The corruption of the Olympics is pretty staggering but it’s not the most interesting story from the games. The real question remains: Why do elite athletes do this to themselves?
Phil Jackson had some things to say about how the New York Knicks have been playing.
Unfortunately, he told the world about it on Twitter, like someone complaining about bad dinner service at a hotel restaurant (via NY Daily News):
Phil Jackson’s moves and Carmelo Anthony’s injury have left the Knicks without much of a chance to win many games for the remainder of the season, but that didn’t stop the Zen Master from expressing his displeasure following Sunday’s 101-83 loss to the Cavaliers.
“Each NBA game is an opportunity for players to show their “best” nature and please the basketball gods…and those who know what “It takes,”” Jackson tweeted Sunday night on his @philjackson11 account. “Today’s game vs Cavs gave bb gods heartburn and those that know what “it” takes/means a smh.”
The Knicks are a bad basketball team, approximately a lifetime away from .500, and one of the worst teams in a league where the Philadelphia 76ers look like some of the NBA Summer League rosters we saw in Vegas.
Of course, Jackson knows this. He’s the president of the Knicks and has been instrumental in ensuring that this would be a miserable season for the Madison Square Garden faithful. It may be with a plan in mind — after all, the Knicks weren’t title-bound before Jackson showed up — but they were going to be a bad team that is going to occasionally show some flashes of listlessness. An 82 game grind of a season on a crappy team will do that to even some of the most professional players.
Maybe Jackson expects better energy from the players on his team. Maybe he is trying to get in somebody’s head. Either way, the choice of venue for his comments are distracting for a team and reminds me of some of the young managers I’ve dealt with who didn’t know how and when to criticize their employees. One of them made it a habit of doing it at a regular Monday meeting in front of everyone. There wasn’t enough coffee in the world to deal with a Monday like that.
For Phil Jackson truthers and believers, they’ll tell us, “He knows what he is doing. He knows how to motivate people. He knows when to take something public and when to keep it in house.”
To that, I say okay. Great. But just because it worked for Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant doesn’t mean it’ll work for this band of not so great players (and a currently shut down Carmelo Anthony).
If you’ve read any business blogs over the past few years, you’ve probably seen some sort of stock “Leadership is better than management” post. It always seems to be an either/or proposition, too.
In that post, you’ll invariably read the author extol the power that leadership brings to typical management challenges: workers who don’t perform well, don’t always do what you ask them to do, or engage in behaviors that discourage their colleagues. Becoming a better leader, they say, will help you avoid these challenges more easily because people will be inspired to do what you ask them without you have to be a big bad boss. And who likes bosses, right? We like leaders.
Of course, I’ve never written about that. Not because I don’t think leadership skills have value (indeed, they do) but because rarely have the people I have seen manage employees exhibit one trait or the other singularly. The pure leader and the pure manager are as common as a unicorn.
Thank goodness, too.
Can we admit to ourselves that the great recognized leaders of our time also had some fantastic management skills as well? Can we also admit that had they chosen to shun management for pure leadership, they would have been seen as abject failures?
Okay, probably not. Yet.
If you take an example from the sports world, coaches have to be good at both leadership and management to be successful in their field. If you’re in a basketball game with the game on the line with the final possession, you have to both inspire your team to be great (even after a brutally long game) and know that you have the right game plan that your players will follow to the end.
Basketball players, even great ones, question their coaches (even, yes, great ones). With limited time to brainstorm possibilities with your team though, the coach is the focal point of drawing up this final play. Whether or not you question the coach on his decision, you are going to follow through on it because you know there are consequences for not doing so.
That final play outcome is going to be driven by authority and by good management. If a coach can’t do that, they aren’t going to win consistently.
Take an example from politics. A president can be great at leading and inspiring people without being super effective at their job because they seem unwilling (or unable) to drive results through authority and managing people and results. Is that an unfair jab at President Obama? A bit, sure. But every time I hear about our obstructionist Congress (which, they are), I hear about it from someone who doesn’t want the President to do the same things his predecessors did to drive their agendas.
The point is: you need leadership and management. The best leaders, the ones we laud, do both.
If you follow the National Football League, you probably know about the New Orleans Saints bounty scandal. In short, some of the players on the team were pooling money for big hits and injuries to opposing players. The result was a swath of suspensions for the players and coaches involved in the scandal. It left the Saints fractured as a team, and a lot of the people involved in an unhappy and uncertain situation.
In reviewing the appeal in the case, former NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue announced this week that he was vacating the punishment set forth by current NFL commissioner Roger Goodell on the players while confirming much of the finding of facts with how the bounty program ran in purpose.
Some people are admittedly confused by such a ruling and think the NFL is taking the easy way out. How could the players be wrong but still get off?
If you’ve worked for any time in human resources though, you’ve probably seen this issue come up on occasion. And at least from my point of view, the result is neither surprising nor particularly odd.
This excellent piece on Deadspin gives you a flavor for where I’m going with this:
Tagliabue’s ruling, by contrast, comes from an alternate NFL universe in which the flaws in the case actually matter, and the arbiter’s self-calibrated disappointment level is not determinative of the outcome. Fujita’s actions, as the ex-commissioner explains, were neither surprising nor disappointing. Now that the league has admitted there’s no evidence the linebacker paid cash for “cart-offs,” his behavior is no different than that of other players who reward their teammates off the books. Tagliabue points to similar cases involving the Packers and Patriots in 2007 and 2008 in which the teams, not players, were punished (with small fines, not suspensions) for pay-for-performance pools. “Accordingly, the NFL’s decision to suspend a player here for participating in a program for which the League typically fines a club certainly raises significant issues regarding inconsistent treatment
Indeed, inconsistency in punishment is just one way that an employee can be both incorrect in action but not necessarily get punished, at least not to the degree that he was.
In the other, more severe cases, Saints players were told to lie by their own coaches about the bounty program to NFL investigators. When the truth was found out, the players were not only punished for their actions but also for the act of lying in the course of an investigation (something that seemed to carry a much more severe disciplinary action).
In another case, simply being a player-leader was enough to warrant additional disciplinary action to be taken into consideration. That’s more inconsistency into a process. And those reasons are why the players in this case will walk with no more than a fine (if even that).
Tagliabue saved his harshest criticism for the Saints team and NFL officials, including commissioner Roger Goodell. While the players should have known better and they should have put an end to it, the conduct of the New Orleans Saints as an organization severely influenced the actions of those who were involved in the bounty system. I’ve had bad bosses who pulled down an entire department with them. If you cut off the head, the snake dies. The failure of oversight was on the Saints organization but a disproportion amount of the blame were laid on the players.
And that’s where the commissioner’s office got it wrong according to Tagliabue. They punished individuals for an organization’s failure. Were they innocent in their own right? No, but they were at a distinct disadvantage with coaches calling the shots. And while lying may be problematic in an investigation, it is even more problematic that coaches were asking players to cover up key facts and that, with union representation, players are not encouraged to implicate themselves.
The lesson here is a tough one for people who believed the players should have faced more responsibility for their actions. It should be a lesson for anyone who has to head up an investigation on an internal dispute. You don’t get justice through a broken process or through punishing employees beyond precedent because you want to send a message.
With a little hindsight (or, if I may, Monday Morning Quarterbacking), it is easy to see that Goodell would have been justified in throwing all of his office’s firepower at the Saints’ organizational leadership. In fact, as an organization, you should always feel free to err on the side of holding those in leadership positions responsible. Individual punishment should be taken when a person works inappropriately outside of the company norm, not within a badly constructed company norm.
In short, you can’t be wrong for the right reasons and still expect your discipline to stick. While the NFL was right in the facts of the case, their understanding of power structures, precedent and the inducement of organizational pressure failed them. In the end, the players reputation will suffer but none as much as the NFL and the Saints will endure.