Great Leaders Make Decisions That People Don't Like

We live in a knee-jerk reaction world. It can be uncomfortable, which is when we discover who our true leaders are.

empty airport in italy
One week ago, I was in Boston for a leadership conference with IPREX, gathered with two dozen other PR and marketing professionals transitioning from managing to leading. One of the biggest takeaways from the conference was the notion that leaders are “comfortable being uncomfortable” and it’s not a trait we all have.

Our conference was upended that Friday afternoon when we received word that our hotel had been the site of the Biogen conference in February, which had roughly 20 positive coronavirus test results, and that number has climbed to 70 since. As we digested the news, we retreated to our rooms to prepare for dinner and try to figure out our next steps.

That coincided with our president taking his now infamous visit to the CDC in Atlanta. It’s hard to overstate the conflicting emotions coming from the somber leadership at our conference now affected by the virus, and this man spewing nonsense to the world. All I knew in that moment is that things were going to get much, much worse.

On my flight back home on Saturday, my thoughts turned to something far more trivial – the world of sports. If you know me or read anything I’ve written, you know I love sports. I’m obsessed with them. I go to sleep every night watching whatever late sporting event is going on.

So, as I sat in an eerily quiet Logan Airport awaiting my flight, it dawned on me that the bulk of travelers were sports teams, whether high school or college, going to and from their respective tournaments that dominate this time of year. It was a matter of when, not if, sports got canceled.

I also knew I was in the minority with that thinking.

Connecticut Gets It Right; Protests Follow

The spread of the coronavirus to the United States was obvious for months. As a European soccer fan, I saw the empty stadiums in Italy and knew it would be headed our way soon. But taking proactive measures, for some reason, seems antithesis to the American spirit.

For weeks on end, our leaders kept telling us to live our lives as normal, when that’s in fact the one thing we should not be doing. We were told nonsense about how it’s similar to the flu and that the vast majority who get it will be fine. As bodies piled up in Iran and Italy, we were told all is well.

All, of course, was not well. The virus spreads quickly and mitigation efforts are needed at every level to avoid large crowds.
ciac protest

One of the first sports associations of any type to announce a cancellation was the CIAC (Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference) and the reaction was predictable. People got mad. How dare they take our sports away! These kids worked too hard!

Instead of thinking about the greater good and their fellow man, people thought about themselves. There were large protests outside CIAC offices and multiple sportswriters in the state loudly complained that it was a selfish decision, especially to not even play them without spectators.

CIAC leaders were right. It must have been uncomfortable. But they were right.

Even Our Smartest Can Be Stupid

As I write this, there are no sports being played on what is traditionally one of the best sports weekends of the year, as college basketball tournaments are usually in full swing before the NCAA Tournament. The first league to cancel was the Ivy League.

It made logical sense to me, as someone who just left the city where the tournament was supposed to be played. It had a high concentration of positive test results. Harvard, the host school, is kind of known for having smart medical folks and they shut the school down. Shutting a basketball tournament down didn’t seem that unreasonable.

sad Penn player
Of course, not everyone saw it the same way. In particular, players and coaches from Penn made statements they’ll likely regret for the rest of their lives.

The women’s basketball coach called it “hypocritical” and railed against the conference for not discussing with coaches. A player said, “To end the entire season in a sentence? It isn't justifiable.”

In actuality, it was very justifiable.

Our world demands an opinion on every decision, instantly, and those who disagree the loudest are usually the ones that get heard.

Great leaders, however, do not care about that. They make the right decision, regardless of whether people appreciate it in the moment. 

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  1. Great piece. Hope you're still feeling good!


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