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Taking the Fall, Candor & the Soft Stuff: Three Leadership Lessons from Molly Fletcher

Del Giannotti . June 13, 2019

At our 8th Annual CEO Summit in Washington, DC, we had the pleasure of hosting Molly Fletcher, sports agent and motivational speaker. Molly has had an impressive career having represented sports’ biggest names such as John Smoltz, Matt Kuchar, Erin Andrews, Tom Izzo, and Doc Rivers. Molly’s deep interactions with these figures provided her a unique glimpse at the characteristics that made them elite performers, and we were very fortunate to have her share these insights with our CEOs. Among Molly’s insights, three short stories stood out to me as highly applicable to growth-stage companies.

 

Take the Fall

Molly represented hall of fame pitcher John Smoltz during his 22-year record-setting career. Besides Smoltz’ grit and fearlessness, one person who was essential to his success was the Atlanta Braves manager, Bobby Cox, known for having the most ejections in MLB history at 158. Although at first glance this may imply that Cox was hot-tempered, Molly explained that the vast majority of his ejections were a result of getting in between his disgruntled player and the umpire. Cox knew that it was much better for him to back up his players and take the ejection than lose a valuable player from the game. This strategy not only led to better game outcomes – it garnered lasting player respect and loyalty rarely seen in the MLB. When Molly worked to negotiate Smoltz’ new contract, he took a $25M pay cut to remain on the Braves and play for Cox. After numerous surgeries, Smoltz even agreed to switch from being a starter to a relief pitcher at the request of Braves management.

 

Encourage Candor

Molly worked with Kevin Durant and witnessed his spectacular dominance as a top NBA athlete. She noticed that due to Durant’s stardom, each person working with him only told him exactly what he wanted to hear and not the harsh truth. Sound familiar? KD recognized this and was so intense about working on his weaknesses that he hired an analytics guru named Justin. Justin spend countless hours analyzing KD and shared with him exactly what the team thought he should improve. Justin came to every practice, charted all the data, and then reviewed it with KD at home and on the road until Durant understood precisely what would make him better for the next game. This focus on details and weaknesses was rare among the NBA’s top players, but was essential to KD in becoming a top performer.

 

Be Relational vs. Transactional

Molly also represented Billy Donovan, head basketball coach of the University of Florida Gators for 19 years. In 2007, the Orlando Magic approached Donovan to become their next head coach. It was obvious to everyone that Billy would want the coveted NBA position, and Molly got to work negotiating a contract for him. After asking Billy what he wanted in the contract (salary, bonus, private school for the kids, private jets, private cars), she began negotiating with the Magic. After four intense days, she had crafted the perfect deal – worth $27.5M over five years. Donovan agreed, and a farewell press conference was held at Florida, along with an introductory conference at the Magic. The next day, Donovan called Molly and broke the tough news – that he couldn’t bear to leave Florida and would renege on the contract. From this tough experience, Molly learned that an essential part of business transactions and negotiating is to deeply consider the relational aspect of a deal, not solely the transactional terms. Had Molly asked the tough personal questions and thought through with him just how difficult it would be to upend an entire program along with his family, tremendous embarrassment would have been avoided. Recognizing exactly what each person is looking for emotionally - on a personal level - and each decision’s consequences accordingly is crucial, and too often glanced over, in our transactional business mindset.

 

As you think about your own business and self-improvement, reflect on these anecdotes and ask yourself three questions:

1.  Are you taking the fall and backing up your team for the better of the organization?

2.  Are you consistently analyzing your own performance and encouraging those below you to be candid with their feedback?

3.  Are you giving enough focus to the relational, softer aspects of getting a deal done?

 

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