What the Urban Meyer controversy teaches us about business


To be a great leader, you need charisma. But most of all, you need integrity.

I used to think Urban Meyer, University of Florida's former football coach, was a great leader, a great coach.  Now, I question whether he is or ever was what he appeared to be. And, whether he has the integrity to be a leader.

Would you play for Meyer?

After he won two national championships in six years at Florida, Meyer resigned – claiming burn out. Publicly, he said he wanted to spend more time with family and concentrate on health issues. That lasted less than a year when he announced he was taking the job of head coach at Ohio State.  (Clearly his desire for better work life balance and a concern for his health was a bunch of hogwash!)

Anyway, just last week Sporting Good News picked apart Meyer's tenure as Florida coach in a story titled: Did Urban Meyer Break Gator's Football? One of the biggest allegations in the article is that Meyer left behind a broken team. (click here to see video)

The article says as Florida coach, Meyer had created a culture of resentment. It says he enabled and pandered to his elite players, his “Circle of Trust” Once you were in the inner circle, you were treated more favorably, your infractions downplayed. After a while, the concept of an inner circle began to contribute negatively toward team chemistry.

Isn't that the same problem we see in many businesses?

Have you worked for a CEO who has a circle of trust, a management team that seems way too clubby? I have and I know that once someone makes it into a CEO's inner circle, they are going to get preferential treatment. And, once they do, they will never question the boss's integrity and they will get away with things that other workers won't. If the favoritism is blatent, it's going to be resented by the rest of the employees and it will destroy any attempts at team work.

Meyer described his star players as the team's hard workers. A CEO might do the same.

Here's what Meyer said in response to the Sporting News article:  "When you start saying preferential treatment to players, that's probably a correct statement. We did do that. We do that here. We did it at Bowling Green and Utah," said Meyer, mentioning his previous coaching stops while speaking Wednesday on the Big Ten coaches spring teleconference. "If you go to class, you're a warrior, you do things the right way off and on the field, and you're completely committed to helping us win, you're going to get treated really good."

So, how do you survive in a culture where the CEO-anointed stars get preferential treatment or get away with behavior that should not be tolerated?  How do you thrive rather than letting the culture destroy your outlook on your work and home life?

One word: integrity. Stick to your guns, do your best, keep your feelers out for a better job, and know that eventually this type of culture will implode. It did at Florida. It did at a long list of companies I could rattle off.

For a business to thrive, you need true team work, and that only happens when the culture is created around it. Eventually, in workplace cultures like the one fostered by Meyer– either the CEO resigns or is forced out, or the company performs so poorly that it needs to restructure.

Now the question is, did Meyer learn from the past? Do any CEOs learn from their mistakes?

One fan recently posted, "Meyer is a hell of a coach, but not a great person." I say, to be truly successful, you have to be both.


The Work/Life Balancing Act

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