Last night I was on a two hour drive heading north on the highway when I decided to turn on the radio and catch up with the news from the world of sports. Immediately the conversation turned to Pete Carroll, head coach of the USC Trojans football team, and the controversy surrounding the decision of his star quarterback, Mark Sanchez, to enter the NFL Draft. I was listening to ESPN The Radio which is an east coast based radio program. The host couldn’t compliment Coach Carroll enough over the course of about 30 minutes. Coach Carroll is the kind of person that wears his emotions on his sleeve. He makes the game of football fun and is always optimistic and positive. The culture he has created at USC is one of optimism and brutal honesty. Coach Carroll is not afraid to enter into a ‘real’ conversation. In fact, it is for that very reason he gains the trust of his players. Like him or not, you know he is going to be ‘real’ with you.
This was on full display yesterday at a press conference in which his quarterback, Mark Sanchez, was making the announcement that he was going pro. Rather than giving him a 100% endorsement in front of the media and national television, Coach Carroll made it perfectly clear that although he did not agree with Mark’s decision, he would still support him nonetheless. On a day that is supposed to be the greatest day in a young man’s life, his mentor, friend, and coach was publicly disagreeing with his actions. The ESPN guys on the east coast loved it. They respected how honest and open Coach Carroll was, and commended him for it. In their minds they could clearly see why he has had no trouble recruiting young men to play for him.
Then came this morning. I was on my way to the office when I turned on the local Seattle sports station KGR 950. The conversation these guys were having was quite different. In fact, it was completely opposite. They couldn’t stop criticizing Coach Carroll and his actions. It was in there opinion that Coach Carroll should have allowed Mark Sanchez his day of glory. His time to let the world know his dream was coming true. They felt Coach Carroll should have just kept his opinion behind closed doors and left it at that.
I think we all know that the east coast is a demographic in which you just ‘say it how it is’, while the west coast demographic is typically seen as ‘polite and friendly’.
Can a leader be both polite and direct? Is a great leader both humble and ‘real’? Was Coach Carroll being ‘radically transparent’ at the press conference? Or was it simply a coach who was upset that he lost his star quarterback, and was stealing the spotlight to make it known. Should he have just bit his tongue and pretended that he agreed with Mark Sanchez in front of the world? Or did he do the right thing by openly supporting Mark but also openly disagreeing with his decision?
I think Coach Carroll may have the DNA of both demographics within his body. In fact, it may be the very reason he’s such an excellent leader and developer of young men.
Right or wrong, I do know that he exhibits much of the same attributes we promote for a Fierce culture. The simplest definition of a Fierce Conversation is one in which you come out from behind yourself, into the conversation, and make it ‘real’. Whether you agree or disagree, Coach Carroll was certainly ‘coming out from behind himself into the conversation and making it real’.