CEO Stan Moss: ‘When Bad Things Happen, Leaders Have To Take Responsibility’

In this edition of our Corporate Competitor Podcast, Polen Capital CEO Stan Moss talks about the code of personal responsibility he developed following a botched play as a punter for the Alabama Crimson Tide.

A blocked punt may have taught one CEO the most important business lesson of his life. On Alabama’s first punt against Florida in 1990, the defensive lineman ran up the middle untouched, blocked Stan Moss’ punt, picked up the ball, and ran it in for a touchdown. Florida went on to win the game, and in the post-game interview, Moss was asked about the costly error.

“I thought about what Coach Gene Stallings said to me after the play,” Moss recalled of that moment 32 years ago. “‘It is the punter’s responsibility to get the ball off—no matter what,’ he’d said. During the post-game interview, I thought about his words and about the offensive lineman I was tempted to blame and chose my reply, “It is always the punter’s responsibility to get the ball off, so it’s on me.”

Moss’s stand-up reply engendered a kind of trust between himself and his teammates that cannot be manufactured. Trust must come from honest and straightforward ownership of challenging moments, he says. “And you know, looking back all these years later, serving as Polen Capital’s CEO, that lesson that’s benefited me throughout my career. When bad things happen, leaders have to take responsibility. When good things happen, many can take credit for that.”

Turning tough times into opportunities for growth has helped Polen Capital gain recognition by Pensions & Investments as the industry’s “Best Place to Work” six years in a row, thanks in large part to its CEO’s reputation for maximizing productivity while prioritizing the well-being of its workers.

Listeners will understand why Polen Capital is no ordinary firm through glimpses into the firm’s innovative and resilient culture, including:

• How Moss uses his grandfather’s advice, “Winning isn’t anything you own. You just rent it, and then you have to pay the rent daily,” to focus and motivate his team.

• The positive results Polen experienced by intentionally replacing a culture of fear with one of continuous learning and improvement.

• Why Moss thinks storytelling is so critical to building a culture of trust at Polen Capital that he commissioned a book of deeply personal staff profiles, including his own.

“We strongly believe in providing the structure and the resources that will enable a person to come to work as his or her true, authentic self every single day,” said Moss. “And by sharing our stories with the organization, that authenticity shines through, builds trust and makes our culture a competitive advantage.”

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