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Interview with Dan Leidl

We sat down at WOBI’s midtown offices for an interview with Dan Leidl co– author of team turnarounds. Dan is a Co-founder and partner of Meno Consulting with Co-author Joe Frontiera. Both hold Ph.D.’s in Sports Psychology. Meno’s mission is driven by four beliefs; leaders grow by expanding awareness, a team’s development is driven by its leader, everyone wants to achieve and sports can teach us profound lessons.  

What led you to write a book on turnarounds?

 This book is advanced from my partner’swriting partner Joe Frontiera’s dissertation.  He did his doctoral work on turnarounds and he had interviewed a number of GM’s and owners of professional sports franchises.  We expanded it beyond sports and really worked to make it more universal. 

What was the most surprising thing you found in researching and writing the book?

I think the most surprising thing for me was the reality that there is a level of universality in this. Based on Joe’s dissertation and his previous research we were aware that there was a universal developmental process to how organizations shift and the natural ebb and flow of success and struggle.  It was somewhat shocking how consistent these narratives were.

What are the six steps necessary to create a turnaround?

The first one is leading through losing and that’s about taking a step back and recognizing that you are not where you want to be. 

The second one is planning for where you really want to go - establishing your vision and identifying goals. 

The third one is when you’re turning the organization around you really have to impact the individuals involved in the team and focus on behavior change. 

Fourth, you really have to be comfortable with struggle.  That was important enough to make explicit.

Fifth I think there’s a lot to be said about embracing success and defining success because that’s something that’s fleeting.

Then it’s finally maintaining the culture of excellence.  This is hard and is something that has to be woven into the fabric of the group regardless of who the players are.

How do you know if a team is not functioning to capacity?  If you’re a sports team it’s obvious, but what about companies?

One of the reasons that I gravitate towards the sports metaphors is because it’s black and white.   They won so they’re doing something right, but underlining and scratching away the surface, I know teams that have won national championships and the minute the whistle blows someone is yelling at someone else.  If you get to the point where you ask yourself is this working … it’s probably not.

When you see that happening, do you need to exorcise it?

I think you need to take steps to improve the situation.  You need to address it.  It has to be made explicit and efforts have to be made to understand it and deal with it. You have to bring people in and ask them where they stand on issues, where they feel excited.   You have to exorcise it, but it’s how you exorcise it that offers options.

How do you improve morale when teams are losing?

The first step is to remind them that they are better than what they’re doing.  That’s a gutsy play.  In doing that you’re telling them that they’re not operating well enough, but that’s also an inspiring play.   You need someone to step in there and say hey for as much as you stunk, you have it in you to be great.  And, if you don’t want to be great that’s fine, we’ll get you set up with another organization, or move you on but we need people who believe they can be winners.

Is there a standard amount of time necessary to turn an organization around?

I don’t think there is standard amount of time.  I have a developmental background so this is something that I’m interested in.  When you look at guidelines for development you find that there are windows of development but the time is not critical.  One child might be talking at two whereas another child could be talking at three,  the one who starts talking at three may go on to be a great orator.  A lot of these turnarounds started to kick in early, and then they have to reevaluate their goals and keep pushing. 

How can you nurture and maintain a culture of success?

That’s the million dollar question. We have to constantly be reminded of why we’re there, what we accomplished in the past and what we want to accomplish moving forward.  One of the takeaways from Howard Schultz’s book Onward is how pervasive his efforts were.  That’s how you maintain a good culture – you’re constantly thinking what can we do in our daily efforts to tie into the larger cause.

Do leaders have to be at the top to initiate change?

No, not at all, but it helps. Bill Poll was with the Indianapolis Colts when he said every member of our team is critical.  They get it and understand that this leadership question includes the guy who is scrubbing the locker room.  You need him.  A lot of people will look at the position and say that it’s not important.  That’s a big mistake. 

How can you use challenges to empower a team?

It might make sense that you need a challenge to empower the team.  In terms of turnarounds versus crisis – it’s a critical chapter in the book.  Patrick Doyle, the CEO of Dominos and his leadership team talk explicitly about how they created a dynamic around when they decided to come up with a new pizza.  They made it very public and that was very calculated.  Their belief was that if we make this public we burn a bridge and there’s no going back. 

How do you keep a team together when it’s failing?

First of all you have to make sure you have the right parts and that’s critical. You ask people and they’ll tell you flat out, I’m not on board.  I don’t want to work the extra hours a day and they’ll often just write their own ticket out.  They’ll be frank when asked the right questions.  Keeping the team together is about having the right team.

Interview by Lori Greene