Thursday, March 17, 2011

Leadership in the NFL Lockout

What is going on right now in the NFL is not unprecedented. All the major sports leagues, most recently the NHL, have had to deal with work stoppages in the last twenty years. The dominance that the NFL has enjoyed in the American professional sports world means that there is a great deal at stake here for the league. If these negotiations are prolonged into the season and games are missed, the NFL's status as the premier sports league in the world could be in jeopardy. This is where the leaders on both sides become important. Although hundreds of players and thousands of NFL employees have much at stake here, the negotiations will mainly take place between a few player representatives, team owners, and Roger Goodell.

The players are at a significant disadvantage in the negotiations. First and most importantly, if there are no games, they do not get paid. Many of the players have saved enough of their money to last through some time of a work stoppage, but there are others in the league who literally live paycheck to paycheck due to their extravagant lifestyles. The owners know that the players need games to be played much more desperately than they do. And so it falls on men like DeMaurice Smith, NFLPA executive director; George Atallah, NFLPA exec; and various player representatives to lead the players through this difficult time. One of the biggest challenges for them will be fostering communication within such a large and diverse group. Unlike the owners who only have to worry about the interests of thirty-two wealthy men, the players are a group of around 1700 men varying in age and income who have very different goals for this process. The decertification of the union represents a further distancing of this group. That idea served better as a threat than an actual tool to implement. The leaders on the labor side of the negotiations certainly have their work cut out for them.

The NFL owners have the enviable position in the labor talks. It has been estimated that they have the money to last a full two years without a single game being played. However, their finances did take a small blow from the recent judicial decision that TV rights fees will not be paid if there are no games. Leadership within the group of owners is significant but not nearly as important as it is for the players. These thirty-two men are mostly similar and have the same goals in the labor talks. With this uniformity of the group, leaders will not have the same task of fostering cohesion throughout the negotiations.

The most important and most obvious leader throughout this whole process is Roger Goodell. He is the one who will be looked at to maintain a calm about the league's future. Although he tries to present himself as somewhat of a mediator between the two sides, Goodell certainly has some interests aligned with the owners. His job is to ensure the success of the league. In almost all instances, success is measured by profit. One of the big ways that the league can create profit is to add two more regular season games, something that is universally opposed by the players. Another way is to limit the amount of money that they players receive from broadcasting contracts. It's clear that despite his attempt to appear neutral in the negotiations, Goodell wants the owners to come out on top. This has led the players to question his leadership.

The success of the NFL in the upcoming season and in the long run will be determined by how the labor negotiations progress in the coming months. The three different types of leaders play a huge role in this debate. Their ability to lead effectively and promote feelings of cooperation will be crucial. Only time will tell how the leaders fulfill their duties.

Friday, March 4, 2011

The Prince

Niccolo Machiavelli's The Prince represents a departure from all of the works that I have looked at before. Virtually all of the people that have been discussed would support somewhat of a Judeo-Christian value system, which would require leaders to act with kindness in dealing with their subjects. However, with chapter titles such as "Concerning Those Who Become Princes by Evil Means" and "Concerning Cruelty" we can clearly see that Machiavelli is not going to be bothered at all by a desire to be nice. The author's name has even become synonymous with being cutthroat or heartless. We will take a closer look at this book dedicated to Lorenzo di Piero de' Medici and see how Machiavelli values power over kindness.

Machiavelli opens his book by discussing how princes, the word he uses for leaders or rulers, should handle governing different types of newly formed states. He writes about these over hereditary states where princedoms are passed down because he believes that newly formed states are more difficult to control. Mixed princedoms consist of new conquests added to older states, conquered kingdoms, and conquered free states. Next he deals with totally new states, whether they are conquests by virtue, fortune, or "criminal virtue."

After a brief look at defense and military, Machiavelli comes to what is probably the most famous part of his book: the qualities of a prince. Condemning the virtues we see extolled by some of the other authors written about here, Machiavelli claims that "a man who strives after goodness in all his acts is sure to come to ruin." Wow. I can't see Martin Luther King, Jr. or Paul Rusesabagina ever saying something like that. Although this statement seems cold and callous at first glance, it seems that Machiavelli may have just been well ahead of his time in terms of acknowledging lack of self control. He suggests that most men act with the intention of being good but fail in reality. This appears to be more realistic than evil or immoral.

One of the biggest themes in The Prince is Machiavelli's idea of pragmatism over idealism. He bemoans the fact that other men have written about governing states that could never really exist. He does not see the point of discussing "imagined republics and principalities that never really existed at all." We must look at the situations that a prince will face through a realistic lens. Another big issue for Machiavelli is that this type of political philosophy necessarily implies a sort of Hobbesian view of the nature of man. He claims that men in general are "ungrateful, fickle, dissembling, anxious to flee danger, and covetous of gain." Because of this, the power of a prince is always in danger. At the smallest sign of weakness, opponents will look to capitalize.

To be considered "Machiavellian" in today's terms is not typically a compliment. People associate his name with a desire for power and a cutthroat mentality. In reality, Machiavelli's view of the nature of man requires this effort to protect yourself in positions of authority. He clearly rejects idealism in favor of a more realistic attitude toward leadership. Although not all, people deserve such a cynical attitude, there are some people out there who fit Machiavelli's description. Self-preservation requires that we be aware that these type of people exist and act to maintain our leadership position. Not everyone may want to acknowledge how close Machiavelli's idea of human nature is to reality, but the best leaders must.