The Clarity of Power

NFL Commissioner, Roger Goodell

National Football League commissioner, Roger Goodell, recently issued fines and suspensions related to the “Bountygate” scandal that are unprecedented in league history in terms of their severity and scope.  Goodell’s strong action has given me pause to reflect on the clarity that power — when used prudently but decisively — can bring to an organization, providing both direction and calm.


In early March, the media began to report that a 3-year internal investigation by the NFL revealed the New Orleans Saints had offered “bounties” (cash bonuses) for injuries caused to opposing players.  A week or so into the media storm, Mr. Goodell announced suspensions and fines including: Saints general manager, 8 games; Saints head coach, Sean Payton, the entire 2012 season; and former Saints defensive coordinator, Greg Williams, indefinitely (but at least one year).  All were suspended without pay (in Payton’s case, costing him most of his $7.5 million annual salary).

When the news came out, you could hear the proverbial “pin drop” from the immediate shock. There was no doubt who was in charge, whether he was serious or not, and what was or was not acceptable in the league anymore.  Mr. Goodell had made very clear what wasn’t up for debate.

Closer to Home

I recently observed something in my own organization that brought home a similar point about the prudent use of power.  Two well-respected, senior members of the firm had been at bitter loggerheads over a particular issue for months.  Seemingly endless debate and dialogue, both public and private, had resulted in a stalemate.  The leadership’s hope up to that point seemed to be for peaceful coexistence, not wanting to alienate either party.  However, as the individuals’ positions on the issue seemed to be mutually exclusive, conciliation hadn’t brought peace but only deep frustration on the part of all concerned.

Then, the senior leader stepped forward and announced a decision — and we had our moment of clarity.  They spoke calmly and kindly, but decisively, leaving no doubt it was a final decision.  With this, both parties could then move forward.  It turns out that it was at least in part the inconclusiveness of the situation that had been holding everything back.  Once there was a firm decision, there was certainty.  And once there was certainty, both sides had an anchor whose position they could trust.  With this anchor, adjustments (i.e., compromise) could be fashioned, and thus the peace was made — but only because a firm and public decision had occurred.

Wisdom of a Corporate Veteran

A very wise person — herself a veteran observer of many a corporate battle — had once told me something about leadership I’ve never forgotten.  “An executive might come in every day, put their feet up on the desk, and seemingly relax for months on end,” she would say.  “But, there are going to be times — and it might once or twice a year — when we really need them.  And if at those times they step up and make the right call, they’re truly earning their pay and helping the company and its people.”

The clarity of power prudently exercised. Yes, indeed.

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Roger Goodell, NFL Send Strong Message With Stiff Bounty Punishments

Text of NFL Statement on Bountygate

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