5 Words That Have Set the Tone for Patrick Mahomes’ Leadership Style

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One week ago today, the fates and fortunes of people and organizations were changed for the immediate future. The video of former NFL running back Kareem Hunt assaulting a woman (and literally kicking her while she was down) was released by TMZ. This came after an incident one month before in Kansas City and preceded another incident just a few months later in June where Hunt was suspected of punching a man in the face.

Many others have offered their opinions on how the release of the initial video opened up a box of misguided judgement, from the handling of the “investigation,” by the Cleveland Police Department, NFL, and Kansas City Chiefs, to a misinterpretation of domestic violence, to when or if Hunt should have even been released. But in keeping with the theme of this blog, while this involves an issue more sensitive and complex than simply communication lessons gleaned from sporting events, we’ll focus on how one positive emerged from this very serious situation.

Turning the focus back on the Kansas City Chiefs, those even some familiarity with sports this year are probably aware that second-year quarterback, Patrick Mahomes, is having a marvelous season. One of historic proportions that have included his name mentioned in the same category as future Hall of Famers Manning, Brady and Brees due to his statistical projections. Not to mention, having his jersey already displayed in the NFL Hall of Fame after the second week of the season after his six touchdown performance against the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Besides his performance, it has also been Mahomes’ demeanor and leadership ability that has equally earned the respect of his teammates and new hometown of Kansas City. It’s a lot to put on the shoulders of a 23-year-old, asking him to lead professionals 10-15 years older with their livelihoods and NFL careers riding on how he acts on and off the field.

But it is in times of adversity – and often due to unexpected events – that truly measure the character of a person. It’s easy to lead when things are going well, but how you rally a group, get them to buy in, and continue to follow the direction of the organization when things are seemingly – and suddenly – at their worst, is the ultimate measuring stick of a leader. It turns out Mahomes had an answer for that as well.

When being asked about the situation with Hunt, Mahomes uttered five simple words (okay, six if you’re counting the compound word) that in my opinion has set the tone for his leadership of the Kansas City Chiefs. He said, “We don’t do those things.”

The statement was short, simple and to the point. And it also offered three takeaways:

  1. Saying a lot without saying much: By not offering any more “fluff” before or after his message, Mahomes left nothing open to interpretation. Instead, his brief and direct statement allowed his message to be clear and understood.
  2. Setting the tone: Instead of a friendly rebuke of the charges, or continuing on about how “unfortunate” the situation was without specifying if his sympathy was for Hunt or the victim, Mahomes’ statement flat out admonished the behavior by his former teammate. He let the team and fans know what is expected and certain actions that will not be tolerated as part of the organization.
  3. Setting the stage: Employment is a privilege. Nothing should be taken for granted. Mahomes’ words, while addressing the situation, also made something else clear: we’re moving on. With a definitive statement, it made clear to the organization that the goals they have for the year remain, the trajectory toward those goals will continue, and they will get there with people that adhere to a certain standard.

While it’s yet to be seen if Hunt will have a future in the NFL, it is clear that Mahomes’ leadership shines equally off the field as it does on it. Mahomes may have what it takes to lead the Chiefs to another Super Bowl, but more importantly, already has what it takes to lead a team and a city with high character. And for a town that has desperately wanted another “homegrown” quarterback to call its own since Len Dawson retired, it is a welcome reward that has been a long time coming.

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How Paint Made People Lose Their Minds

HOF Pres David Baker_Cantonrep.com Scott Heckel)

Brow of Embarrassment. NFL Hall of Fame President David Baker wipes his forehead prior to an interview. Baker and the Hall of Fame had to cancel their preseason game to due poor field conditions created by using the wrong type of paint. Photo by Cantonrep.com, Scott Heckel)

This is what happens when an exhibition is supposed to be played by athletes making millions of dollars in an organization worth billions of dollars. When the game cannot take place, analysts call for others to lose their jobs, calls of ineptitude abound, and finger pointing runs rampant.

Sunday, Aug. 7 was a busy day in sports which included baseball players Ichiro Suzuki reaching 3,000 hits and A-Rod announcing his retirement,  golfer Jim Furyk hitting a PGA Tour record round of 58, and U.S. swimmer Katie Ledecky smashing her own world record in the Olympics, which looked something like the image below; note: she’s on the far right.

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She gone! U.S. swimmer Katie Ledecky blows away the field in her Olympic race as she breaks her own world record.

In addition, there was a furor created when the NFL had to cancel its “Hall of Fame” preseason game in Canton, Ohio between the Green Bay Packers and the Indianapolis Colts.

The stadium was brand new, the field was brand new, and unfortunately, so was the paint, which the wrong kind was applied just 12 hours earlier. This proved to be key sticking point, literally. Players and coaches complained that parts of the field either felt like concrete or felt like running in tar. In technical terns, the paint congealed and wouldn’t allow a cleat to penetrate it. As a result, the game was canceled.

Yes, fans paid their money and spent their time to be there. Yes, the game was supposed to be the culmination of celebrating the latest Hall of Fame class of players inducted the night before. Yes, there is no excuse to not have a field ready when the date has been determined a year in advance.

When a crisis like this occurs and an audience needs to be addressed – in this case the millions watching at home and the thousands in attendance – it can be a complicated dance. However, here are three things the NFL Hall of Fame actually did well in announcing the result of their crisis, taking the hit head on*:

  1. Front and Center: Often when things go awry, it’s easy to blame outside factors or even hide your organization’s top leaders. The NFL HOF had their President, David Baker, address the crowd directly and then proceeded with follow-up interviews.
  2. Simple Messaging: Instead of listing a complicated technical explanation of why the field wasn’t ready or how paint couldn’t dry, Baker simply did the following:
    1. Explained to the crowd why the game was being cancelled (poor field conditions created by the paint)
    2. Reinforced key messages (safety is our main priority)
    3. Informed customers how they would be compensated (refund policy)
    4. Outlined what actually would take place that evening (still honor new Hall of Famers, previously scheduled halftime performance would still take place, just earlier).
  3. Rinse and Repeat: In subsequent interviews, he stayed on point – admittedly and rightfully embarrassed – to explain the situation, express regret, and vow to correct the problem in the future.

Even with these three “rights,” there was one awkward matter that still occurred. Those closest to the action were the last to know … it was announced on TV the game was being cancelled nearly a full hour before fans inside of the stadium were told. Oh well, as they say in sports, there’s always next year.

 

*Pun not intended; the NFL has serious concussion issues which is a whole other topic altogether.

Why ‘DeflateGate’ is Dumb

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Is this a face you can trust?

This week sports channels, social media, and even news sources like CNN, The Huffington Post, and TIME Magazine (!?!) are weighing in on what is being called “DeflateGate;” the latest term to be presumed a scandal because “gate” is used after the root word. For those unfamiliar, the premise is this: The NFL found that the New England Patriots used 11 footballs that were underinflated in their AFC championship game against the Indianapolis Colts.

A game that resulted in a 45-7 victory for the Patriots sending them to the Super Bowl and the Colts home to a state split into two different time zones. The brouhaha or hullabaloo producing the outlandish outrage is that the Patriots, who are no stranger to controversy (Google: Spygate), purposely cheated to gain an advantage. While the head coach may not have known, Tom Brady, the quarterback, probably, likely, should have known the balls were not up to game regulation.

Ladies and gentlemen, as I write this, there are 8,040,000 results that populated when Googling the term “DeflateGate.” There have been press conferences, current and former players weighing in, and endless chatter … all about the amount of air in a ball. First-world problems, much?

From a communications perspective, much is being made about Tom Brady’s press conference, where he stated:

  • “I didn’t alter the ball in any way … I have a process I go through before every game.”
  • “I would never do anything outside of the rules of play.”
  • “This is a serious thing.”

All while trying to keep a straight face while wearing in a stocking cap with a fuzzy ball on top, indoors.

Sometimes he couldn’t’ help himself such as when he was asked if he was a cheater. After finally cracking, he pauses, licks his lips, and then answers “I don’t think so.” Body language experts would tell you this reaction means two things: He’s lying! Or he’s just nervous. (Never mind the ironic “Flexball” sponsorship in the background during an issue in which the pressure of the football seems to be exactly that: flexible).

Maybe Brady was laughing not because he was lying (maybe he was) or nervous (despite his ability to calmly stare down 300-lb men trying to do him bodily harm every Sunday). Maybe he realized how ridiculous Deflategate had become and was laughing at the lunacy of the whole spectacle; the same way most of our six-year-old selves chuckle every time we hear something about “deflated balls” while this is being discussed.

But the bottom line is this: The Colts lost by a 35-point pounding. Not by a controversial “tuck rule” fumble (also involving the Patriots). Not by a narrowly missed field goal. Not by that one touchdown pass that could have only been thrown and caught because there was a smidge less air in the ball.

The Patriots blew the Colts right out of the barn. Even if you take the 18 points off the board from the touchdowns that Brady threw, the Patriots still had a commanding 17-point victory.

So from a communications standpoint, what can be learned from Deflategate? Simple: Any and everything can and will be used to fill up a 24-7 news cycle leading up to “the big game.” Just be smart enough to block some of it out and keep things in perspective.

3 Communications Lessons from the Ray Rice Incident

Running back Ray Rice of the Baltimore Ravens during a news conference with his wife Janay at the Ravens training center on May 23 in Owings Mills, Md. (Photograph by Rob Carr/Getty Images)

Ray Rice, then of the Baltimore Ravens, and his wife Janay speak at a press conference at the Ravens training center on May 23 after the first video surfaced. (Photograph by Rob Carr/Getty Images)

Yesterday, the video of professional football player Ray Rice slugging his then fiancée (and now wife) in the face in an elevator was released online. With the punch, the victim was lifted off her feet, hit her head on a railing, and crashed in an unconscious heap to the ground.

Up to this point, all that the public saw was Rice dragging the lifeless body of Janay Palmer out of the elevator. That elicited a two-game suspension from the NFL, then after a month of public outcry, the NFL left the suspension in place, but implemented heavier penalties for domestic abuse violations in the future.

With the video showing the whole incident, Rice was release from his employer and suspended indefinitely from the National Football League. There are a multitude of failures across the board and issues much deeper than this simple blog. From this tragic current event, here are three communications lessons that any company can learn from when faced with a possible crisis situation:

  • Don’t make up rules as you go along: Remember when we didn’t like it when our friends made up rules to a game we played as kids? Yeah, we don’t like it as adults either, especially when it comes to employment. The NFL issued a punishment, then made it more severe, then issued even a different penalty once they discovered more evidence. This leads to a credibility and trust issue for an organization, which I’ve talked about before here.
  • Don’t move forward without all the facts: Somehow the NFL didn’t have all of the video evidence before issuing its initial penalty. Despite any public outcry, explain to your audience that you understand the need for a quick resolution, but want to have all of the facts in place so that an educated – and complete – decision can be made. Otherwise, you end up with the public questioning not only your back-and-forth, but your apparent incompetence to do proper background security checks.
  • Don’t send someone else to deliver your message: The Baltimore Ravens sent their head coach in front of the cameras to comment on the team releasing Rice…by himself. However, the owner/CEO/President/General Manager should have spoken instead, or at least been at the podium with him, since they most likely made the final decision. This would have presented a united front and featured an owner actually taking ownership of the situation.

As mentioned earlier, at hand is a much more serious issue, such as the victim still deciding to stay with, and marry, her abuser. For those that may need help or are not sure where to go for help, the National Domestic Abuse Hotline is 1.800.799.7233 (SAFE). You may also visit their website at thehotline.org. Trained help is available for free 24/7.

How the $9B NFL Has a Credibility Problem

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, subjective judge/jury/executioner

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell.

People do dumb things. Some, worse than others. Then there are some so despicable, you can hardly believe it.

The most recent example as far as the National Football League (NFL)* is concerned was a player beating his fiancée senseless, then dragging her lifeless body out of an elevator. I won’t mention the scumbag by name, and there are many, much deeper issues that are at play here. Yesterday, the NFL decided that this was merely worth a two-game suspension. Like I said, people do dumb things.

Whether it be the employees of an organization or the players of a league, consequences should be clearly outlined for certain behaviors. However, the NFL – and specifically the commissioner – continues to lose credibility in this category.

The NFL does not have a consistent, stated list of consequences for player (and owner) behavior. Essentially, it is up to the commissioner’s discretion, each on a case-by-case basis, as to what, if any, the punishment will be and to what extent. Case in point: players in the past year who have committed seemingly less “crimes,” such as taking performance-enhancing substances, or recreational drugs, have received upwards of twice the punishment as the scumbag mentioned earlier.

Credibility in an organization can be achieved with this simple formula:
Objectivity + Consistency = Credibility

  • Be Objective: This is why the CEO of a large corporation doesn’t run the HR or Compliance Departments. It removes any doubt of impartiality when deciding punishment.
  • Be Consistent: The same rules or punishment should apply to all people that commit the same rule infractions.
  • Be Credible: Have rules clearly stated, consequences clearly defined, and a third-party determining the result. Save the organizational leader for an appeal or the extremely serious matters.

We all know life is not fair, but when employees are held to different standards or receive a different punishment based on subjective observation, that creates a groundswell of mistrust within an organization. And the ground is definitely shaking in the NFL.

* While it has been joked that it stands for the “No Fun League” (we can’t have our employees celebrating too much playing the game they’ve loved since a kid), or the “Not For Long” League (average career is less than four years), it is quickly gaining a reputation as the “Not Fair League.”