I’ll always remember the soccer game when I threw my jersey on the ground to show my disagreement with the referee’s decision to award a penalty kick to our opponents. I can still hear his stern words: “Put that jersey back on or you need to walk off my pitch!” I walked off the soccer field shirtless. Not only did I leave my team a player short (because under the rules of the game they couldn’t replace me), but to make matters worse I was the team captain. I was 14 years old but felt about 4 as I trumped off the field in a tantrum.
It was a long, silent drive home in my grandfather’s car. I knew he was upset and embarrassed by my behavior but he didn’t tell me so. As much as I loved my grandfather, I wish in hindsight he would have berated and corrected me on what was clearly unacceptable behavior as a leader — albeit just the captain of a boys’ soccer team. I don’t even remember the incident being brought to the attention of my parents when we arrived home and, if it was, I don’t recall receiving any discipline for doing what I did, in letting so many others down.
Correction never enjoyable
Correction for bad behavior is never enjoyable when it’s being administered, but lifelong lessons ensue. I’m sure some of my sassiness shown in the early part of my working career would have been quenched if I’d have been corrected when I was much younger, but sadly it wasn’t. Even now, there’s still a tinge in me when I’m told what to do by someone in authority.
One of the inarguable traits most admired in great leaders is humility. The opposite of humility is ego. The only leader despised more than an egotistical leader is one who also lacks self-control. The workplaces of the world can all whisper stories of men and women who had egos larger than any legacy they left and who saw the words “self-control” as an oxymoron.
It doesn’t matter whether we’re talking about a captain of a kids’ soccer team or a leader in the workplace — a lack of self-control can lose games and damage work teams. I take full responsibility in hindsight for my unacceptable tantrum on a rainy soccer field in the early 1980s but I also think those around me (namely my parents and my grandfather) had a duty to discipline me. Likewise, any supervisor, manager or senior leader who brings the workplace game into disrepute needs to be disciplined by their boss.
Each and every one of us is accountable to an authority higher than ourselves. If we don’t correct our own poor behavior the duty to do so falls at the feet of another. An employee has a boss. An owner may have a co-owner or investors. A CEO has a board of directors. A city mayor has a council. Even a president has a mechanism to correct his unacceptable behavior in this great democracy.
I wonder how many of our egotistical leaders who lack self-control would have learned their lesson quicker if others around them would have corrected them sooner. I wonder how many of my earlier workplace woes would have been mitigated, if indeed there had been a difficult conversation on the way home with a man much wiser than my tender years.
Great leaders are calm leaders. It doesn’t mean they’re passive or pedestrian in their drive to get things done, but there is a respectful tone to their manner of speech. They put people first. They’re honorable on their way up the leadership ladder because they are concerned about who they may tumble into on the way down it.
My observation has been that people like to work with, and for, leaders who are psychologically safe rather than a turbulent tyrant who may metaphorically throw his jersey on the ground if he doesn’t agree with the referee’s call.
Paul Butler is a Santa Clarita resident and a client partner with Newleaf Training and Development of Valencia (newleaftd.com). The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The Signal newspaper. For questions or comments, email Butler at [email protected]