University of Illinois (my Alma Mater) Head Basketball Coach Bruce Weber has come under intense fire lately, precipitated by our basketball team's late season swoon. Let me begin by stating that this post is not about whether Bruce should or shouldn't be fired, but I do believe this situation provides us an outstanding leadership lesson...
Coach Weber has always characteristically exhibited much transparency including in his interactions with the media (for which I applaud him). After a particularly disappointing loss to Purdue, he volunteered the following analysis of his own performance:
"Instead of developing people, I've been worried about winning. Maybe I should have sat down (player's names) 3 weeks ago, a month ago. You have to develop a culture. I think the past 3 years all I did was worry about winning instead of developing a culture and a toughness. We're always mollycoddlying them (the players). You try to please everyone instead of pleasing yourself. In hindsight... (trailing off)".
What Coach Weber confessed to was that when the heat was on - when the pressure of big time college basketball intensified - he abandoned his own beliefs in deference to the opinions of others. In the process, he betrayed his own core values particularly with respect to player development and the overarching importance of culture. The net result of his abandonment of the very values which marked him as an elite level coach and brought him to Illinois?...a losing streak, underdeveloped talent, a growing disfavor among the very people he coached to please, and quite possibly the loss of a job he so obviously loves.
I'm sure that Coach Weber has wondered to himself what his basketball team might look like today if only he had, when the heat was on, clung steadfastly to his core values and coached to his beliefs - where would the players be, where would the program itself be today if he had stuck to his guns and coached to his beliefs over the past 3 years?
How many leaders of organizations (especially those comprised of multitudes of independent contractors) base their strategy and decsion-making on their perception of how others might react (and how disenfranchised are we by political candidates with this same "temperature taking" approach)?
In the short run, leadership based upon the perceived reaction of others or popular opinion seems safest. It's tough however (some say impossible) to please all of the people all of the time, and when the day is done you're best off being true to the one person that really matters - yourself. Another rather elite basketball coach - John Wooden - put it this way: "There's no pillow as soft as a clear conscience".
If Bruce Weber's going to lose his job, I'll bet you anything he'd rather have gone out leading his team his own way. The irony here is that if he had there's a much greater likelihood that Illinois would be winning games and challenging for championships.
Winning isn't only reflected in the box score. As leaders, we win when we look within ourselves and to our core values for guidance, especially when the pressure is greatest to look outside. So do our organizations.
People follow leaders - it doesn't work the other way around.
Can Bruce Weber return to those core leadership values that brought him to Illinois, and lead his team on to greatness? The more important question is...