Ultimately it is the individual athletes who drive themselves to their own victories, but what about the failures? When both the men’s and women’s US track relay teams took themselves out of medal contention by missing a baton pass, fingers were pointed immediately at “leadership.” Is it valid to credit the individuals for the victories and blame the coach for the failures?
Logan, as the top blamed leader in the track and field organization, responded almost immediately to the leadership accusations. “I have received emails from people across the country, particularly about the relays,” he wrote in his blog. “They all say more or less the same thing: the dropped batons were reflective of a lack of preparation, lack of professionalism, and of leadership. I agree. Dropping a baton isn't bad luck, it's bad execution.”
Accountability is an admirable quality in a leader, but isn’t the individual performer responsible for individual execution? According to Logan, “Responsibility for the relay debacle lies with many people and many groups, from administration to coaches to athletes. That's why, when these Games are completed, we will conduct a comprehensive review of all our programs… included in the assessment will be the way in which we select, train and coach our relays.” For any leader in any profession, this may be the best piece of leadership wisdom that Beijing had to offer.
When managers look for which employees to blame for poor service, poor sales, and generally poor performance, they are looking at the effect, not the cause. How did a low-performing employee get selected in the first place? What part of training is failing to adequately prepare employees to perform their tasks? What coaching improvements will create execution improvements? How is the system setting the team up for failure instead of setting it up for success?
These are the kind of questions that world-class leaders ask because these are the kind of questions that yield productive answers. When the questioning stops at “What went wrong and who did it?” the leader leaves both the individual and the team stranded in a state of defeat instead of leading them out of it.
It’s easy to look like a brilliant leader in moments of victory. It’s not so easy to be a brilliant leader in moments of defeat. You won’t win any medals for how you respond to the failures of your team, but it’s the actions of the leader in their own critical moments of truth that make everyone’s future success possible.