What If You Were Judged Like an Olympic Athlete?

What If You Were Judged Like an Olympic Athlete?

You’re getting ready to send the most important email of your life. You prepare, you write, you edit, you re-edit, and then it’s go-time, You hit send. And then: everyone around you holds up a card with your score for the email.

Doesn’t sound too comfortable? And yet, this is how we dissect our favorite athletes, and how the rigorousness of the Olympics treats every contestant. Brutally, dispassionately.

The measure of success: Olympic Gold.

Can the same brutal, dispassionate honesty help an organization reach the pinnacle of success?

Glen Tullman thinks so.

Dissecting Performance

InterimExecs CEO Robert Jordan interviewed Tullman for his 2010 book, How They Did It: Billion Dollar Insights from the Heart of AmericaAs the title suggests, the book is filled with profiles of successful entrepreneurs sharing how they founded, built, and sold companies for hundreds of millions of dollars.

Tullman, who has invested in and/or co-founded more than 20 businesses over the course of his career, says in the book that he believes in conducting a ruthless – and public – autopsy of poor employee performance.

“I learned from my brother Howard that when you’re growing a company and somebody does something wrong, you can correct him or her individually and then one person learns that lesson. Or you can send an email to the whole company and the whole company learns that lesson,” he said.

Critique = Improvement

While it can be painful to be the person who made the mistake and has to endure the public autopsy of the error, Jordan suggests thinking of it as akin to the performance-enhancing assessment of an Olympic athlete.

“We’re always so quick to give praise, but everybody wants to cover it up when anyone does anything wrong. Then no one learns,” he says.

“We should be more like athletes whose performance is endlessly dissected whether they like it or not. We need to be like the swimmer who is trying to shave 3/100s off their time.”

Starting Strong

Pete Kadens, a successful entrepreneur who has started, grown and sold multiple businesses believes that brutal honesty should start before a new employee is hired.

He calls it “The Gauntlet Run.” It’s a series of personal traits the hiring manager must consider about each potential employee. It requires them to observe whether the job candidate:

  • Acts humbly.
  • Is radically honest.
  • Uses good judgment.
  • Knows where they are weak and are willing to improve.
  • Exudes positive energy.
  • Has shown an ability to bounce back from mistakes.

And, finally, the hiring managers need to say whether they “like them as a human being,” list “any and all concerns” about hiring that person and “in 2-3 sentences, describe HOW this person meets the criteria to work at ____ and WHY it is critical to hire this person in order to contribute to the success of ____.”

Brutal Honesty Matters

Kadens is the co-founder and retired CEO of Green Thumb Industries, currently the second largest cannabis company in the world with a market capitalization of more than $6 billion. He also partnered with Glen Tullman to found, grow, and sell a solar energy business called SoCore Energy, one of the largest commercial solar companies in the U.S.

Today, he is the chair of the Kadens Family Foundation, which focuses on closing the wealth and education gaps in the United States. His big launch going on right now is Fello, a vetted peer support network for people dealing with mental health issues.

Over the years, Kadens has employed more than 5,000 people.

During a panel discussion at a spring 2024 meeting of the National Association of Corporate Directors in Chicago, Kadens said that he believes in brutal honesty to hire the right people.

Speaking Truth, Up and Down the Line

But brutal honesty needs to work both ways.

In fact, one of the principles of InterimExecs RED Team executives is that they speak truth to power. When an interim goes into a turnaround situation, for example, the first thing they do is listen. But once the go-forward plan is in place, it becomes for many of these seasoned executives a Gauntlet-style hard line.

Getting the right people into the right jobs and giving them the feedback they need to improve their performance is the hallmark of a successful company.

Asking hiring managers to run their potential hires through the gauntlet may seem overly rigorous. But Kadens believes it results in better hires.

Likewise, the brutal honesty of a ruthless public autopsy of mistakes might be painful for the person who made the error, but ultimately serves everyone in the company if it means you only have to fix that mistake once.


How can InterimExecs help you? Reach out to us online or call us at 847.849.2800 for a confidential conversation about how one of our rock star interim CEOs, CFOs, COOs, CMOs, CTOs, or CSOs can help your company reach new heights.