The big sports story of the day seems to be the firing of Mike Rice by Rutgers University. For the past three college basketball seasons, until today, Rice has been the head men’s basketball coach at Rutgers. He was fired after video of Rice’s practice sessions revealed him abusing players, both verbally and physically. It was really surprising to see the behavior of this head coach and the way he mistreated his players. Although it was unlike anything I’ve seen, it did remind me that there are many motivational styles and behaviors. Some, like this, are difficult to comprehend, but they do exist.
As leaders, we can look at this situation to learn some valuable leadership lessons.
Respect is so important to building trusting and positive relationships with our team members. We must treat our team members, co-workers, supervisors, and even competitors with respect. It is okay to disagree, but never to disrespect. It is okay to be passionate, but always in a respectful way. It is okay to be emotional and enthusiastic, but these are not excuses to disrespect. When we are not respectful of others, they will not follow us willingly and we will not lead effectively.
So how did Mike Rice get hired at Rutgers University? Is it possible they did not know about these behaviors when they hired him? If they did know, were they willing to “look the other way” simply because they thought he would win games for the University? Either the selection process failed or the University chose to sacrifice their values for the sake of winning games. Both are serious issues. As leaders we need to have selection processes that do more than just measure how effective someone is in an interview. We need to dig deeper to understand actual performance, values, and behaviors.
If the selection process at Rutgers didn’t fail, then the value system did. If administrators at Rutgers knew of Rice’s inappropriate tactics, and chose to hire him anyway, they broke an important rule for all leaders. Never sacrifice your values and always make sure your values (and the values of those you hire) align with the organization’s values. As an institution of higher learning, I am certain that respectful treatment of students is one of Rutgers’ values. If they willingly dismissed this value and knowingly hired a coach who violated this value, they are a perfect example of why we, as leaders, must stay true to that which we value.
I know this may sound astounding, but I was very impressed by Mike Rice today. I was expecting his interview, after his termination, to be filled with the reasons why what we saw on the video is not what it seemed or that his actions were to build toughness in a program that has struggled to find success. But what I heard was a former coach who said he was wrong and there was no justification for what he had done. Rice took full accountability for his actions and stated clearly that he was at fault. As much as I despised his lack of leadership on the practice court, I admired the way he stood before the media and displayed accountability and responsibility today.
It’s a sad situation for all involved. There really are no winners. But it is also a reminder how devastating a lack of leadership, or even worse poor leadership, can be. These lapses in leadership have caused serious damage to a prestigious university, its leaders, student-athletes, and alumni, and a coach and his friends and family. As you can see, the cost of poor leadership is quite significant.
Thanks for reading,