Over the course of my 25 year corporate career I had the opportunity to work for three transformative leaders. One created a highly successful entrepreneurial software business and used the enormous wealth he made to help change the world for LGBT community not only in Colorado but in the US. The other two changed horrifically mismanaged companies into businesses with a future using largely the pre-existing human and financial capital.
In all three situations the catalyst, the spark, the glue, the vision, the example came from those three great leaders. And it did not come out of some King Arthur Knights of the Roundtable magical intervention. It came because all three scrimped, cajoled, pushed, inspired, held accountable, led by example, but most importantly delivered.
The day you come to work not because you need a paycheck or are afraid, but because you want to overachieve is the day of transformation. My greatest fear on that day became that I might let down my fellow employees, my boss, or the shareholders. That I might not have done everything I could that day, might not have read every book, made every call, spent that one extra hour to carry my load. It all came from the top.
If I did not get an upgrade, they sat in the back of the plane with me. If I worked three twelve hour days, they worked seven. They announced bad news, but let employees announce good news. They never took credit for anything, because everyone knew from performance who deserved it.
Jerry Jones is a marketing and financial genius that has created the most valuable business in the NFL. Jerry is a horribly scatterbrained football leader. That is the key problem or in corporate speak the “root cause”.
It does not matter whether you value Tony Romo or you do not value Tony Romo. His failure on the field because of his own flaws or his horrendous offensive line or the continual injuries to his offensive weapons are all the responsibility of the General Manager.
When was the last time you heard anyone say “All-Pro Cowboy offensive linemen“? When was the last time the Cowboys’ strength and conditioning program finished a season with few if any meaningful injuries? When was the last time the Cowboys led the league in fewest penalties and the turnover ratio?
Jerry Jones is in the process of transforming his legacy into the legacy of Al Davis. Both came into the league as mavericks and had great success. Jerry is now following Davis into terminal decline where people at his passing talk with sympathy about a young man’s genius and an old man’s folly.
There is an art to corporate succession. Jerry is not going to hire an outside replacement GM. Hopefully he will prove me wrong, but a more realistic alternative exists.
Jerry should continue as owner and Chairman of the Dallas Cowboys and continue to lead the brand, financing, and non-football operations where he is a genius. It certainly is not in the Cowboys’ interest to remove the cash generating aspect of his role.
Jerry should make his son, Stephen, the GM. Everything I hear when I visit Dallas about Stephen Jones is how smart he is, how hard he works, how close he is to his father. What greater legacy for Jerry, then if Stephen steps in and wins a Super Bowl establishing a Rooney/Mara style dynasty? I can hear the scorn. Jerry would never leave football operations alone. He would always interfere.
Part of the answer to that is to give Jerry another new role. As one of numerous examples, the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation is one of the most valuable charities with the weirdest images. “Hi, we’re the charity for billionaires who can afford to waste hundreds of millions on hopelessly ambitious but ultimately indecisive initiatives, please join our efforts.” I really am a big fan of this charity and its willingness to take chances. Jerry Jones could turn its nerdy image into a juggernaut.
Even having absorbed some of Jerry’s time and energy, Stephen Jones would have a difficult job. So did the three transformative leaders I worked for in my career. Everyone told them they could never do what they did. Convincing the rest of us on the team was their first task.
That is what is missing in the Cowboys – accountable leadership. Jerry has accepted less than victory too many times to convince anyone. Now he has to decide if he wants another Lombardi trophy or Al Davis’s epitaph.