There was quite a bit of chatter going around concerning the behavior and breakdown of the Army’s quarterback following the Army/Navy game. I would like to address this situation directly with this blog post. For those of you unfamiliar with the Army/Navy game, let me take a moment to try to set the scene so the rest of this story makes sense. Army and Navy are brothers and sisters in arms on the battlefield – we will stand and fight side by side gladly and willingly every single day of the year, except one. The Army vs. Navy football game has been played 113 times. It is a deep-rooted tradition between the two service academies that is so ingrained that the phrase Beat Army is loudly shouted after singing the Naval Academy school song. Any time Army and Navy compete, there is a higher sense of purpose and drive to win. In this particular case, Army has been losing in football to Navy for ten years in a row; this year made eleven. The truth is Army was poised to win this year. They had the ball and were headed down the field, Navy unable to stop them very well. Unfortunately, with about one minute left in the game, the quarterback and running back did not have a good exchange and the ball was fumbled, ultimately recovered by Navy. That meant the end of the game and the loss for Army. What happened next is the true point of this blog – the quarterback sat on the sideline and sobbed. Not only did he sob during the last minute of the game, but he sobbed during the singing of each school‘s song as well as afterwards. He was inconsolable, even by Generals on the field.
Okay, now that the scenario is out there, let’s dive into the leadership aspect. From the various forums and Facebook postings, I am willing to say a majority of the spectators of the game felt the quarterback was blubbering, past the point of compassion. It did not help that CBS decided to focus on this guy’s breakdown throughout the final fifteen minutes of airtime; so we all got to watch the snot drip down his nose. The other perspective, though, is that this is a highly charged, emotional game and this guy may feel responsible for the loss, and/or he is a senior who never saw Army beat Navy in football. After devoting so many years, sweat and hard work into something, be on the brink of success, then see it slip from your grasp is tough for anyone to take.
So let’s bring this topic back up one level instead of just this one football game. Like this quarterback, we as leaders are looked up to for guidance, strength and handling the performance of our team. In some ways it is a good thing for us to show we are not made of stone to our teams – we have hearts and they do break. Teams work together and as such should support each other. Leaders are not excluded from this concept; so it is not only appropriate but encouraging to think a team would rally around a leader who needs consolation. What seems to be a defining limit, though, is when the leader is unable to regain composure and remain the leader.
In this type of situation, leaders have to keep two things in mind: 1. Bearing and 2. Perspective. Those who have served in the military are well aware of the concept of military bearing. It means to keep your composure and focus no matter what else is going on around you. I submit this is not an idea that should be limited just to the military. Any leader would benefit by remaining focused and composed, especially during a crisis situation. Teams look to leaders for clear-headed thinking and direction; remaining composed helps leaders provide that guidance, which builds the confidence of the team members for the leader. If the leader is unable to stay composed, in essence, the role of the guide is subconsciously passed on to whoever steps up at that time. The potential impact on this shift could affect future crisis situations, where the trust and confidence in the leader is shaken but not in the other team member who came through when someone was needed to lead.
The other point is perspective. This one is tougher because it reaches back to another of my previous blog posts about perception. At the end of the day, what is the most important point for the leader and the team to remember? What is the focus or direction for leaders in order to continue to move forward with their teams? Should we look at the one failure or the overall accomplishments? To state what may be obvious, leaders must find the positive within the negative. In some ways, this technique just eases the sting of defeat, but as a leader, isn’t that part of what we need to do?
In the case of the Army quarterback, he was devastated, but again, it was a football game. I am in a position to say ‘just a football game’ because I’ve seen Army beat Navy during my time as a midshipman. When I graduated in 2000, the series went 2-2 so I know what the sting of defeat feels like in this rivalry; something the mids of today do not know. The bigger picture is the Army fought a tough battle, and while they should feel sad for the loss, they should hold their heads up high for playing so well. Today, after the game, Army cadets and Navy midshipmen are back in class, preparing for finals. When they graduate, they will serve our country with honor and distinction, not as athletes but as Soldiers, Sailors and Marines. God Bless each of them and the future of our country.
CEO, The Professional Development Team