Channel surfing can have its serendipitous moments, and I was the benefit of two of them this week. Each had strikingly different content. One of them showcased the best of our American society; the other, the worst (yes, it feels like we’ve seen a lot of that lately). What follows below is the tale of two leaders. Despite the stark differences, I believe there is reason for hope, and we can all participate!
Many of you know that I work with teams to help them reach their full potential. I’m always interested in the quality of the leaders I work with. As the leader goes, the team goes. The leader establishes cultural norms, values, and “how things get done.”
There is almost always a “career defining” fork in the road. A tough leadership or self-leadership decision regarding people on your team, or someone who works for you, or with you. And in that moment, our “true north” is revealed. Winning at any cost is a leadership choice. Helping a team value the “we” over the “me” is a leadership choice, too. Let’s explore both (and don’t miss the photos at the bottom!)
POST-GAME UPDATE: Coach Oda (the We > Me coach described below) and his team from Hawaii won the Little League World Series beating South Korea 3-0. Two great examples of his leadership: a) When it became clear they were going to win, he told his boys to savor the moment and “love one another”, and b) When they won, the microphone caught him saying, “Be humble! Be humble!” Read more about him below.
WINNING AT ANY COST
I was channel surfing Wednesday night when I landed on the live broadcast of the Ohio State press conference announcing the findings from the recent investigation into the football coaching staff. Zach Smith, an assistant football coach at Ohio State, was fired in July after he was issued a protection order forbidding him from being within 500 feet of his wife. The ensuing investigation and report made it clear that Head Coach Urban Meyer has known about “some problems” for years. The events leading up to the crisis revealed a failure of leadership at every level. The punishment includes a slap on the wrist for the Athletic Director and for Urban Meyer. I am going to stop calling him Coach – he doesn’t deserve the title.
As Urban Meyer spoke, I felt a rising sense of disbelief. He couldn’t have looked more irritated or offended that he was put in this undignified position. Never mind that his failure to self-lead himself landed him right where he was. He sped through a written statement like an A student from the Evelyn Wood Speed Reading course. His concern was for “the program” and Buck-eye nation, and blah blah blah. Perhaps most egregious, Urban Meyer failed to apologize to the victim for his inaction, even though Urban Meyer’s own wife had told him that there were problems.
Click here to watch Urban Meyer read his short statement.
Winning? Rankings? Recruiting? Money? Power? Is that what drives Urban Meyer? I don’t know. I do know that the sports culture at some schools is rotten and it offers a black cloud of cover that has hidden abuse at Penn State, Michigan State, and Maryland. When leaders choose to look the other way in the face of obvious wrong doing to protect a program, a reputation, or a position of power, the institution is doomed. The stakeholders lose trust in them and they become angry and disengaged.
This problem always begins and ends at the top. LEADERS MUST LEAD. The people that had real power at that press conference were the Athletic Director and Urban Meyer. Despite his title, the President of Ohio State looked like he’d been hit by a bus. Deflated, he had little to say beyond the opening statement. It was very similar to how Lou Anna Simon, former President of Michigan State University, appeared during the Larry Nassar scandal. LEADERS MUST LEAD and sometimes it means doing the hard thing like firing a person in a position of power because of their poor behavior. Universities are notoriously inept at this aspect of leadership and if we want real change in college sports, it must begin there. We must demand better. Memo to University Presidents: People & values matter more than trophies. You’re the boss. Sports coaches and all employees work for you. LEAD.
By the way, two days later Urban Meyer issued an apology to Mrs. Smith. His method of delivering that apology? Twitter.
WE > ME
Yesterday I was channel surfing and came across the last inning of the Little League World Series playoffs. It was Hawaii versus Georgia, and Hawaii was up 3-0. I heard the Hawaiian head coach offer encouragement to the pitcher, and I was hooked. I appreciate coaches that understand how to get the best out of each player.
Then the announcer spoke about the Hawaiian team’s jerseys worn on the run up to the U.S. championship game. On each jersey was a statement defining the team culture. It read: WE > ME. We is greater than Me. It was a simple mathematical formula declaring what success looks like for this team. Now I was doubly hooked.
Hawaii got the last out, and a short celebration followed. Both teams shook hands, the coaches congratulated one another, the crowd chanted “USA!”, and then something unexpected happened.
The Hawaiian team headed over to the stands. I assumed they were going to thank their fans. Instead, they were in front of the families from Georgia. They thanked those fans first, and then headed over to celebrate with their own families. When is the last time you saw that happen at one of your kid’s Little League games? Maybe Hawaii’s “We > Me” statement includes the other team?
Coach Gerald Oda choked up when speaking about competing in Pennsylvania while Hawaii was facing a hurricane, and one of his players reached out to console him. It spoke volumes about what matters most to this team. People matter most. Winning is a byproduct of people mattering most. Click here to see this endearing one-minute video.
I ask you: Who would you want your son or daughter playing for? Who is the better leader, Coach Oda or Urban Meyer?
It all depends on what success looks like. What do you want your children to value? What serves them best in the long run and in the real world?
How can we co-create the kind of sports experience for our kids that inspires them to learn, grow, have the courage and confidence to stand up for what’s right, and embrace the journey of competing rather than the outcome on the scoreboard? What can you do to support and encourage a player or a parent at the next game you attend? Can you celebrate and value effort and sportsmanship with as much energy as a Big 10 title?
There is reason to hope, and much of this is in our own control. People first. We is greater than Me. Let’s give all our energy to those coaches, teams, and players that play the right way and for the right reasons. It doesn’t mean they won’t make mistakes. They will, and we shouldn’t look the other way when they do. Instead, we must help them understand the ramification of their choices and discuss what might have been done differently. We can grow more Coach Oda’s and fewer Urban Meyers.
Today at 3:00 pm ET, Hawaii plays South Korea for the Little League World Championship. I don’t know who will win and I don’t care. I know that the Hawaiian team is building great young men that will remember the lessons of Little League baseball and use them when they enter the real world. That’s winning in my eyes.
WE Is Greater Than ME – a Destination Unstoppable leadership choice if I’ve ever heard one. Who’s onboard?
Leadership Consultant and Author of Destination Unstoppable: The Journey of No Teammate Left Behind