Reflections on Life, Leadership, Mindfulness, Change, and other Important Stuff

Month: November, 2012

Reflections on Life and Leadership: Winners, Losers, and College Football

In 2010 he was the Coach of the Year.  His team was undefeated and won a National Championship.  His quarterback won a Heisman Trophy and one of his defensive linemen won the Lombardi trophy.  Saturday  his team lost 49-0 to its arch rival.  As  of yesterday, Gene Chizik, is no longer the Head Football Coach at Auburn University.  He’s unemployed.

Chizik’s case isn’t all the unique, albeit he does now hold the record for being released as Head Coach in the shortest period of time after winning a National Championship.  His case, regardless of how one feels about the Auburn Tigers, is worth some reflection about what makes a man or woman a “winner” or “loser.”  It raises, or should raise, questions about the  value of a man, not just the value of a football coach.  It also raises some questions about ourselves as we respond to Chizek’s circumstances.

Chizek was hired to the dismay of many Auburn Football fans.  His record as a Division I Head Coach was a losing one.  Auburn fans booed when he stepped off the plane on his first trip to the University. Football fans openly wondered if Jay Jacobs and the Administration had gone mad.  What made them make such a decision?  It clearly wasn’t Chizik’s resume, his win-loss record.  Left to evaluate that alone,  surely the man was a “loser.”

Loser?  Two years later he was on top of the world.  He’d beaten the Crimson Tide.  He won a National Championship.  Loser? Impossible.  Chizek is a winner.  He signed a contract extension got a buy out provision in his contract and even wrote a book.  All signs of a winner.  And yet today he’s unemployed.

So what is the correct definition of “winner” or “loser?”  In college football it seems to be easy to measure.  Its wins versus losses; or at least that record over the last 24 months or so.  If this is the measure of a man, of a woman, of a life, something has gone terribly wrong.  Failure is a cheap measures of a man or woman.  Yet resorting to it is far to commonplace. Fans will revel in the demise of a rival’s coach or team.  Often the venom is disturbing.

Setting high goals and achieving them is a noble thing.  One need not abandon achievement in reconsidering the definition of “winner” and “loser.”  Indeed, those who would lead should never be exempt from either.  Those who would lead would do well to remember that many “losers” rose from the events of failure to achieve remarkable things.  Nixon.  Churchill.  Lincoln.  Even Nick Saban, probably the best football Coach in College Football today, was a “failure” in the NFL.

How should leaders respond?  They must see in themselves and in others more than their win-loss record.  They must examine their own “losses” and those of their team members to see what role they have played in those experiences.  Leaders must challenge the reduction of a man or women to nothing more than his or her resume or recent achievements.  They must sort out their own parts in those losses and respond appropriately.    Genuine leaders will see loss, in the presence of sincere effort and integrity, as “events,” not character.  And they will challenge others to do the same.  Only then are such leaders truly “winners.”

Keep the Faith.

Reflections on Life and Leadership: General David Petraeus and Avoiding Ethical Failings

As the story of General David Petraeus’ infidelity and resignation as Director of the Central Intelligence Agency unfolds, we once again find ourselves struggling to understand why powerful, accomplished men choose to risk their family, marriage, and reputation in extramarital relationships.  While politics is rife with examples of such infidelity including Franklin D. Roosevelt and Bill Clinton, accomplished men across society are not immune. Clergy, Coaches, University Presidents, CEOs and Physicians can all be included in such moral failings.  Include those who commit fraud, theft, or attempt to buy political favor and the list grow to add such names as Ebbers, Madoff, Scrushy.  The list goes on.

Seeing such accomplished men, and sometimes women, fall,  angers and dismays us.  We ache for their innocent families and wonder why would men and women who “have it all?” make such choices.  If one studies the research on ethical conduct we realize that few of these men, if any, would suggest they “knew what they were doing” when they were behaving in such ways.  Most knew it was wrong yet were still unrestrained. And they are haunted by the inability to explain why they made such choices.  Petreaus certainly, and most honorably, has admitted he fell far short of his own personal expectations of himself.  Perhaps the sense of honor and duty he felt from his long service to our country is what compelled him to acknowledge his shortcomings and resign.  But how did such an otherwise honorable, accomplished individual make such a foolish choice?

We may never know.  Yet leaders must recognize they live on the knife edge of ethical and moral challenges every day.  Wise leaders avoid circumstances where their personal integrity can be challenged.  They anticipate the the distractions to which they can succumb.  They plan a way out.  Most importantly, they recognize that they, nor anyone, is immune to the risk of a moral or ethical lapse.  In so doing, they recognize they are far better to avoid the temptation than to attempt to resist it.  They are wise enough to recognize that fatigue, stress, and power can each be pathways to ethical lapses.

There is much truth in the adage that no man or woman should be judged entirely for the worst things he or she has done in his lifetime.  Neither can he or she avoid accountability and the painful consequences of such behavior.  Petreaus it seems,  unlike many, has chosen to confront his behavior head on.  For that he can be respected.  Yet one must suspect he finds himself lamenting “what was I thinking?” in what must now be long and lonely moments of reflection.  As leaders, we must all hope to avoid having to make such painful inquiry into our own souls.  Perhaps we can learn from the failings of others who couldn’t.

Keep the Faith.