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Jimmy Johnson is still missed in Dallas. The infamous split with Dallas Cowboys’ owner Jerry Jones wrecked what most feel would have been prime opportunities for at least a couple of more Super Bowls. We’ll never know.
What we do know is that Jimmy was tired of being the bad guy. And he wanted to live in southern Florida.
“I had to be the bad guy because people get complacent.”
That’s what Jimmy said after he left the sidelines for the broadcast table. Far be it from me to second guess him. He’s got the degree in organizational psychology. That doesn’t make him infallible, but it does demonstrate how smart he is. He reportedly has a high IQ and may be a member of Mensa, the high IQ club. There’s no question the man is crazy smart.
Football and sports coaching is often compared to running businesses, but it’s more likely a metaphor we like than an accurate comparison. I’ve done both and they’re not the same. Not by a long shot. Of course, I’ve not coached sports at the professional level and I suppose there’s a strong argument to be made that at that level, they may be quite a lot alike. Who knows?
People do get complacent. No doubt about it.
Sometimes leaders do have to be “the bad guy.” I don’t doubt that either.
What I do question are what both of those mean.
Complacency is defined as a feeling of smug or uncritical satisfaction with oneself or one’s achievements. Is that what’s really going on when a leader may be sparked to be a bad guy? Or might we sometimes mistake confusion or dissatisfaction with complacency? Is it possible sometimes people in our organization are lackluster because we’ve not provided them the information, tools and encouragement necessary to instill in them the purpose they so earnestly desire?
Does it take being a bad guy to bring that about? Of course not.
And what does being a bad guy mean? Mostly, we think it means being tough, harsh and stern. And I’m not saying there’s never a place for that. There is.
Training children sometimes require a sternness to make the point. Polite asking goes ignored. And ignored some more. I’ve quite intentionally shown my teeth in order to make a point. Kids get it. Quite quickly. Was I intentionally being a “bad guy?” Sure. But I didn’t see it as being a bad guy. Rather, it was because I cared enough to be for them what I most felt they needed in the moment.
Maybe that’s how Jimmy Johnson meant it. Maybe not.
Being “the bad guy” isn’t required to battle complacency though. And being the bad guy all the time is a surefire way to lose your team or organization. Being “the bad guy” isn’t being a jerk. It’s doing what you must to get the attention of people and to drive home the priority of the moment. It’s also part of being what people most need to learn, understand and grow.
Don’t be a tyrant. Don’t think being a bad cop is the way to higher human performance. It’s not. Being the “bad guy” is only valuable when you remain focused on the recipients, not yourself.
Keep your eyes and attention on the people you lead. Serve them well. Be for them whatever can best help them in the moment. It’s not about you. It’s about them.
Be well. Do good. Grow great!