Game Face January 6, 2010Posted by Chuck Musciano in Leadership.
In the Autozone Liberty Bowl on January 2, Arkansas and East Carolina University were locked in a 17-17 tie as the fourth quarter wound down. ECU’s kicker, Ben Hartman, missed two field goal attempts in the final few minutes that would have sealed a victory, and went on to miss a field goal attempt in overtime. Arkansas then kicked a field goal to win.
My heart broke for this young man. Imagine missing not one, not two, but three field goals in five minutes, resulting in your team losing a bowl game. And no matter what words of condolence his teammates may offer him, I suspect Ben Hartman will blame himself for this loss for a long time. The truth, of course, is that a football game is lost over the course of sixty minutes, not in the waning moments of the fourth quarter.
As much as I agonized watching the kicker struggle, I was amazed to see how his coach, Skip Holtz, handled the situation. This would have been a big win for Holtz and his team. I’m sure there was bonus money on the table, and big career implications. And how did Holtz handle the tense closing moments of the game?
He laughed. He joked with his kicker. He kept the mood light, even after two missed kicks and an ice-the-kicker timeout from Arkansas. Understanding the pressure this young man was under, Holtz maintained his composure and did everything he knew to help his kicker succeed. Even the announcers were wondering what Holtz could possibly be saying to relieve the stress on Hartman.
I don’t know what Holtz said, but it was a classic example of a leader maintaining his composure during a tough situation. While very few of us will have to lead a football team to a bowl victory, we will certainly have to guide our teams through difficult times to achieve important goals. Understanding the stress and finding ways to distract your people from it are important parts of good leadership.
This aspect of leadership is important in both immediate and long-term situations. Sometimes, a sudden problem explodes. How you handle yourself on the spur of the moment will go a long way in helping your team confront and quell the issue at hand. A light mood, a firm decision, and an upbeat approach can make a big difference.
Other times, you are confronted with a long-term, difficult problem. A high-risk project can last for months, wearing out your team. A difficult business climate puts people under stress week after week. No matter what the cause, being able to sustain the right attitude as a leader is crucial. No matter your personal concerns or stress, you must put on your game face each day and provide unwavering support to your team.
Leaders need to be able to handle both the quick-hit and long-term problems. Your people will look to you as they form their own reactions to a problem. If you, like Skip Holtz, can manage a joke and a smile as kick after kick sails wide, you’ll be doing your people a huge favor.
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