Bo (Shembechler) Knows Leadership

At the University of Michigan we once had a colorful football coach named Bo Shembechler. When he retired, Bo spent a year being a color commentator on the network broadcasts. After the one year he quit. People asked him why. My memory of his answer was this.   “They wanted me to criticize the coach after the play was run. Any idiot can criticize a coach after the play is run.”

Critics live in the certainty of hindsight. It is a safe place to be. Managers, like the rest of us, tend to look for solutions to problems that guarantee success and protect against criticism.   We all want to be safe.

Managers become leaders when they let go of their desire to be safe and stand in the crucible of uncertainty making decisions that may or may not succeed. As they learn from each success and each failure, their vision and strategy evolves. Through this process of iterative learning they move the organization in the same way a coach moves his team through a football game. Being a leader requires more than content expertise. It requires the courage and confidence to decide while in the crucible of uncertainty, and the courage and humility to make the right adjustments.


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