June 2, 2011

Leadership Lessons from Ohio State

A lot has been made of the fallout from violations committed by people associated with Ohio State football. Some blame the players for taking money and selling memorabilia.  Others blame former coach Jim Tressel and others for turning a blind eye.

It's unrealistic to expect followers to behave any better than their leaders. Like many people, I get frustrated sometimes with the arrogance of over-hyped athletes whose egos have outpaced their character.  But when I look at those who are supposed to be examples to the Ohio State players, I see a coach with a long history of violations.  I also see an athletic director and a university president who weren't that interested in knowing the truth.

In situations like this, too often players get marked as having serious "character issues" while coaches and athletic directors feign ignorance and at worst, admit making "mistakes".

The problem with major college athletic programs is that money is the primary objective of the system. Winning means more money for NCAA officials, athletic directors, coaches--everybody except players.

It all starts with the leadership of the NCAA. The NCAA as it's currently constituted is designed to make money. The NCAA's rules are designed to make sure players don't make money. That's the fundamental contradiction that sets everything else in motion.

I'm not defending the actions of the players. If they know what the rules are and agree to abide by them, then they should keep their word. I'm just saying that it's shortsighted to separate the actions of the players from the larger culture created by the NCAA.

If the intentions of the leadership aren't noble, then you can't expect followers to consistently act with nobility.

For better or for worse, the principles that motivate you will shape those you lead. When you lead people--whether it's in an organization, a business, a church or a family--the values you embody heavily influence the actions of those who follow you.

I realize that people make their own decisions. Sometimes people make bad decisions even when they have great leaders. But before you criticize the people at the bottom of the hierarchy, make sure they aren't just getting their cues from the people at the top.
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