Handling Leadership Failure – Tuberville Blows It

by PJ McClure on November 12, 2012

Mistakes are part of leadership. If you are willing to be the one out front, there is an inherent risk of blunders… nah, it’s a guarantee!! Anyone expecting a leader to be perfect has never lead.

Sports give us opportunities to see the best and worst leadership examples. This weekend, Texas Tech Head Football Coach, Tommy Tuberville gave us an example of poor leadership, but it had the opportunity to turn out to be a great example. 

(Warning: If you aren’t a sports fan I ask you to forgive the string of sports lingo I’m about to throw on you. Hang tight and keep moving to the point.)

While lining up to go for it on 4th and 2, his team sent the wrong personnel on the field. Realizing it too late, they were called for a 5-yard penalty which changed their ability to go for it, effectively giving the ball to their opponent unnecessarily. 

You can see the video here.

In a fit of frustration captured on camera, Tuberville got in the face of a graduate assistant and slapped/yanked the headset off his head. Getting physical like that is a big no-no and it was pretty clear to all that Tuberville had crossed the line. Poor leadership, yes. However, there was a seed of a great lesson in it.

At his press conference he knew he would be asked about it. We live in a society with no real hiding spots, especially when your job is played out on national television. All he had to do was acknowledge the incident, own it and take responsibility for losing his head, and apologize. It would have been a huge example of integrity and humility for his players, coaches, and every person watching. Would have been…

Instead, Tuberville relayed his version of the account, which doesn’t quite match up with the picture the rest of the world saw. “He was on the field… I was reaching for his shirt and missed, grabbing his headset and pulling it off.” Sorry coach. A picture says 1,000 words and none of them really tell us what you are asking us to believe.

Here’s the point and it isn’t about Tuberville. As leaders we are asked to assume certain risks because of the potential rewards of leading. We are also expected to assume the corresponding responsibilities that go along with the rights of a leader.

With risks come mistakes, of which, any good leader has made plenty of. The mark of a good leader isn’t how few mistakes they’ve made, but how they recover from those mistakes to move forward and grow those they are leading. To get through mistakes we must own them. Owning your failures requires immense integrity and humility, not changing the story to suit what you would like others to believe.

I’ve made the same kind of mistakes of losing my head, just like Tuberville and have tried to spin them so I didn’t look as dumb. They also came back to bite me as I believe they will him, and the owning up is much harder later on. Own the risks, rights, rewards, and responsibilities of leadership and you’ll soon find a much larger, more dedicated group of people ready to follow you.

Be your best,

PJ McClure

Kelly November 13, 2012 at 10:14 pm

I really liked this article. I have been a follower and a leader. I have owned an ambulance company and have had to answer for mistakes made. I agree. Own it. You learn from mistakes…..also….I was once told NOT to hang my head from a mistake. It was my personal lesson and I was to hold my head up, own it, and acknowlege that lesson, NOT run from it or blame it on anything or anyone else. I keep to that. It is a lot easier to teach others and lead others when they see you have been where they have been.

KG November 12, 2012 at 4:17 pm

Excellent article. A great reminder that it’s ok to BE human & make mistakes AND to instantly own up and correct them.

sScott Seaton November 12, 2012 at 9:49 am

“They also came back to bite me as I believe they will him, and the owning up is much harder later on.”
Best point of the whole thing. He is probably too stubborn and arrogant to think about what a mess he’s just made for himself. the pictures sure don’t lie.

Cyndi Campbell November 12, 2012 at 9:45 am

Great article. Great reminder.

Richard November 12, 2012 at 3:53 am

Well said PJ. I have had similar moments. Very humbling (when we let go of pride). For every action their is an outcome. When we are consciously controlling our actions in a response the outcome will be decidedly better than we react without thinking in those exposed moments of risk.

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