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The Stars Didn't Align for George

Updated: May 1, 2023

George Seifert is one of only thirteen NFL coaches with multiple Superbowl wins. After leading his San Francisco 49ers to victory in both 89 and 94 he stepped down as their head coach in 1996 with the second greatest winning percentage in NFL history. Two years later he joined the Carolina Panthers and in 2001 was fired in front of 72,000 fans after a 1 and 15 season. I’ll never forget him being escorted off that field on live television.

What causes greatness in one organization to turn into utter failure in another? The answer is simple . . . alignment. Yes, the old adage is correct, the stars just didn’t align for George in Charlotte like they did in San Francisco.

What can we learn from George’s experience? I think we learn that there are 4 basic elements to be considered in any organizational leadership pairing: structure, culture, dynamics, and styling. When appropriately aligned these elements produce fabulous results. When misaligned, careers are destroyed, and organizations are crippled.

The lifeblood of any collaborative endeavor is comprised of the flows of both authority and accountability. When those flows run in equal proportion to one another, the diagnosis of the organization’s health can be easily determined. When they are disproportionate, the diagnosis of the organizational ailment is chaotic to say the least. I was once told, early in my leadership career, never give anyone authority without accountability, and inversely, never hold anyone accountable for something you refused to empower them to change. Authority and accountability must flow through organizational structure to achieve an intended result. How each organization designs its structure is perhaps the most significant measure of the potential success or failure that any leaders invited to participate might experience.

Structure is a sneaky thing, however, because designed structure is not always realized in the actual flows of accountability and authority. A board of directors might assume things flow as designed, but that flow must pass through company culture and organizational dynamics before its functionality can be properly measured. Culture is often more assumed, than examined or considered. Unfortunately, assumed culture cannot accommodate ethereal structural concepts. Instead, culture modifies structure with little consideration given to the original design. Therefore, organizational culture must be intentionally generated.

Culture does not just simply manifest because we want it into being. Instead, culture must filter through dynamics that dictate how we rationalize our existence inside the organization. Whether those dynamics are more closely related to power struggles, self-awareness, motivation, or observation, determines how structure and culture are presented to the leader trying to navigate those waters.

Here's where the stars didn’t align for George, and where they don’t align for many great leaders who find themselves floundering in a new corporate environment. Leadership styling must intentionally align with the other three elements of organizational pairing. What worked in San Francisco, didn’t work in Charlotte. That was not necessarily George’s fault. In fact, the blame could be shared. Rather than trying to hire success, organizations should design success and work with leaders to identify how styling aligns with structure, culture, and dynamics to arrive at a unique leadership brand that ensures the consistency and perpetuation of organizational success.

Contact us today at The Kannenberg Group if you would like to learn how we can assist your organization to achieve this goal and save an enormous amount of money in the process.

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