Improved Leadership. Competitive Advantage.

A wise mentor once remarked to us that there's leadership lessons all around us, if we're only willing to stop, look, and reflect. We're going, now, to apply this maxim to the month of September as we canvas this turbulent month for some universal leadership lessons. True to the point above, we found no shortage of good and not-so-good leadership lessons from September. We offer our own version of a Top Three list below.

Wells Fargo. Wells Fargo bank has long been the darling of the investment world. As most banks continue to struggle even years removed from the Great Recession, Wells Fargo seemed the lone bright star in the dark. Investors and stakeholders often pointed to Wells Fargo as the exemplar in the financial world as well-run and earning top-performing labels from a variety of sources. Indeed, iconic investors, such as Warren Buffet, were vocal supporters. That’s over for now. And, just maybe, forever. The facts of the case are startling. In the retail arm of Wells Fargo, over 2 million fraudulent accounts were created without customer authorization. This is Enron-like in its breach of trust and flagrant disregard for ethical behavior.

Root Cause Evaluation. First, there was a Production over Integrity environment. In high-risk/high-hazard organizations, we need to ask not just if we are supporting a Production over Safety or a Production over Quality culture, we must ask the most pivotal of all questions — are we building a Production over Integrity culture? That’s what happened at Wells Fargo; at least in their retail banking arm. Second, we need to look at Procedures and Systems. Indeed, Procedure Use & Adherence (PU&A) is a big deal in the places where we consult. In complex, high-hazard organizations, leaders should ask whether the Procedures put the individual or plant in a safe space or in a compromising one. At Wells Fargo, their compensation and performance evaluations and bonus procedures helped drive individuals towards compromising positions. Specifically, employees were faced with the unthinkable—do I cheat and lie, or do I preserve my job? Ultimately, of course, there’s individual ownership and accountability. That said, shame on those who designed and institutionalized the Wells Fargo systems (compensation and bonus structures) for driving good individuals to a bad place. Finally, the buck needs to stop somewhere. Over the last 8 years, Republicans and Democrats have agreed on almost nothing. In our lifetime, we’ve yet to see this type of political polarization. But that changed, thanks to Wells Fargo. The CEO of Wells Fargo, John Stumpf, was able to unite Washington when no other issue possibly could. Whether you are the most conservative Republican, like Texan Jeb Hensarling, or a firebrand Democrat, like Elizabeth Warren, we can all agree—Stumpf’s absence of ownership is without excuse. At ELP, we lobby behind an unassailable truth—the most important activity a leader can do is to build a sustainable culture of success. Stumpf didn’t do that, and now the financial health of Wells Fargo is at risk. He should be held to account.

Hillary versus The Donald. September also gave us another first. Forget about the last episode of M.A.S.H. and the record-breaking Super Bowl! Okay, maybe not quite, but a staggering 84 million people tuned in, on a Monday night if you can believe that, to watch the Trump-Clinton debate. With 1 in 3 adult Americans watching the debate, it shattered the record books for the most watched Presidential debate in our history. But there’s another first here. Besides the Nixon-Kennedy debates, where Kennedy arguably won the White House on his preparation, this debate offered two diametrically opposed options from a leadership perspective. There was The Donald, a man who successfully won debate after debate after debate in the Republican run-up. When asked about preparation, he dismissed the idea, and to the contrary, was proud and, quite vocal, about his decision NOT to prepare. Incredibly, Trump continued to campaign up to the day of the debate! Hillary chose a different path. She hunkered down and got deep into policy. She prepared and she studied closely Trump’s history and previous stances. She delivered considerable body blows regarding his personal taxes, his treatment (or mis-treatment) of women, and, quite astutely, went after Trump’s treatment of the “common man”—people that Clinton said that Trump stiffed in his rise to big riches. At ELP, we offer no political opinion. We’re not that stupid to go there. Suffice to say, though, we are worried across the board about the future of our country given the choices we face. However, what we do know by almost every analytic and metric is that Hillary came out on top in this debate and most seem to believe that it came down to a pivotal decision—the decision to prepare versus the decision not to prepare.

What We Can Learn. If this is a theme that you think you’ve heard before from us, you’re right. In fact, just last month we talked about hurricanes and the pivotal factor of preparation. Whether you are building barges, creating rail cars, or about to perform maintenance on a Reactor Coolant Pump, preparation will always, always allow you to do the job more safely and to reach higher levels of quality. Doing a job-site review, pausing to do a solid and thorough pre-job brief and task preview—these are all elements of preparedness. Conceivably, one could be successful without preparing. But even the smartest of us, we contend, could benefit from job preparedness. To be sure, Donald Trump will have learned his lesson. Expect a better, more even rivalry during the next debate. No policy issues will have changed. In fact, nothing will have changed except to say that Donald Trump will be better prepared. There’s a lesson there for all of us.

Fernandez. This story starts badly, but ends incredibly. Jose Fernandez was on the starting rotation for the Miami Marlins, a major league baseball franchise, which was starting to make a run for the last wild card spot and a playoff berth. But on September 25th, he and two others were killed when their speedboat crashed into a rocky jetty off the coast of Miami. His teammates chose to honor him in a special way. First, all of his teammates wore a Fernandez jersey. Second, in a spectacular show of sportsmanship, Dee Gordon, the leadoff batter for the Marlins decided to honor Fernandez by batting right-handed (he’s left-handed) for the first pitch of the game. After that first pitch, he switched to his left-handed position and proceeded to blast a towering home run, his first of the season! As he rounded the bases, he exploded in tears. To watch this extraordinary event, click here.