Wash Post Q: NBA all-star Gilbert Arenas was sentenced to two years of probation for his gun-fueled locker room confrontation with a teammate. Why do so many hugely talented stars — athletes, actors, politicians — work hard to achieve success and then behave in ways that jeopardize their careers? Are they arrogant? Stupid? Oblivious?
Just as my fellow columnist Patricia McGuire put it, Arenas` actions are a symptom of a much greater problem. When we focus our attention on the problem, we`ll get more of the problem. Just as Mother Theresa did, a woman who would happily attend a pro-peace rally yet refused to attend an anti-war rally, we need to focus our attention on the solution.
While I agree with many of the solutions McGuire proposed, I am also a huge proponent of freedom. Adding restrictions to the timing in which athletes can get their money doesn`t solve the problem; however, requiring continued education does two things. It keeps athletes focused while off the court and equips them with the education necessary for long-term success in many areas of their life.
The challenge for coaches is to set a greater vision for the team, something that inspires each team member to remember the impact of their actions — for the team, themselves and the community. Athletes, especially at that level, are watched and imitated by millions. Other than winning the game, what is the vision for the team?
Just as many business leaders set a vision to “make more money,” athletics is weighed down with that same boring vision. How is the team/company contributing to society? How are the leaders of such organizations ensuring that their athletes/employees continue to learn, hold them accountable to their values and demonstrate a greater interest in their team than in their shareholders?
Ultimately, the organizations with great leadership will make the strongest positive impact on our world. In the March 2010 edition of the Harvard Business Review, Cappelli and colleagues clearly articulated the advantage to businesses when leaders invest time on communicating a clear vision, ensuring consistent training and building a strong culture.
Athletics are no different from business — they too need to establish a strong culture, articulate a clear vision and ensure their athletes are continuously updating their skills. If these athletes are “stupid, oblivious or arrogant,” it`s because they lack strong leadership.
Misti Burmeister, Washington Post best-selling author of From Boomers to Bloggers