Kickers and Coaches: A Leadership Laboratory in Accountability and Encouragement

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Last Sunday, the Seattle Seahawks and the Arizona Cardinals played an interesting game of football that resulted in a rare tie.  In overtime, both teams had the opportunity to win by kicking short field goals that professionals would normally consider high percentage attempts…and both missed horribly.

Just as interesting was the reaction of the coaches during post-game press conferences, and even more interesting was an article in by Justin Bariso who examined the coach’s reactions from a leadership rather than a football perspective.  My son Jake sent the article to me and it sparked a great conversation that included my older son Sam on leadership.  It makes me very proud indeed that my sons are students of leadership.

In the article, Bariso pointed out that Seattle Coach Pete Carrol’s reaction was positive, supportive, and encouraging with comments that kicker Steven Hauschka had made many clutch kicks for the team before and was confident he would make many more in the future.  Arizona Coach Bruce Arians on the other hand simply pointed out that this is professional football and not high school, and professionals are paid to make those kicks.

Bariso’s assessment was that Pete Carrol displayed good leadership because his message was encouraging and that Bruce Arians displayed bad leadership because his message held accountability.  The implied analysis is that encouragement and accountability cannot peacefully coexist and that one is better than the other.  On that point Mr. Bariso, you and I shall cross swords today.

As Critical Doers, we are constantly on guard to avoid the crippling effect of binary thinking that limits operating space by viewing choices as either one or the other.  Through a critical thinking lens, it is possible that Pete Carrol has assessed a strong culture of accountability on his team and did not need to make accountability part of his comments.  Although Pete Carrol’s persona is upbeat and high energy, you’re kidding yourself if you believe his incredible coaching achievements occurred without holding people accountable for their performance.

It is possible that Bruce Arians perceives an accountability issue with his team and in his judgment, this was the time, place, and method it needed to be addressed.  In general leaders hold to the adage of praise in public and discipline in private.  From his public remarks, you could draw a conclusion that his leadership is negative and there could be a detrimental impact but if you listen to the players, they truly love Bruce Arians.  You’re also kidding yourself if you think he could have accomplished all he has in coaching without knowing how to encourage and motivate players.

I expect the real answer to the question of leadership styles is that both coaches were correct because their approach fit the needs and circumstances of their organizations.  In the business of leadership, “one size fits all” generalizations do not work.  Both encouragement and accountability are required to build high performing teams.  The situation of the missed field goals likely highlighted teams that were in different stages regarding encouragement and accountability, so it’s correct that the same event produced two very different approaches.

Your challenge is to look at a situation at home or work where the leadership approach is inconsistent with the need of the organization.  You may find that the same event is handled differently just as you saw with Pete Carrol and Bruce Arians.  Have the foresight and courage to believe that encouragement and accountability are partners…not enemies…and you can consistently build winning teams.  It’s what a Critical Doer would…do!


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Updated: October 26, 2016 — 12:01 pm