by Dr. John J. Franey, CEO/Founder of Developing Difference Makers
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Everybody knows who LeBron James is: NBA superstar, King James, NBA champion, league MVP, basketball legend. Now how about David Blatt? No, you don’t know him, that’s okay because outside of real NBA fans, the name will probably ring empty on most of the public’s ears. David Blatt is the recently fired head coach of LeBron and the Cleveland Cavaliers. Blatt is no slouch as a basketball coach, as he has earned worldwide recognition for a stellar coaching career throughout Europe and in the Olympics. With David Blatt as the coach of the Cavs and LeBron over the last 1 ½ seasons, the Cavs won 83 games with only 40 losses. Blatt, LeBron, and the Cavs won the NBA Eastern Conference title last year before losing in the NBA finals to the Golden State Warriors. At the time of this firing this season, Blatt’s Cavs were 30 – 11 and in 1st place in the conference. But the Cavs, Blatt, and LeBron could not beat their nemesis, the Warriors, in a couple of games this season. Despite the great record, Blatt was scapegoated as the problem and fired in the middle of the season. For the Cavs, and so many organizations in the world, it was the leader’s fault that things weren’t going as well as they wanted.
Leaders are the easy target when struggles occur within an organization and often pay the consequences. As the face of the organization and in charge of the direction of the organization, leaders are the tip of the spear. They become the focal point for adversaries and critics. They become the reason why struggles are happening. Suddenly everyone forgets about all of the leader’s successes. They turn a blind eye to the resume behind the leader that got them to where they are. In the case of Blatt, the Cavs upper management focused all of the blame for not beating the Warriors on Blatt’s shoulders. It wasn’t management’s fault for not bringing in the right mix of players to match up with the Warriors. It wasn’t the players’ faults for playing subpar basketball in those games. And it definitely wasn’t LeBron’s fault, well because you know it can’t be the star’s fault. So the leader of the team, the head coach, gets chopped. Easier to replace him and blame him then actually admit there are bigger problems in the organization.
Organizations throughout the world fall into this same trap. From businesses to schools, and everything in between, they seek a focal point where blame can be placed. It is a reality of the role of a leader. They will get a lot of credit when things are going well, but they better be ready for the criticism when issues arise. Is it fair? Did Blatt deserve to be fired in this case? Probably not, for a leader can’t possibly control, know absolutely every component of what is happening in the organization, or watch over every employee to ensure they are productive. Nevertheless, everyone expects the leader to know and be everything.
It is the reality of leadership, a reality that many inexperienced leaders are not ready for. They are not prepared for the criticism. They are not prepared to be the focal point of the critics. However, it is a reality that all leaders must come to grips with in order to be effective leaders. Leaders have to be ready for the blame. Leaders have to be constantly moving forward. Leaders have to be able to do their work without constantly looking over their shoulder for the next wave of blame. Easier said than done, but it is absolutely necessary for the possibility of effective leadership.