Capitalist Note: It's "Leadership Signals Week" here at the HR Capitalist, where I talk about things I've seen leaders communicate over the last couple of weeks that speak volumes about what they want their followers to think.
Communication matters if you're a leader. It's the most visible sign of what you believe, and it drives the intensity and beliefs of those that choose to follow you. Don't be fooled into thinking all communication is part of a formal plan. Some leadership signals are purposeful, others just happen organically. (see earlier leadership signals covered from Steph Curry and Elizabeth Warren)
Do you know who Tilman Fertitta is? I didn't until he bought an NBA franchise. Here's his bio from Wikipedia:
Tilman Fertitta (born June 25, 1957) is an American businessman and television personality. He is the chairman, CEO, and sole owner of Landry's, Inc., one of the largest restaurant corporations in the U.S. He also owns the National Basketball Association (NBA)'s Houston Rockets.
In 2018, his net worth was estimated at $4.5 billion, placing him at No. 153 on the Forbes 400 list of the wealthiest Americans; Forbes calls him the "World's Richest Restaurateur".
Fertitta is chairman of the board of regents of the University of Houston System. Fertitta became the star of Billion Dollar Buyer on CNBC. On September 5, 2017, Fertitta reached an agreement to buy the Houston Rockets for $2.2 billion.
Fertitta is an opinionated guy and not one to shy away from the limelight. On September 17, 2019, Fertitta released a book, Shut Up and Listen! Hard Business Truths That Will Help You Succeed, in which he details his journey to success and offers advice to other entrepeneurs on their business ventures. Each chapter contains "Tilmanism's" which focus on 6 important rules for any entrepreneur to follow.
Wow. That's a lot to take in. Go ahead and soak on that last paragraph. I'll wait.
You kind of get the picture right? Fertitta a person that would never shy away from sending leadership signals, and a recent one that he sent is all over the news.
Last week, one of Fertitta's execs at the Houston Rockets, general manager Daryl Morey, issued a tweet that supported the 2019 Hong Kong protests which drew criticism from Fertitta who said that while Morey was the best general manager in the NBA, the Rockets were not a political organization.
Morey since has deleted the tweet. Here was Fetitta's response, a tweet that happened in lighting fashion after Morey tweeted his support of the protests in Hong Kong (email subscribers click through if you don't see the tweet below):
Listen....@dmorey does NOT speak for the @HoustonRockets. Our presence in Tokyo is all about the promotion of the @NBA internationally and we are NOT a political organization. @espn https://t.co/yNyQFtwTTi— Tilman Fertitta (@TilmanJFertitta) October 5, 2019
Fertitta's leadership signal here is that no single employee gets to provide political direction for the organization (except maybe Fertitta, I'm guessing). I've written in the recent past about employee activism, what it means and how to handle. Check out that post in the link, because you've got some things to figure out as a leader.
There's also an element of "please shut up and do the job we pay you for - only" in Fertitta's tweet.
The Daryl Morey tweet has since blown up into global news, as the Chinese government and state-run agencies that cover the NBA have reacted in a very negative way, causing an important market to be at risk, not only for the Rockets, but for the entire NBA.
Should human rights violations and what we think about the communist system in China trump the need to do business with the Chinese? That's a post for another day, and I'm probably the wrong guy to analyze that.
What I can tell you is that Fertitta was on this quickly, understood the risk and sent a leadership signal ASAP. Whether you and I agree with that signal in these circumstances is up to is, but one thing is for sure:
You need to think as a leader (at any level) how you're going to handle situations where employees attempt to dominate conversations on political and social issues.
Right or left, capitalist or communist, it doesn't really matter. You need to be prepared as a leader for this, because employee activism in our social age is only going to continue to rise.