Game over. Cleveland Browns owner Randy Lerner moved swiftly to fire his front office following the final, crushing loss of the season. He cut general manager Phil Savage loose by phone after Sunday’s defeat, and then sacked coach Romeo Crennel the next morning. Most Joes and pros alike support Lerner’s moves because the team under-performed in humiliating fashion this season.
What caused the under-performance? The failure can be traced to the top. Browns insiders say Phil Savage lacked more than just scoreboard numbers. They say he was woefully deficient in communication and leadership skills.
I believe communication and leadership are joined at the hip. The leader is communicator-in-chief. And I don’t mean giving speeches. The first thing any leader delivers is culture. It’s the leaders responsibility to create a winning culture. The championship mindset begins with an open, clear communication path that cascades throughout the organization. Information must flow freely in both directions, with candor and clarity. Without this, organizations unravel and under-perform.
Savage’s leadership communication style smacked of rookie. He created distractions for the players and coaching staff and drew too much attention to himself. Two examples were a public spat with tight end Kellen Winslow over releasing information about team staph infections, and a profane e-mail exchange with a fan.
The Browns organization created a new playbook in how not to communicate. Faced with a leadership communication vacuum, bad habits prevailed as people jockeyed for position, covered their butts, withheld information, took pot shots, or became long-winded. Lacking direction, everyone freestyled their communication. Clearly, the results were disastrous.
This is not to say the dreadful season was all Savage’s fault. The NFL is famous for its revolving door and zero job security. Players are paid to hit, hit, hit. The front office is paid to replace, replace, replace. Stress levels are through the roof as everyone in the organization faces store-window scrutiny and is all too aware of the disposable nature of their job. It’s a challenge to motivate and inspire self confidence.
Here’s where it spiraled out of control: Savage confused leadership with power. The two couldn’t be more different. Leadership means elevating others’ performances, making the whole greater than the sum of its parts. Power, on the other hand, means “me, first.” It’s a narcissistic, alpha-male act that leads others to under-perform. The quest for personal power destroys trust, triggering the team to be less than the sum of its parts.
Savage’s football skills led him to the job. His lack of leadership communication tackled him from behind.
I believe this leadership meltdown is a forehead-slapping moment of clarity. It takes more than talent to reach the top of any profession. This is Randy Lerner’s chance to smack it through the middle of the uprights in Cleveland, to attain the level of success he’s enjoyed recently with his English soccer club.
It starts with hiring a leader who will make creating a winning culture his first priority.