It’s easy to be an arm-chair quarterback. I am often guilty of it myself. After the play, when everything has gone wrong, I am sure I would have made a different call. I know exactly what would have worked. Or so I think.
In sports, in politics, in education, people frequently think they know precisely what the coach or the leader should have done. Sports commentators fill entire programs with what the calls should have been. There is never a shortage of pundits willing to critique the decisions of politicians, and there are always plenty of people in an organization sure they know what plan would have been better.
More often than not though, we have nowhere near all of the necessary information to make an informed decision. It’s how the system works. Transparency, openness, and, of course, the media allow us to know some of what’s going on almost all of the time. But we rarely know all of it.
Leadership is about gathering all of the information, seeking to understand all sides of the issue, and then making the sometimes difficult decisions.
I was in an intense discussion last week about a discipline infraction and the appropriate consequences. It brought back some emotions tied to a difficult and very public discipline issue I had to address a few years ago. Some in my community disagreed with a decision we made in the building, and the discussion made its way to the media. I was reminded again that everyone sees things through his/her own lens. Leaders seek to see through every lens.
Leadership involves making important decisions that are often controversial. In most cases, those on the outside will know only a fraction of what the leader knows.
Effective leaders have background information and experience others do not have. They have had the conversations with people on all sides of the issue. They understand the impact on the organization as well as any legal ramifications. They know the strengths of their team and what is possible at any given time. We need to trust that they are seeing things that we are not.
Now I am not suggesting that we should never question the decisions our leaders make. I am a fan of discourse. I think debates and disagreements are a necessary part of making the best decisions. I consider myself lucky to live in a society where I can openly share an opposing viewpoint.
But public discourse and personal attacks are not the same thing. The next time you share an opinion about a coach, or a politician, or an educational leader, ask yourself if you are contributing to the conversation or just passing judgement.