The Struggle with Values

My oh my, there sure are a lot of leadership issues in the news these days. As I write this, the NFL players/national anthem controversy is still in full swing. I could write about a number of things related to that! For example, the NFL seems to enforce a number of standards, from what can be worn on a uniform to the type of celebration after a great play. Yet they suddenly relaxed the standards they have published regarding expected behavior during the anthem. And, the entire conversation about freedom of speech and expression would be another juicy topic. However, I will save both of those for another day.

There was one piece of the NFL players situation that did catch my eye. It went something like this.  Before a recent game, members of the Pittsburgh Steelers choose to stay inside the locker room during the playing of the anthem. However, one players did come out, and stood with hand over heart, while the anthem was played.

One of the national evening news programs reported this story, and then went on to point out how this player later apologized to his team mates for his actions. Apparently this ex-Army Ranger had not wanted to embarrass anyone, or grab the limelight, he just went out for the anthem because, I assume, it was important for him.

Since there were no follow-up stories about the player being benched, shunned or released, I assume all was forgiven and the team was good to go for the game.

Do you notice anything missing in this account? Look closely.

For me it was this. I heard the news report that the player apologized to his team mates. What I did not hear was that they apologized back to him as well. And if they did, why was that not part of the story?

Since apologies are needed when we wrong or offend others in some way, I am led to the conclusion from the news narrative that this player was the one who was at fault and thus obligated to apologize. Am I to understand that apologies are now required when simply standing up for a core value? I guess I missed that rule change! 

Here is the elephant in the room. Are his values regarding the flag and the anthem wrong or of lesser importance than the values of the other players who remained in the locker room? Is he somehow now inferior to them? Is he not a good team member because he would not compromise a personal value for them? And since the media decided to make the point that only he apologized, are they not implying his apology was in fact necessary for some of the above reasons?

Players on great teams honor one another. Of course they do not all share the very same values, but they respect and honor the person all the same. As one who served 3 tours of duty in Afghanistan, this player may have had a more personal sense of value around flag and country. And since he simply stood at the end of the tunnel rather than in the middle of the field, he did not seem to want to create a firestorm of any kind. 

Great team members do not make other team members apologize for their values. To do so would imply that one’s set of values are better or more “right” than another’s. Rather, teams find common ground in the important values they all share, such as winning together, helping one another, and excelling.  Our lone player’s apology to the others showed that he was aware of their differences, and as a good team member was willing to apologize, just in case his actions may have been perceived as embarrassing to them. My guess is there were many on the team who did support him and respected his decision. That just never made the news – at least by the time this piece was written.

When “more or less importance” begins to be assigned to values, it is time for a conversation. Family or service, as examples, may not be your top values, but you must avoid trying to convince others that they should not value them either. And also, you must resist attempting to convince others that they should immediately embrace the values you hold most dear.  The real world does not work that way. Instead, find the values you can all share, and help others find ways to fulfill their own values, while still accomplishing the goals that the team is striving to achieve together. It may not be easy, but there are almost always a number of worthy options, if you care enough about each other to find them. 

Lead on!

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