Ward C. Schendel, Business Coach, KnowledgeSphere Group of AdviCoach

Most of us have now heard about the Olympic badminton players disqualified for trying to intentionally lose their preliminary matches in order to gain a better pairing in the next round. The thing that strikes me as strange about the whole thing is not that players were disqualified for their actions; it is that we haven’t heard who thought up the strategy in the first place. Or what, if anything, happened to that person?

[The question exists: What would have happened if a neutral third party would have asked them the questions that could have kept them out of trouble. And that is where a business coach comes in.]

Courage seemed to be lacking at a couple different points. First of all, when it was proposed that the matches “be thrown;” wasn’t anyone in a position to question the suggestion? Wasn’t there a team official who could say, “Wait a minute. Does this make sense?” I recognize that there are cultural differences that might cause the players to be hesitant to say something. However, one would hope that a player, a coach or a team official would have been the voice of reason and would point out that the strategy had some major shortcomings.

How does this tie in with business leadership? Have you seen situations where a team member forces a solution so that an “Olympic Badminton” idea appears? What do the other team members do? What does the business owner do? This is where someone on the team, and most definitely the business owner, needs to stand up and demonstrate why the idea cannot go forward. President Truman was known for his sign: “The buck stops here.” The same is true of owners of small and medium size businesses. Taking the wrong path will not, in the long run, produce successful results.

As a business coach, my role is to ask the “next” question, provide an outside perspective, and instill the confidence that my clients can make the best decision possible. What steps do you need to take to stop yourself and others from making what could be a “career ending move” or “Olympic badminton” decision?

There are many real life business examples of poor decisions: Enron, WorldCom, Madoff, Peters. Examples also occur in small and medium size businesses. A business owner I know was facing financial difficulties. He thought the way around his problems would be to “borrow” funds that had been placed in a trust account for the benefit of the company’s customers. He was quite confident he could replace the money before anyone ever knew the funds were missing. As a backup plan in case he continued to be short of money, he could borrow from one part of the trust account to pay another part of the trust account, so no one would find out what he was doing. What he hadn’t counted on was that one of his direct reports suspected the owner was manipulating the trust account. Other direct reports were able to verify that the trust accounts were being tampered with. The owner’s reward for his “Olympic badminton” moments: He received a new title: “Convicted Felon.”

Saying no takes courage. When/where/how will we all be offered the opportunity to be courageous?