This past Sunday marked one of my favorite days of the year–the day the New York Times Magazine publishes the “Ideas of the Year” issue. Many ideas are amusing and at least one of them stands out in particular (so far–the list is alphabetical and I am only through reading up to “G” as of writing this post) because it has already prompted much reflection on my part. I am stuck on the blurb about “Goalkeeper Science. ” The research they share about goalkeepers has really got me puzzled.
The similarities between a goalkeeper and leader
The study originally published in the Journal of Economic Psychology looked at 286 penalty kicks and found that 94% of the time the goalie either dived to the right or left. Only 6% of the time the goalie stayed centered, and yet statistically they were better not diving to either side.
The academics’ conclusion was that goalies want to appear decisive and would rather be wrong than look like they didn’t try. By diving to the left or right they show effort, which makes it harder to criticize them.
They then suggest that leaders do the same thing in moments of crises. In hard economic times a President or CEO feels compelled to act to show leadership when many times the best course of action is actually staying the course. If leaders take action and fail they can be blamed for being wrong. If they stay the course and are wrong they look lazy or indecisive. Neither is an acceptable trait in a leader.
My leadership style
As the head of an organization I worry that I may be acting like a goalie during this recession. I am preoccupied with the idea that three years from now I will look back and have not done anything to ensure the success of the organization. I will have either failed to cut back and thereby create a financial burden we can’t handle or I will have cut back too much and failed to realize our potential.
My last blog post is about how we need to take action in a recession to innovate now. I fear that in a couple of years we will have missed this great opportunity to figure out ways to do more good for less.
Then I look at the “Big Three” in Detroit. They didn’t act–chose to stay the course–and now have 1990’s product being delivered in 2008 which no one wants. Standing front and center while the ball went to the left means they’re the goalie who failed and lost the game (although it appears they will be around a few more seasons to right their teams).
How I plan to lead moving forward
This research is really eye crossing. What is the right move for me as the Taproot Foundation goalie? How should I be leading us as we face this recession?
Where I am netting out today is that staying the course is likely more often than not the right course of action because the ball will usually be kicked in the center. But, it won’t always pan out this way, so you can’t just stay front and center every time (especially if the other teams see the pattern). I think the key is to remove ego from the equation. Leaders should act based on knowledge, values and instinct and should be aware of times when ego comes into play making you feel compelled to act mainly as a shield from embarrassment.
OK, on to letter “H”.