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By now, even the casual football fan is aware of the situation that took place in Seattle a few weeks ago where a referee awarded a touchdown to the Seattle Seahawks instead of an interception to the Green Bay Packers, a decision that gave Seattle the win. In the high stakes world of professional football, this botched judgment call may impact how far the Packers go this season and led to a whirlwind of debate and fervor over the competency of the game officials.

As some might say is justified, the fans and players for the Packers rained down on the league and the refs with all sorts of unpleasantness and anger.

At his post-game press conference, Mike McCarthy, the head coach of the Packers, was immediately questioned about the scenario and the call by the officials that cost his team a victory in a sport where every victory is crucial to overall success in the season.

McCarthy showed great restraint and refused to evaluate the official’s ruling or question his judgment. He simply wouldn’t talk about it, even though you could see on his face that he vehemently disagreed with the call and was bitterly disappointed.

The next day McCarthy’s character showed again after the league upheld the official’s call. McCarthy still refused to throw the official under the bus.

The final show of character and the true example of principled leadership in action was a phone call McCarthy made to the official several days later. The official had been besieged at his home with anger-filled and threatening voicemails. The message McCarthy left was different. He told the official that he had heard he was having a rough time and that even though he didn’t agree with the call, he wanted him to know that he thought he had handled the entire situation with dignity.

This is a person that McCarthy may never have to deal with or cross paths with again.

So what are the two key elements of servant leadership in action displayed by Coach McCarthy.

  1. Silence is golden – In the face of disappointment, failure or situations falling short of expectations, where someone else is at fault, principled leaders don’t pretend the problem didn’t occur or hide their disappointment, but they also don’t go into attack mode. Rather, they choose to remain silent about the person at fault. Endless compassion
  2. Endless Compassion – Principled leaders in action extend themselves to the individual(s) involved and seek to build them up, acknowledge them, brush them off and encourage them to move forward.

All of this can be summed up with the phrase: a principled leader is tough on the problem and gentle on the person.

What challenge or issues are you facing right now that could use this bit of principled leadership in action?

Jeff Harmon

Jeff Harmon is the president of Brilliance Within Coaching & Consulting which specializes in developing servant leaders while helping them translate their strategies into actionable plans that drive business results. Jeff is the author of “The Anatomy of a Principled Leader.” Jeff has been developing leaders for nearly 20 years and has led the execution of over 100,000 hours of business strategy for information technology, financial services and non-profit organizations.

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