What We as Leaders Can Learn from Randy Moss about Culture

by April Williams


There is a famous quote by Peter Drucker, one of the best-known and most widely influential thinkers and writers, on the subject of management theory and practice.


“Culture eats strategy for breakfast” 


I believe the cultures of our companies will always determine our success regardless of how effective our strategy may be.  This is not new to me, I believe this at my core and have made it one of my top priorities as a leader for the past 25 plus years.


So why am I talking about it today?

Because I am so deeply saddened by the number of leaders and employees I have spoken to, over the past year, where either the leader has been side-swiped by hiring a toxic team member and had to make some really hard choices or the employees have been forced to work with a toxic colleague feeling deserted by their leadership who is ignoring all the signs and allowing their culture to deteriorate. I have watched some leaders rise to the occasion and make the tough decisions to protect their culture and I have watched others bury their heads in the sand and allow one person to create a toxic environment resulting in a devastating impact on their culture.  


Yesterday I was talking about this with friends, on our way to one of the many sporting events we love to go to, and asked them why they thought some leaders handle this well and others don’t.  We started talking about professional athletes who have created toxic cultures on their teams and specifically which coaches we’ve seen rise to the occasion and which we’ve seen tolerate it because the player is extremely  talented.  


I took it to Google and searched for athletes who are well known for their toxic behavior and found this oldie but goodie article from The Bleacher Report entitled “20 Athletes Who Would Be Fired If They Had Regular Jobs”.


And one that was near and dear to my heart, as a New England Patriots fan, was #18 on the list, Randy Moss. 


Here is what the Bleacher Report had to say about Randy Moss:


“You know what’s a surefire, winning formula for career success in any field or industry? Being the kind of guy who treats his colleagues like garbage and shuts down when things aren’t done completely on his terms and/or when confronted with adversity.

Oh wait, that’s actually a surefire formula for getting fired from any job—whether flipping burgers or developing software. Not that Randy Moss would lower himself to flipping burgers, because we all know what a high opinion he has of himself.

The veteran NFL free agent is living, breathing proof that the value of jaw-dropping talent plummets precipitously over time when you’re absolutely wretched to work with. 

Moss’ ambivalence toward playing the role of teammate—from quitting on plays to belittling free, delicious food—is universally unacceptable.

The bad news is that Moss wouldn’t last a day at a real job. The good news is that he’d never even try.”


This last sentence struck me, because I have watched some leaders exemplify this last sentence and cut toxic team members free even when they were the best producers, brilliant strategists, when they had a skill on the team that no one else had they knew that protecting the culture was their first goal.  Yet I am also seeing some company leaders allow Randy Moss-like behavior to stay around for years and turn a blind-eye to it as employee morale, and their culture, sours at best and at worst they experience unheard of employee turnover. 


So if you are leading a team today and are thinking, “Oh dang, I think I might have a Randy Moss, what do I do?”, here are three powerful insights I have learned over the years. Two are from Henry Cloud, one of my favorite leadership development authors, and the other is from EOS,  the Employee Operating System that we work within at SalesAmp.


1. You are ridiculously in charge of your company’s culture

Henry Cloud wrote a powerful article called  “Are you Ridiculously in Charge as a Leader?”  that addresses the role leaders must play in developing a healthy culture where your team thrives. 


Here is a snippet from that article that highlights a conversation he was having with a CEO about some issues he was having with his team.  This highlights the lessons that I learned from his book years ago that continue to both haunt me and inspire me:


“So what kind of culture would you like?” I asked. “What kind of culture would drive the business forward if you had it?”

When he thought about that, he looked upward, lost in thought for a moment. Then he got out of the “problem-speak” mode, and I could see a shift in his energy as a new vision of a different culture sprang to life in his eyes. He began to describe a company culture that was positive, highly energetic, accountable, innovative, and performance oriented. He came alive when he talked about it. “So why don’t you build that kind of culture?” I asked.

For a nanosecond it seemed like he was about to reflexively blurt out a reason why it could not happen, but then he paused and said something I will never forget: ‘You know, when you think about it … I am ridiculously in charge.’

At that point, I knew he got it. He realized that he would have exactly the culture that he creates and would not have the one he did not allow to exist. Whatever culture he got, he was either building it or allowing it. He was “ridiculously in charge,” that is, “totally in charge,” and at that moment, he owned it. It was his. It was truly up to him. As a leader, he was going to get what he built, or what he allowed.”


2. Develop non-negotiable Core Values

One of our roles as leaders is to ensure we have core values we live by within our companies.  Core values are the cornerstone of our cultures as they embody who we are as a company.  When we established our core values at SalesAmp we knew they needed to be what we believed were non-negotiables: meaning if someone is a core value violator, we will let them go. They serve as  bumper pads to doing life day in and day out.  Done well they serve as a lens to hire and fire by.  It gives everyone a sense of clarity and peace about who you all commit to be when you show up at work for your team, your clients and your partners. 


At SalesAmp our core values are:

  • • Journey to Solution with Grit
  • • Hospitality
  • • Approach with Empathy
  • • Let your Yes be Yes and your No be No
  • • Own it, grieve it, redeem it
  • • Lean In (a willingness to learn and teach)
  • • Be Vulnerable


As an EOS company we use their People Analyzer Tool  that allows us to evaluate potential new hires to ensure our culture is protected. 


We also use the People Analyzer Tool  as the lens to evaluate our team members bi-annually to assess if they are still  aligned with our core values and are the “right people on the bus”.


It allows leadership to develop an understanding of what is acceptable and what is not within our company. When leadership has a clear understanding of these expectations, they are equipped to hold not only themselves but also their teams accountable to the values of the organization.


Each employee is ranked by leadership and their peer’s on whether they are a “+” meaning they exhibit this core value on a regular basis; a “+/-” meaning they exhibit this core value sometimes; or a “-” meaning they rarely, if at all, exhibit this core value.


If someone gets a “+/-” on a core value we put a work plan in place to help them address where the gaps are and if someone gets one or more  “-”  is grounds for dismissal. 


 Our goal is to have  everyone scoring above the bar, ensuring the culture we have committed to is healthy, people feel cared for and are thriving.


As the person who is “ridiculously in charge” of our culture I love this process that helps us all stay aware of where we are doing well and where we need to grow.   We know that none of us will be perfect everyday in all of these key areas but we also know when to raise the red flags.  


3.  How to Assess if You Have Wise, Foolish or Evil People on Your Team

This was another great learning for me as a leader.  I had always tried to treat my teams the same but truthfully team members weren’t all the same.  So understanding three key people as we build our culture is fundamental because not everyone is a responsible and loving person.  I realized that I assumed because I cared about how my actions affect others, I thought everyone else thought the same way I did.  But what I learned has changed how I manage people on the team who can become culture wreckers. 

There are three behavioral types that we all fall into.  And there is one that you are hoping for, one that could be a challenge and one that should be avoided at all costs to  ensure you have a culture where people are thriving. 


The Wise Person


The wise person learns from experiences, her or his  own and those of others, makes that part of themselves, acts out of that experience and delivers results.  The key is this person is open to feedback.  The wise person sees feedback as helping them become better and they truly value it.  If a person can take feedback they are likely going to be part of making your company a better place to work, a place where people can thrive.


The Foolish Person


If the common trait of the wise person is they can receive feedback, take a good look at themselves and adjust their behavior based on what they learned, the foolish person does the complete opposite.  The fool rejects the feedback, deflects it, explains it away.  She or he is never wrong and someone else always is.  

Key takeaway, unlike when you talk with a wise person it actually helps, you don’t attempt to talk with a foolish person.  You need to have a different conversation.  You need to take steps to protect your culture, your vision and your team.  Boundaries must be given for stopping the collateral damage of their refusal to change where they start to feel the consequences of their actions if they refuse to listen. 


The Evil Person


If you have an evil person on your team, you must go into protection mode and not in helping mode. This was the hardest one for me to grasp, as it is hard for me to believe that there are people that hurt people just because they want to,  but unfortunately I have seen it happen over the years and in two very obvious cases this year.  It is very unnerving. 

Henry Cloud coaches leaders to not think for one second that an evil person is going to change.  They won’t.  Instead you need to let this person go and protect yourself and the things that matter to you. 

“Whereas you talk to wise people about problems, and you talk to fools about consequences, 

do not talk to evil people at all, period.” – Henry Cloud


Great Leaders create Great Cultures

Great cultures don’t just happen.  They are born and raised because great leaders make it their top priority. They understand the impact  work life has on their team because they spend so much time with their work family and therefore they do all they can to ensure they protect their team and themselves from difficult people.  

I have found over the years, sometimes with the suggestions I have outlined, people can do a 180.   But sometimes they can’t and that’s ok.  The best thing for them, and your team, is to let them move on to what is next and show your team that you are “ridiculously in charge” and you understand the responsibility you have to maintain your culture and care for your team. 

If you don’t have the culture you want at your company, remember you are ridiculously in charge.  Go make the hard decisions and fight for the culture you want.  It’s the best decision as a leader you will ever make.