Don’t Lead Like Roger Goodell


With the NFL’s spiraling domestic abuse and discipline crisis, everyone in the football-loving world has been wondering where is Roger Goodell? And last Friday, he had the press conference from Hell. To be fair, the much-anticipated moment of truth drew criticism before it even began. He showed up 15 minutes late (leading some on Twitter to invoke Lombardi time). Then it went downhill. He was criticized by current players on Twitter. He was heckled by a prankster from the audience, ridiculed by mainstream TV journalists and afterwards, many people called for his resignation. To say it was tense is an understatement.

The truth is, there are some monumental problems surrounding the NFL as an organization. The issues are somewhat complex. However, difficult problems are everywhere and courageous leaders solve them. Roger Goodell had an opportunity to lead – but he didn’t. His performance lacked passion and didn’t come across as sincere.

What we wanted was for Roger to show he was aware of the situation, disgusted by it, and for him to commit to wholesale change. We wanted to have confidence in him as a leader. We were disappointed.

In today’s hyper-connected world, your company, your brand and your personal reputation are only as good as your audience thinks it is. Business leaders can learn so much from what Roger Goodell should have done.

When placed in command, you are obligated to take charge.

I_Got_This_Roger_Goodell_NFLNo one cares what a puppet has to say. Was General Norman Schwarzkopf a bureaucrat or a leader? Was he held hostage by politics? No. General Norm let us all know with certainty “I’ve got this”.

Public relations and marketing rhetoric is the expected low road. In crisis, your audience will be skeptical until you prove you have high moral character and the strength to stand on it. As a leader you are called to point your compass due north and march forward dragging everyone into the light.

Roger Goodell’s performance didn’t inspire confidence. He pandered to the owners, coaches and players (his internal audience) while ignoring the real issues – probably out of fear. Does anyone really believe he’s in charge?

As Americans, we love football. From high school all the way to the NFL, we are passionate; even fanatical. The Super Bowl can be characterized as a quasi-religious festival that celebrates our adoration of the league itself as much as the sport.

And because of our love for the sport and the league, we watched, waited, and hoped Roger would step up. We were fearful he would let us down – and he did.

Your audience wants to love you…

As a business leader, you must recognize that your audience has expectations of you much like a child has expectations of leadership from a parent. You are being watched. Everyone knows it’s difficult at times. Your audience is watching to see if your character is strong enough to stand upon. It’s a test.

Taking bold, courageous steps forward will be remembered WAY more than anything you do in your role day-to-day. The truth of the matter is that people always know the right thing to do. The hard part is doing it.

You, as a business leader shouldn’t let yourself off the hook easily when you are facing a tough situation. Your audience isn’t going to. They will either respect you and the choices you make or they won’t. Revealing the strength of your character during these times is an opportunity. Capitalize on it.

… and your organization.

Just like there are different levels of love and maturity in personal relationships, there are levels of brand love as well. Right now we love the NFL in an infatuated-schoolgirl kind of way. Our real desire is to love and respect the league in an evolved, mature way where we are proud fans, evangelists and partners in the organization’s continued success.

Every business says they are seeking deeper, more solid relationships with their audiences. If you really mean it, show your audience that it is OK to trust you with their emotions – not by what you say but what you do.

While business can be complex, the basics of leadership are not. You don’t need to over think this concept. Be worthy and your business will grow – or not, your choice.

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Ed Fox

Ed Fox works closely with partnership stakeholders and product leaders on business strategic planning, as Director of Technology. Ed leads the product and technology teams, directing operations while working with clients to ensure a successful development process and, when appropriate, integration with existing platforms. Ed’s specialty is aligning technology vision and strategy with product and business direction, and converting strategic plans into platforms that can grow in the market.