in my life.

Being out of work changed me forever, in many good ways and some bad. I really needed you then, but there was no one to call. The void was overwhelming. It was Father’s Day in 2004 that it really hit me about you being gone, I broke down and cried for what seemed like an eternity.


When I look back on our short time together, I remember the great things like the first baseball game when you and our neighbor kept laughing at the goofy jokes of the ushers. The next thing we knew, we were in the seats behind home plate for the 2nd game of the double header. Or, how we managed our way through a weekend camping trip of nothing but pouring rain.




I remember the confidence you showed as we came home from a family visit in NYC when you gave me the keys to the car during another rainstorm while mom sat white-knuckled in the backseat of the car. With rain as the theme, our drive to Notre Dame the first time was wild when we could not see past the front of the Triumph Spitfire on I80 near Cleveland. All good memories.

It’s now 2017. 60 is just down the road. I’m healthy, employed, happily married, and watched my children grow. One is on the verge of great success. The other’s path is still uncertain. I did my best to get them where they have both gotten to. I know that they have to take it from here. I just wish they had met you.

Mom died three years ago. She lived happily after you left with her second husband. It’s just me, Rick, and Joanne now. Thankfully, we’re connected to many of our cousins and your closest sister, Millie.

I just visited my wife’s dad for Father’s Day, another NYC Italian of immigrants, just like you. He’s 96 and still kicking. I call him Dad. I tell my wife how lucky she is to have him around for her entire life so far, it’s a blessing.

I am grateful for every day that I have. I’ve had a lot more time than you did and I appreciate the chance to see my family all grow. I have 2 step-grandchildren, too. What a joy that is!

Well, it’s time to call it a day. To sum it all up, I beckon the call of Frankie, your musical love that has passed on down to me. In the song that you took as your own that I have since co-opted he says, “Regrets, I have a few. But, then again, too few to mention. I did what I had to do and saw it through without exemption. And more, much more than this I did it my way!”


Love you, Dad!



From Excellence to Legendary

The 3 plays in 372 days that made Derek Jeter a baseball legend …



It’s not always easy to identify that moment in a professional athlete’s career when he or she has passed through the threshold of greatness to legend. By the time Michael Jordan finished his 3rd NBA championship, his legend was secure. For Wayne Gretzky in hockey, he transcended from prolific scorer to Stanley Cup Champion in 1984 and his legend was born. Others are defined by extended periods of greatness yet we struggle to find that moment in their career when they took that indisputable step forward.

As he waited to step into the batter’s box before the start of game four of the 2000 World Series against the New York Mets, Derek Jeter’s excellence was already established. By the time he finished his storied career, his iconic plays had been given monikers that all baseball fans knew – “The Flip”, “Mr. November”, “The Dive”, and so on. Like music fans remembering their favorite songs by the titles, Derek’s “Greatest Hits” all had names of their own.

His retirement after the 2014 season started the clock to the inevitable first ballot Hall of Fame induction in 2019. The only question is whether he’ll be voted in unanimously or not (no-one has yet achieved that in baseball).

As he readied himself, his stance, his bat, and his eyes on the pitcher that night no-one had a clue that his indelible mark on MLB’s storied history was about to be stamped on us with surgical precision.

With what was about to transpire over the next 372 days through three epic and game-determining plays, Derek Jeter would go from being an excellent shortstop on the winning-yet-again New York Yankees to a legendary shortstop on yet another dynasty in this amazing franchise’s history.

Why? Let’s explore it some more.


Game 4: 2000 World Series

The Yankees were clinging to a two games to one lead over the Mets as game four started at Shea Stadium in the 2000 World Series. The Mets held serve in game three to close the 2-0 gap to within one game of a tied series. Their late rally in game two put a scare in the Yankees – all three games were close. Would the pesky younger NY baseball siblings tie the series and make it that much more pressure-packed?

The Yankees had already won consecutive World Series titles and they were on the verge of winning the third. This game was a pivotal point for them to achieve that goal.

It happens rarely. No one ever expects it. When it happens, since it’s such a rare event, it’s always very emotional and powerful. To do it in the key game in the World Series against your crosstown rival, that’s taking it to an entirely different level.

Derek Jeter hit the very first pitch from Bobby Jones in game four of the 2000 World Series for a home run. Of course, the score was now 1-0 Yankees.

Yankees fans erupted with joy and you could feel the collective sense of Mets fans all being punched in the stomach with that hit. In one play, he turned the game and series into a Yankees 4-1 dominant performance to win their 3rd in a row and 4th in 5 years. Epic in any stretch of baseball that does not already include other Yankees’ dynasties.


“The Flip”

The 2001 MLB post-season was played under a dark cloud. Delayed by the terrible events of 9/11, baseball was hoping to generate excitement to help bring the country back together. The Yankees were again pursuing a championship. If successful, this would make 4 in a row.

The Yankees found themselves on the verge of defeat after losing two games at home against the Oakland Athletics. The A’s won two games against formidable Yankees pitching – Roger Clemens and Andy Pettitte were beat in close games. Losing two games at home and heading to the West Coast is not the script that manager Joe Torre or the team wanted.

Game 4 was another close won. Scoreless through four innings, Jorge Posada hit a home run in the top of the 5th to give the Yankees a 1-0 lead. The score remained 1-0 by the time the A’s got up in the bottom of the 7th.

Oakland was threatening the 1-0 ballgame with Mike Mussina pitching a gem. With a runner on first base, Oakland’s Terrence Long hit a ball into the right-field corner with two outs. With Jeremy Giambi rumbling around the bases towards home, the ball thrown by right-fielder Shane Spencer sailed over the heads of two cut-off men … heading towards nowhere land and a potential game-tying run.

Out of nowhere, Derek Jeter appears at a spot on the field near home plate that is nowhere near routine for a shortstop to be at that moment. Albeit, he was! He made an all-time back-handed flip to Jorge Posada to get Giambi out to end the inning and the threat. The Yankees held on to win 1-0 and eventually win the series. Disaster averted.

Jeter’s play not only saved the game, it was an instant classic for ESPN and others to play over and over again that night and to this day. It became known forever as “The Flip.”

Two down, one to go.


Mr. November

With the Yankees about to pursue their fifth World Series championship in six years and four in a row in 2001, the story had transformed from one about an all-time Major League Baseball team to a family rivalry.

The only other teams to ever have had this type of streak were the earlier historic versions of the New York Yankees. This group was attempting to stamp a dynasty rating on themselves that only their older siblings could rival. Yankees dynasties of the late 1930’s and early 1950’s had won four and five consecutive World Series, respectively. The team that had won four in the past five years had a chance to elevate themselves into the “greatest ever” debates.

Jeter was in the middle of it all and was poised to put his own mark on his role in this stretch of Yankees dominance as Mantle, DiMaggio, Gehrig and Ruth had before him. He had already proven himself with four rings, four All Star games, the never-equaled, same-season, All Star Game and World Series MVP awards, and played a leading role each season while hitting .331 over the 4-year stretch that ended in 2001.

3000 hits was years away. He had not yet emerged from “The Dive” with his face bloody. They were both years away at this moment in Derek’s career.

Then, with the unfamiliar position of being behind in the series and barely pulling out the prior win to take the series to 1-2 upon them, Jeter once again is there on center stage.

Joe Buck announced to the television audience what was shown on the big scoreboard – we were now officially playing on November 1. Everyone knew this was unchartered baseball territory.

Who made the moment his and only in the way a player could? Derek Jeter hits the home run that was heard around the world. The first home run ever hit in November in MLB’s history. It was the culmination of the lows and highs of what NYC and the USA had just gone through. Derek resurrected New York City’s spirit out of the horrible feeling that took down The Towers. And the Yankees were tied two games each with the Diamondbacks. Once again, Derek was at center-stage and delivered.

While that series ended with the Yankees losing, Derek’s legend was secure.


Cooperstown Bound

First, it was the lead-off home run against the Mets in game four of the 2000 World Series, then, it was “The Flip” in Oakland in the divisional series to save the Yankees from losing the series and then, finally, the walk off home run on November 1, 2001 against the Diamondbacks in game four at Yankee Stadium.

These three plays over the course of 372 days cemented the legend of Derek Jeter.

It was that night, that point in time on November 1, 2001 that one now realized Derek Jeter not only is but has also been an elite, legendary player who has been coming up with epic plays when it was critical for the Yankees his entire career. It’s at this instant, the culmination of 372 days and three larger-than-life moments in Derek’s history as the Yankees shortstop, that Derek Jeter became a baseball legend.

History tells us that Derek continued his greatness for thirteen more seasons – taking the Yankees to two more World Series, winning the final one in 2009. In 2011, Derek put gold plating on his already cemented legend with a home run for his 3000th hit (and went 5-5 that day, knocking in the winning run, too). On his last game ever in Yankee Stadium, he hit the game-winning, walk off hit to put that final exclamation point on his resume.

He finished his career with 3,465 hits – the most ever by a shortstop or by a NY Yankee – and number six all-time. His five World Series rings are second only to Phil Rizzuto, another NY Yankee, for shortstops. Of course, Derek’s #2 was retired by the Yankees.


Michael Massetti is a life-long NY Yankees fan and a lover of baseball. In his professional time, he is an Executive Partner with Gartner who really does enjoy being a supply chain professional! Seriously. All opinions are my own.

Your Next Career Step – Anticipate or Fear the “Fork in the Road”?


Searching for a new job these days can strike fear into anyone and test the confidence they’ve developed. Myriad applicants for on-line positions, lack of responses from inquiries, and the litany of requirements for each position pose a challenge to potential applicants. “Am I the ideal candidate they want? Will I be instantaneously disqualified for missing one or two of the requisite skills?” Jobs that appear to be great to the prospective employee may seem like a distant dream, an oasis in the desert of your career path. Is it really possible to take a fork in the road of your career?

Ideal Candidate

It was May of 2001 when I was laid off from my current employer. This was not the greatest time to be on the job market: post-Y2K economic woes in the world, the terrorist attacks on 9/11, the subsequent stock market crash, and the war on terror. Then the phone rang. I was rather undeveloped in my networking at the time as social media tools like LinkedIn were nowhere to be found and cold-calling people was not a practiced skill. Regardless, I continued to contact colleagues and friends to find that next job. I only wish I had been a bit less cavalier about my career when executive recruiters called when I was working, I really needed them now. Then the phone rang.

A colleague of mine told me about a position that he thought was right up my alley. He heard about it from a fellow employee at our last company. At this point in my career, I was a high-tech engineer/program manager looking to do something similar at my current director level or higher. The position recommended to me was Semiconductor Procurement. The second question I posed to the person who became my VP a few days later was “Why me? I have absolutely no procurement experience!” What would interest them in me taking such a new role with no apparent relevant experience?

Perfect Fit

Like many, my search had been focused on the functional roles I had experience in – engineering management, program management, and product management. It never dawned on me to try such a different profession. Why would anyone consider me even if I tried? I asked the question of my relevance for the position out of genuine interest – how could I possibly be of value to them with no purchasing skills? Two things coalesced to send me down the other fork in the career journey. One, the company and the VP were trying to solve a specific problem for their organization. Two, they decided that procurement skills were secondary to the technology experience. This is where I came in.

Despite some of the difficulties in the job search world cited earlier, it is critically important to keep your mind and eyes wide open. Examine all of your skills and experiences thoroughly. While it may seem that they all converge into one entity – you – there are really multiple possibilities for that same you. As many excellent career coaches implore us all to do, look at what you have accomplished and what problems you have solved. Do not sell yourself short. Then cast a reasonably wide net for your search criteria – you never know when that call will come or a new door will open!

A green freeway sign with the words Stay the Course, and an attached yellow sign with the words Take a Risk

It’s now 13 years since that call came for me. My career in supply chain has been tremendously rewarding and has created opportunities that I did not know existed prior to the new career trajectory. As an executive who has both recruited and been recruited I know that not every company or hiring manager is as flexible as I experienced. However, that should never hold you back. The type of company that is not interested in alternative candidates may very well not be the type of place you want to work anyway.

Stay nimble and keep an open mind so that you can position yourself to anticipate, not fear, a potential fork in the road!

Career Success


Michael A. Massetti is a supply chain executive who has led, coached, mentored and developed many talented individuals. He was AMD’s executive sponsor for the University of Texas Supply Chain Management Consortium and interacted with students for 5 years. Michael recruited and mentored many graduates into AMD’s organization.

Michael’s LinkedIn Profile

Trailblazing & The Danger Zone – Musings of a Mentor

Leaders are almost always in a position to coach and mentor. Rarely a day goes by when an opportunity to mentor others is not available. The chance to formally mentor an individual is something to cherish. It is so exciting to help a person who wants to grow and who looks for your guidance.

What follows are a couple of short stories about two individuals I had the privilege of coaching and mentoring. The stories will highlight the critical junctures in their careers that I was involved in. They will go by their pseudonyms Jobs (the trailblazer) and Maverick (the danger zone).


Blaze the trail or follow the beaten path?

I met Jobs at the local university. We developed a relationship over a 3-year period and met regularly to discuss his projects and progress. He was a member of the leadership development program and formal mentorship was expected.

By the end of the second year, the participants were ready to leave the rotation program and begin a “real” career in the organization of their choice. Jobs was the third person I worked with to make the decision.

“Michael, which position do you think I should take?” Clearly, my role as the mentor was not to answer this question directly.

“So, tell me about each role, Jobs. How do you describe what you are choosing between?”

The first one would insert Jobs into a role that had been played by another person. He would pick up where that employee left off and follow the trail that was in place – well defined and smooth.

The second one was to join a brand new team that was part of the company’s transformation driven by the new CEO. It was not fully defined. It was definitely like going out to ski on a fresh, pure, uninterrupted field of snow – the trail was yours to carve out anew.

“So, Jobs, do you want to reap what others have sewn or do you want to blaze a new trail? If you can answer that question, then the position that you should take will be abundantly clear.”

As a sales person would look at it, do you want to hunt for new customers or harvest existing ones?

Jobs eventually decided to be a trailblazer. With the choice framed differently for him, Jobs was able to look at where he was in his career and make the best choice himself.

As the mentor, it was not my role to decide, but to help elucidate the facets of the choice in front of him.

 Danger Zone

Fly into the danger zone?

Maverick had been with the company for almost 10 years. His roles had evolved from engineering into supply chain. He performed well in all of them. He reported to me directly and led a key part of our global inventory and supply team.

By our third year together, we were starting to discuss the next steps. As a well-established contributor and manager, Maverick wanted something different. He had just finished leading a very innovative supply chain project that drove major improvements in our metrics. He needed something different!

We discussed alternatives and agreed that we’d both work to find something that would accentuate skills he had not yet tried or developed. It was imperative to break Maverick out of his comfort zone and try something more risky.

The first opportunity appeared. It would definitely take him out of the group he had worked in seemingly forever, in technology years, and into a position that would reach out into demand and finance. We discussed how it would push him and the growth it would foster.

Much to my chagrin, Maverick decided the comfort zone was better. Thankfully, he acknowledged that he felt disappointed in the choice, but was not ready for Top Gun exhilaration yet.

Less than a year later, another opportunity surfaced in demand planning for one of the business units. This time there was no need to coach or mentor. Maverick came up to me with a lot of excitement and explained the new role. After four years of working closely together, I was elated for him.

Ultimately, this role was even more of a stretch that the initial one he rejected. He was clearly ready to fly into the “danger zone!”


And, in the end

Jobs and I caught up in late 2014 for coffee. He was much more focused on the next position he needed for his career path. He recalled the entire decision process we went through with a positive glow on his face. Apparently, he’s told the story a few times to others.

Maverick grew well in his new role and became a critical part of the new team he joined. He now laughs at his initial reticence to move out of his comfort zone. For my part, I continue to send LinkedIn and Facebook posts to him about growth and breaking out of the comfort zone as a friendly reminder.


Michael Massetti is a supply chain executive who has led, coached, mentored and developed many talented individuals. He was AMD’s executive sponsor for the University of Texas Supply Chain Management Consortium and interacted with undergraduate and graduate students for 5 years. Michael recruited and mentored many graduates into AMD’s organization.

How centerfield made me the leader I am today!

This article is dedicated to a long-time friend, mentor and leader, David Lavalette of Vermont.

  Yankee Stadium Centerfield

Leadership Lessons Learned on the Field of Play

There are myriad stories and metaphors that draw comparisons and contrasts between sports, leadership, and performance. I will add another one to that hefty list.

I played baseball and softball until my mid 40s. I loved roaming the outfield, usually centerfield. My teams won a lot of games and competed at a pretty high level. This is a story from very early in my career when the wisdom of leadership and self-awareness were completely undeveloped.

Some Thoughts About Emotional Intelligence

Emotional intelligence surfaced in management lexicon in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Daniel Goleman, Richard Boyatzis, and Annie McKee are three prominent authors and thought leaders in this area of study. Their research has shown that high-performing, financially successful organizations are highly linked to the emotional maturity of the leader. “Exemplified by such capabilities as self-awareness and empathy.”

For many years, the softer side of leadership success was discounted or ignored. Strong, intense military leaders, such as George Patton, were often used as examples of what a successful leader should be like. And, more recently, no one ever accused the legendary Steve Jobs of having a soft side.

Leaders set the tone for the organization. Their mood, approach, personality, and style flow through the organization, whether positive or negative, loud or quiet, or collaborative or confrontational. “The leader’s mood is quite literally contagious, spreading quickly and inexorably throughout the business.”

So, what should a leader focus on – the business, the data, the customers? Given the research by Goleman, et al, the answer is “A leader needs to make sure that not only is he regularly in an optimistic, authentic, high-energy mood, but also that his followers feel and act that way, too.” Goleman calls it “primal leadership.”


Just Another Day

It began innocuously. Our team had played together for three years, my first years with them. We were a solid, competitive team, battling for first place each year. Anyone who has ever played competitive sports, whether as part of a team or solo, knows that performance on any given day can be a personal best or a disaster. For me, this night was the latter.

By the middle of the game I was hitting poorly and we were losing. I lost it after I made an out at a critical point in the game. I came back to the team on the bench angry, yelling, and out of control. I was not mad at anyone but myself. I was completely oblivious to the adverse affect it had on my teammates.

At the end of the game, my coach (and co-player and co-worker) Dave came up to me. He said that I had been a very influential and positive force on the team. My energy and passion rubbed off on the team and made us better. But, he highlighted, the reverse was true when I ventured into anger and tantrums.

I had absolutely no idea. I never paid attention to the others while I was lost in my selfish world of no self-awareness, much less self-management. He delivered the message so well (wisdom of experience) that the impression was tremendous. He put his arm around me and told me to stay positive and to keep the others up, too. I was very thankful for the feedback.

I had to change. I was now aware, albeit only at the surface, of the impact one individual could have on the mood and performance of a team or group of people. The journey began.

Time Heals All Wounds

Rarely is a personal style change immediate. It was time to pay attention to myself, others around me, and be aware of my affect on others. As my career was progressing, more and more people were directly impacted by my approach and style. Thankfully, the company’s management development program was fantastic and thorough. There was a lot to learn, absorb, and practice.

At the same time, I joined softball teams that were excellent. I was able to channel the positive instead of the negative much better and winning started to come easier. Of course, there were always bad days, but I learned how to keep it inside and positive – no one play, or game, would distract me from the new course of self-management.

Everything came together in the subsequent years. My leadership roles increased. I paid very close attention to the most successful leaders around me. Certain effective leadership attributes started to surface and they had nothing to do with their technical or professional skills. It was clearly their self-awareness and how they managed their teams that made them excel.

As I practiced and employed the skills of awareness and empathy, the 360 feedback messages I received consistently improved. They accentuated the positive, inspirational, and engaged leadership impact I had developed. The journey is never over, but the influence of that night nearly 30 years ago continues to persist.

Passing It Along

There are myriad resources out there for leadership development and improving performance. I have applied the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI®) in multiple organizations to start the conversation about style differences and to encourage the dialog for all of my leaders to be aware of themselves and the impact they have on others. Personally, I had to learn how to take my ENTJ type (with the emphasis on the “E”) and effectively lead an organization.

Another set of great resources come from Patrick Lencioni and his consultancy The Table Group. His books, especially “Five Dysfunctions of a Team” and “The Advantage,” are great tools for organizations to improve the overall leadership environment.

While no one is perfect, the process of self-awareness and self-management takes time, effort, and help. It is important to reach out to others to get feedback and support to work on improving one’s leadership skills. Enjoy the journey!


All references and quotes are from “Primal Leadership: The Hidden Driver of Great Performance,” Harvard Business Review, Daniel Goleman, Richard E. Boyatzis, and Annie McKee, December, 2001.


Michael Massetti is an executive who really does enjoy being a supply chain professional and a leader! While my playing days are over, I never stop learning from what goes on in the world of sports and business.

How To Be the Biggest Loser, Like LeBron James (NOT!)


Let’s get something straight! LeBron James is NOT a loser. He never has been and he never will be. For those who call him a loser, I want you to know that I wish I was that good of a loser!

Let’s face it, in the world of sports, and I do mean the entire world, winning is the goal and the fascination. Unless you live in a long-term deprived city rooting for a perennial losing team (like the Chicago Cubs in baseball in the USA), your dreams and hopes at the beginning of every season are to “Win It All!”

Vince Lombardi, a great winner in American football once said, “Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing.” Of course, this quote originated in a different form from Henry Russell “Red” Sanders, coach of the UCLA (University of California at Los Angeles) American college football team. As the oft-cited rhetorical question goes, “Who ever remembers the team (person) that took 2nd place?”

In addition to the enthrallment with winning, there are the never-ending comparisons to players and teams of the past. With today’s social media providing a platform for anyone and everyone to opine, the “my favorite player (team) is better than yours” debates go on like a perpetual motion machine.

For LeBron James, the comparison is almost always against Michael Jordan, the 6-time NBA champion, 5-time NBA MVP, and 6-time NBA Finals MVP. Is LeBron James a loser because with 2 wins and 4 losses in the NBA Finals he pales in comparison to Michael Jordan’s 6 wins and no losses? Or, Bill Russell’s 11 wins and only 1 loss? Absolutely not!

Just the facts, please

First, let’s take a look at some statistics and facts about LeBron’s most recent performance in the NBA Finals against the Golden State Warriors and his career to date.

  • First player in NBA history not from the 1960s Celtics to appear in 5 consecutive NBA Finals and the first to do it with two different teams.
    • Three of the six years his teams were in the finals they were the statistically lowest rated players (excluding LeBron) in NBA Finals history.
  • First player in NBA history to lead the both teams in the finals in points, rebounds, and assists.
    • He nearly achieved an NBA “triple double” for the finals (more than 10 points, rebounds, and assists – he averaged “only” 9 assists).
    • Between points and assists, he accounted for at least 50 points per game.
  • 4 times NBA MVP (just like during Wayne Gretzky’s and Michael Jordan’s tenures – they should probably name the award after him and give it to others).
  • 2 times NBA Finals MVP.
  • He played 93% of the team’s minutes during the finals this year.
  • He averaged 38.3% of his team’s points in the finals, 2nd only to Michael Jordan’s 38.4% in 1993.
  • His key teammates missed 21 shots during the precious little time they were on the court while LeBron was resting.
  • His two best teammates, NBA All Stars, went down with season-ending injuries during the playoffs.


Winning isn’t everything, is it?

Basketball is somewhat unique due to the fact that there are only 5 players on the court at a time. One player can make a huge impact, especially when one is arguably the greatest in the world. Look at the impact that Lionel Messi has in soccer with a much larger field and more players. Their excellence shines, win or lose.

There are many ways to measure a player’s greatness. While Big Data is now getting attention globally for business, it’s been in sports forever. Comparisons abound. Is Michael Jordan the greatest basketball player ever? Some numbers support the hypothesis that he is. Some numbers suggest others are the greatest.

Does the fact that LeBron lost in 4 championship series reduce his excellence? Does the fact that in each series he led his team and the other team either in points or assists or minutes played?

There is only so much a player can do to win it all. For every Batman, there has to be at least one Robin for the team to win. Michael Jordan had Scottie Pippen. Magic Johnson had Kareem Abdul Jabbar and James Worthy. Larry Bird had Kevin McHale and Robert Parrish. Nobody won it by himself.

If you want to equate winning with solo performances, you might want to look at track, swimming, golf and tennis. However, even in individual sports, one can achieve their personal best ever performance and still lose the match. That does not make them a loser!


Damned if he does, damned if he doesn’t

LeBron did not shoot enough. LeBron shot the ball too much.

LeBron did not drive into the lane enough. LeBron did not shoot enough 3-pointers.

To some, no matter what he did, there was always the more compelling contrarian view. Before and after the game, the talking heads of the media world would argue about what he did, what he didn’t do, what he should have done, and on and on.

LeBron single-handedly took a team to the championship series with one of the weakest championship rosters in NBA history. He’s done that 3 times now. One can argue that not a single player who started alongside LeBron after Kyrie Irving got hurt would have played for the Warriors starting 5. He did everything he could to keep the team in the series, whether by himself (scoring a lot) or enabling others (assists).

Before and after

We have data to show the “LeBron Effect” over a 12-year period. He arrived in Cleveland in 2003. Up until that point, Cleveland finished 2nd place once and 3rd place three times in 33 seasons. During his 7 years in Cleveland, they finished in 1st place twice and 2nd place once – never below 4th place in has last 5 years. They made it past the first round of the playoffs 5 consecutive years and to the NBA Finals once. Including the 2014-2015 season, they have been in 6 consecutive playoffs and a 2nd trip to the Finals.

What happened after LeBron left? Cleveland won 87 games in 4 seasons finishing out of the playoffs and in the lowest tier of the NBA. We already know what happened when he came back this year.

How about Miami? True, the Miami Heat won a championship with Dwayne Wade and Shaquille O’Neal in 2006. But, they flirted with excellence for many years and only achieving the pinnacle once. The four years prior to LeBron, they never got further than the first round of the playoffs.

Enter LeBron to Miami: four consecutive NBA Finals and two championships. Say goodbye to LeBron and Miami falls to the bottom tier of their division.

I won’t bore anyone with analytics to show the correlation and causality between LeBron and the success of the teams he plays for. It’s so clear, it’s nearly binary.


The last point to address regarding LeBron is his role as a leader. This young man entered the NBA at 19 years old with a degree of fanfare rarely seen in sports. The NBA is one of the few sports where a child can become a man quickly. He was anointed to be the savior of Cleveland – no pressure on that young man. He’s been in the media spotlight for his entire career and the main face of the NBA globally.

As we scrutinize his 6 years of championship series performances, not once did you hear LeBron blaming or deflecting performance issues to his teammates. To the contrary, he’s taken a disproportionate percentage of the “blame” on himself. He speaks positively about his teammates. He talks about hard work. He gives 100% on the court every night – heck, I get tired watching him toil and work harder than anyone out there.

If there is ever a mark of a true leader, especially when you are one of the players (not a coach), it’s how you perform and work with your team. The respect that his teammates have for him is glaringly evident. Regardless of what words they use when asked, their play on the court says it all – he lifts them up to levels they’ve never experienced before. He’s the modern day Wayne Gretzky of basketball.

The greatest?

Finally, just this week the spotlight shone down upon him brightly once again. And, yes, he clearly brought it upon himself. When asked about his confidence for the clearly wavering Cleveland Cavaliers to win the championship while down 3 games to 2, he said “I’m confident because I’m the best player in the world. It’s as simple as that.”

He was trying to inspire his teammates, trying to take the pressure off of them. He could have easily said “If my teammates could only hit a few shots …” He didn’t.

I grew up watching Cassius Clay become Muhammad Ali when he proclaimed, “I am the greatest!” At that time, Ali was raked over the coals for his brashness, but not his heart or his performance. Today, with time providing perspective, he’s revered as one of the greatest boxers and athletes ever. The admiration is global.

“Despite James’s performance for the ages over six games — he averaged 35.8 points, 13.3 rebounds and 8.8 assists — why are there always haters, nit-pickers and naysayers always diminishing his accomplishments?’ (From ESPN)

As Taylor Swift laments, “Haters gonna hate, hate, hate …!”

LeBron will have his time, too. And, he will be looked back at as “One of the Greatest!” Not a loser!

Biggest loser?

Don’t you wish you were that great of a loser? I wish my resume were as amazing as LeBron’s!



Michael Massetti is a supply chain executive and a life-long athlete who loves sports and the analogies and metaphors comparing sports, leadership, teams, and performance. He’s also a die-hard Notre Dame and New York Yankees fanatic.