What the NFL Kneeling Crisis Can Teach You About Good Business Leadership – Not!


To Kneel or Not To Kneel, It All Comes Down To Leadership Tactics

Few things can be lonelier or more frustrating than owning and running a business. Especially when you’re the person in charge in times of turmoil. Nearly everyone will have an opinion on what you should do and then will second-guess nearly every decision you make. It’s relatively easy to offer up those criticisms when you’re one of the people in the audience vs. being the person on stage in the spotlights.

There has been a lot of turmoil recently in the NFL with some players deciding to kneel during the playing of the national anthem. Wherever you stand on this issue of “to kneel or not to kneel”, the leadership in this latest crisis, particularly from NFL owners, has left much to be desired. When things heat up, it’s easy as a leader to get caught up in emotions and doing just about anything to make an uncomfortable situation go away.

You likely see it all the time with your small business clients. Many will do whatever they can to avoid conflict. Whether it be potential conflict with their employees, customers or vendors. They will often let their emotions get the best of them and make what appear from the outside to be irrational decisions which are rooted in getting the potential conflict behind them and avoided at nearly all costs.



Leadership Tactics

In the case of the NFL owners, there are a couple of basic leadership tactics that should have been employed to avoid the firestorm that now exists and is likely not to end well for industry leaders:

  • Stick To Your Values: What do you “stand for”, both literally and figuratively? As the leader of an organization it is your job to set the tone and culture and to let everyone know what is expected of them to be part of your team or organization. Jerry Jones of the Dallas Cowboys has been consistent in telling his players that he wants them to all stand for the national anthem. But in addition to honoring the U.S. flag, he also supports his players. Before a recent game against Arizona, Mr. Jones joined his team as they all knelt prior to the national anthem in a “statement for equality and a representation of unity.”
  • Communicate Clearly: My guess is everyone is clear on how President Trump feels about this kneeling issue and anybody within his organization knows what is expected of them and what happens if they do kneel. It seems like a lot of the NFL owners aren’t so clear in their communication. Certainly, no one signed Colin Kaepernick in the offseason — not because he wasn’t one of the best 60 people in the world at his job, but because they didn’t want to deal with any potential backlash from his kneeling. But after these past several weekends, every team has kneelers.
  • Forget Political Correctness: Nothing has become a bigger cancer in modern culture than Political Correctness. Nearly everyone is so afraid of saying something wrong, they typically don’t say anything even when really should. Something I learned early in life is that no matter how good a friend I am with someone, we are never going to agree on everything. And that’s a good thing! But people have to feel comfortable being able to express how they feel about things and then respond to other ways of thinking they encounter or push back. As a business leader, how is anyone ever going to change anyone else’s views and opinions if they aren’t allowed to have some vigorous discussions which include saying what they are thinking and why.
  • Focus On All of Your Constituents: One of the dangers in business is to focus too much attention on only one of your constituents and not consider enough the impact on other constituents. In the case of the NFL, too much focus was on the players (employees) and not enough on the fans (customers) or the police and military personnel (strategic partners).

As the leader of an organization, especially during tough times, it’s helpful to be able to step back for a second, take a breath and figure out how to move forward. Keep the four points above at the top of your list as you’re trying to figure out how to handle sensitive situations, especially those that are potentially explosive.

Hand on Left Chest Photo via Shutterstock

1 Comment ▼

Adam Sonnhalter


Adam Sonnhalter Adam Sonnhalter is the co-owner of Maximum Value Partners providing coaching and direction for the profitability and sustainability of small businesses. He is also co-host with Jack Mencini on the weekly radio show/podcast Dirty Secrets of Small Business® that debunks the common myths of business ownership, exposes the impact of government regulations and shares small business success stories.

One Reaction

  1. Getting mad because people aren’t praising a piece of fabric is the height of Political Correctness. You are going to cause extreme damage to business owners with all of this foolhardy advice.

    What this article should have done is tell business owners how to make statements that sidestep contentious issues while appearing to agree with all upset parties. No one care’s about your opinion on politics as a business leader. We just absolutely don’t.

    Business leaders should instead show how taking action leads to better outcomes. Jerry Jones attacking Goodell and making a land grab is not becoming of his brand and shows him to be a weaselly snake. What does it say that Mr. Sonnhalter admires him?

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