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Gut Check: Are You a Class Act?

If you were among the more than 103 million fans that tuned into the Super Bowl on Sunday, you witnessed one of the most exciting championship games ever.

As a Patriots fan, I was a bit disappointed in the outcome, a narrow but thrilling victory by the Philadelphia Eagles. Even in my disappointment, however, I had to applaud the Eagles—they controlled the pace of the game from beginning to end.

After the hype of the big game died down, two stories jumped out at me as powerful leadership lessons for all of us. Now I know that sport stories aren’t for everyone, but these are worth learning about.

The first story came from the Patriots as defensive back Malcolm Butler was benched for the game. Told just before the game he was not playing, Butler was captured by TV cameras on the sidelines with tears in his eyes as his mates waged battle with the Eagles.

The decision was as mysterious as it was shocking. Butler was also the rookie sensation who played a key role in the Patriots’ Super Bowl victory two years earlier. This past season, he played 98 percent of the team’s entire defensive snaps. What could have prompted this decision?

As is his style, Belichick would not fully explain his decision to bench Butler. There were reports that the player had been suffering from an illness earlier in the week. More rumors of disciplinary issues surfaced, including a possible missed curfew. Belichick denied that the benching had anything to do with breaking team rules, and would only say that the players he selected to play on this one day “gave us the best chance to win.”

If it was a disciplinary issue, in my opinion, Belichick had an obligation to make that clear, and allow Butler to take responsibility for his actions and grow as a player and a person. If it was just a gut instinct call for the coach and Butler didn’t do anything that warranted benching, then Belichick needed to make that clear so he can be accountable for the decision.

Belichick’s decision turned out to be impactful. Butler’s replacement played well, but was torched for an early TD.

The other story involved a player who wasn’t even on the field—Jon Dorenbos. Prior to the start of this season, Dorenbos was the longest-tenured player in Eagles history, having suited up as the team’s long-snapper since 2006. In August, he was traded to the New Orleans Saints. As part of the trade, Dorenbos has to under go a physical exam.

As fate would have it, the exam revealed an aortic aneurysm that required immediate surgery. The procedure saved his life, but it ended his career as a professional football player.

It was a real tragedy until he got a call from Jeffrey Lurie, the owner if the Philadelphia Eagles. Lurie asked Dorenbos to attend the game as his guest. And he also promised something else.

“Mr. Lurie called me and said he wants me to be a part of it, said I was here a long time and he said, ‘We’re going to win this, and you’re going to get a ring.”

With that small action, Lurie showed me that he’s truly a class act.

I’ve always thought ‘class act’ was an interesting term. It is defined as something or someone regarded as outstanding or elegant in quality or performance. Being a class act is something that’s not often talked about in leadership, yet it’s something I’ve seen from many top-notch leaders.

When I look around the world today I see too many examples of business and political leaders who lack class. Their behavior ranges from inexplicable to out and out indecent.

My big concern is that when there are too many classless and indecent leaders, other leaders will be tempted to follow their example. Bad behavior often begets more bad behavior.

In this year’s Super Bowl, we got to see a real class act (Lurie) and an example of leadership that lacked class (Belichick), in my opinion.

Using those two examples, take a moment to reflect on whether you’re a Lurie or a Belichick. After you leave your organization, will you be remembered as a class act, or someone who lacked class?

This week’s gut check for leaders asks: Are you a class act?

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About the Author

Vince Molinaro is a speaker, consultant, executive at Lee Hecht Harrison, and author of the New York Times bestseller The Leadership Contract now in its third edition.

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