Remember those days when you were at the relatives for Thanksgiving, and you were hanging out with the other kids just trying to remember your cousin’s names because you only see them on holidays? When everyone sat down to dinner, they always had the kids’ table that wobbled because it was something pulled from the garage and was only used by your parents on poker night. I remember sitting there, wondering what the adults were talking about. It was always so….adult. I remember always wanting to get to that table someday so I could hear and contribute to the adult conversation, or even the big kids’ conversation since they were usually in a room or on TV trays ignoring everyone, as only big kids can. It had nothing to do with the food; after all, the food was the same, well except for the alcohol, which flowed pretty heavily at my house on Thanksgiving! It had to do with that sense of being a part of that world – that world where you were valued enough to sit at the big table and talk about or hear things that made a difference. When I look at executive teams nowadays, I see that same scenario playing out, and I see those longing looks that say, “when do I get to sit at the big table, when will they trust me enough to let me sit with them?”
On the other hand, it is hard to be at the big table as well, because you must determine if what you say is going to end up in the wrong ears. Is this person going to hear me swear, then run and tell their mother, or worse my spouse? When is that person going to be ready to sit at the table and handle all the information maturely and with a sense of responsibility? Will that person even be able to contribute or understand the conversation? Is that person going to leave the table and start bragging to all the kids about the information they gleaned from the conversation at the table? There is a lot to be concerned with when you are inviting people to the table.
I see this play out in every executive team, and it doesn’t play out yearly – it plays out daily. Some days you are at the table, and other days you are not. The challenge is what it does to the growing executive who is and isn’t at the table. It can breed insecurity and resentment when they don’t feel the value that comes from being at the big table. It’s the case with many executive teams. We have meetings, and we talk about things that we don’t want out in the world or drifting around our staffs because sometimes they are just ideas. Better yet they are pieces of an overall idea that may or may not bear fruit. So you hold it close to the vest and only trust your closest confidants with the information because you might look stupid. Or, you make large decisions with only a small piece of the executive team you trust – running the risk of making the rest of the team insecure or creating a team who will refuse to challenge your decisions and then may question your decision behind your back. I think they call that mutiny! Or they may just halfheartedly support you because they don’t feel like they were part of the decision and are just carrying out the orders. The thing is no one really wants to “just do their job,” as much as everyone says they just want to “do their job and go home.” Everyone likes to feel their opinion matters to people at the big table, and that they helped to make a big decision. That is why we have suggestion boxes and town halls – so everyone feels they are being heard and are providing some value and direction.
A while back I worked with a general manager who had fired a counterpart of mine for what I thought was a pretty lame reason. Since I was young in my executive career and felt that I had earned my seat at the table, I mentioned it to the general manager and asked what happened. Being nice, he stated the reason – although it was the same reason that I thought was lame and didn’t merit someone losing his or her position over, especially someone whom I felt was doing a pretty good job. So I challenged him on his decision. If you have ever been in that position before you know that was a monumentally dumb move. So he threw me out of his office, not very kindly, and I seem to remember things getting really fuzzy at that point as I woke up outside the office. Okay, maybe not that bad, but you get the point. Unfortunately, this bred my own insecurities, and I started questioning the leadership ability of my general manager. Oddly enough, a couple of years later, I found out that there were about four incidents leading up to that incident that were not documented nor written down, but that made the move necessary. But how was I to know? I was young, inexperienced, and didn’t know any better. My general manager brought me partially to the table, and I stepped on that trust by not knowing where the line was or recognizing that there was even a line to be crossed.
In this debacle with my general manager, I was wrong. I broke the unspoken rule, “don’t challenge the boss’s decision after the fact.” Nothing can be gained but my own understanding, which isn’t really necessary, or is it? His action didn’t make me a better executive, just a more cautious one who wouldn’t speak my mind when he needed me to do that. He could have diffused the situation by simply stating that there were other reasons that he couldn’t go into, and that he understood my eagerness to understand. That would have provided me a bit of the answer without creating the rift that grew from that point. But what does that answer require? It requires two things: trust and humility. I find that bringing someone to the table requires you to not only trust them, but also that you are humble enough to hear them. This isn’t about the information; it is about creating an executive who feels valued. Sometimes it is difficult to remember that.
Valuing your team and hearing them is the key to making your table larger and more trustworthy. I can’t say you won’t get let down – it happens – families disagree a lot! But if you are humble enough to hear what they say, open your mind to the possibilities, and at the same time tell them your strategy and why you are making the decisions you are making, even when you can’t give details, you will have a higher percentage chance that your team will support your strategy, and more importantly, support you.
There are several ways to eat this turkey, but if you are at the head of the big table, try spending more time justifying your actions to your executive teams, and you will be able to trust their loyalty more than if you don’t. If you are a member of the executive team, remember that it is a privilege to sit at the big table and eat with the grown-ups, so mind your napkin and chew with your mouth closed – or prepare to eat at the wobbly card table!
John Filippe is an accomplished Casino Executive with over 20 years of Casino IT experience. He has worked nationally and internationally for several properties, and across many types of gaming from commercial, tribal, and riverboat entertainment facilities. He was a vendor with Bally Gaming and Systems in the late 90’s, and worked with the large expansion of tribal gaming during that time. His unique style of IT management was featured in the book “The Tech Buzzkill: How Top IT Leaders Fend Off the Tech “Buzz” to Focus on the Business” by Gerry Robinson and Manish Sharma. He is currently the Executive Director of MIS for Quinault Beach Resort and Casino in Washington state.