A Study in Failed Leadership - Make the (Unpopular) Call

Photo courtesy of Voraorn, FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Photo courtesy of Voraorn, FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Yesterday, I saw a true demonstration of failed leadership unfold while watching the US Open Championship. For those who weren't watching, here's a brief recap of the events.

On the 5th green, Dustin Johnson's ball oscillated ever so slightly while he was going through his pre-putt routine. He immediately stopped his routine, called over a rules official and his playing partner, and told them he was confident he didn't make the ball move. This is a critical point because if he had contributed to the movement, he would be obligated (by the rules of golf and his own integrity) to call a one-stroke penalty on himself. After a short discussion, it appeared that all agreed Johnson was not at fault, and play continued.

After Johnson completed six additional holes, he was approached by a rules official on the 12th tee and told that it was possible he would be assessed a one-stroke penalty after the round. You don't have to know much about golf to realize this changes the entire situation on the course. Not only for Johnson, but for every other player who was chasing a major championship.

Social media outcry was swift and unforgiving. Everyone from sports writers to couch potatoes were openly criticizing the USGA. Even highly ranked golfers who missed the cut were throwing around words and phrases such as "ridiculous," "amateur hour," and "is this a joke?".

So, the USGA sent a representative to the broadcast booth to explain. While he stammered through a very muddled explanation, it appeared this official was suggesting a penalty would, indeed, be called after the round, but because he continued to use words like "possible," "might," and "maybe," the final result was still unknown. This left the viewing audience, Johnson, and everyone else unsure of Johnson's true score, which meant for a while, he might be co-leading or 1 shot back or perhaps he was leading or maybe just co-leading.

Happily, Johnson said "enough is enough" and began conquering the course, ultimately leaving enough shots between him and the nearest competitor that the one-stroke penalty would not impact the result - IF they assessed it.

And, they did assess it, which begs the question - why didn't they just do it in the middle of the round so everyone could adjust? My guess is they knew whichever call they made, it would be unpopular. So, they hesitated, and waited, and hoped it eventually wouldn't matter. While their wish came true, the USGA still demonstrated failed leadership.

As a leader, we have to make the call sometimes. There will likely be people who are unhappy with the decision we make (regardless of what the decision is), but we can't oscillate like Johnson's ball. And if we do, we should call a penalty on our leadership because it's clearly our fault!

Just something to consider,