It’s more than a game

Paul Heagen Purposeful Leadership & Living Leave a Comment

Football, if not most sports in general, is our idolatrous avatar. The gladiators on the field breathe life into our highest ideals when they excel; we are repulsed when their fumbles or thuggery betray us. The coaches and owners are the bosses we always wish we had, or wish we could never see again. It’s a blood sport, on many levels.
There has been plenty said about the alley gang fight that was the Bengals-Steelers playoff game on Saturday night, and most everyone has assigned their scorn to their own select culprits. In this case, the culprits made it easy to do so.
Still, what perhaps is part of it being a vicarious armchair exercise it is to consider ways we ourselves need to play the game well in our own lives and enterprises.
  1. It really is management’s responsibility. Who we hire, for what reasons, with what direction and support, the systems we design, the incentives we shape, the behaviors we reward or punish all leave footprints back to the top.
  2. Nobody matters that much. If we tolerate, even condone, behavior or performance that consistently is a helmet spearing hit to culture because we somehow need them to get something done, we’re done. If coaches would pull more of their players out of the game because of unprofessional conduct, it would change things. When we delegate that to a ref with a yellow flag, we are not leading. The SEC, the FTC, OSHA and others are not our proxies for ensuring we do the right thing.
  3. Leadership is a quality, not a position. There was leadership in that game, albeit largely absent from the guys on the sidelines with the headsets supposedly paid to provide that. Several players were poised, even graceful, in that defeat. It reveals that many people yearn to do the right thing and, even if not supported, may do so anyway.
  4. If you think it’s come down to “us” versus “them” you’ve become one of them. It’s target fixation writ large when we let bad behavior of others dictate or license our own. It doesn’t matter what somebody else has done; do the right thing. Anything less is a corkscrew into the dirt.
  5. Remember the long game. When you have the lead with a minute to play, take a knee, or execute your strongest plays. Business and life present plenty of scrimmages, but keeping a clear line of sight between where we are and where we want to be can keep us out of a lot of distraction or fool’s errands.
  6. If you want to change things, you have to change things. Seems obvious, but too often we feel we need to marshal the case for change rather than recognizing the invigorating disruption and refocus that comes with the process of change itself.
  7. Every business is “public.” A former chairman of AT&T famously observed that no enterprise continues to exist without the public’s permission. That permission is granted in both direct and subtle ways: Being rewarded with customers, being able to recruit talent, having a favorable public policy climate for its operations, or – notably in the case of so many taxpayer-funded football stadium – a sense of obligation to support and add to the quality of the communities from which it draws its livelihood. Sometime you have to pay those dues.

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