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The Washington Redskins' overdue identify change teaches a robust lesson on methods to lead

There is a proactive and reactive approach, but as Daniel Snyder learned, you can't have it both ways.

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July
14, 2020

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The opinions expressed by the entrepreneur's contributors are their own.

Like most long-standing professional sports leagues, the NFL has not been a model for inclusion or equality over the years. From 1934 to 1946, black players were not even allowed to enter the field. Recent issues in the league included criticism of its pyramid-like remuneration structure and gross mismanagement of league politics and public relations after Colin Kaepernick's decision to kneel during the 2016 national anthem.

Given this context, it is not surprising that the Washington Redskins have stopped changing their team name – widely viewed as a racial nuisance against Native Americans – although this has been literally the subject of protests for decades. Apparently this era is coming to an end. The team made a statement that owners Dan Snyder and head coach Ron Rivera "worked closely to develop a new name and design approach that will strengthen the reputation of our proud rich rich franchise and inspire our sponsors, fans and community for the next 100 years. "

Why now?

FedEx, PepsiCo and Bank of America, all of which are Redskins' main sponsors, have publicly supported the team's name change. While the public statements made by these companies were largely diplomatic, it was reported that ultimatums were delivered privately. In other words, the answer to "why now?" is "Because money."

Now you might think that the whole controversy is exaggerated, and possibly point out that the current Redskins logo was actually designed by a Native American collective who viewed it as a positive representation of their history and values. You could argue that it is an unpopular move among fans, or that there are more important things to worry about. And you would undoubtedly find people who agree with you, even if I don't. But the recent wave of social unrest and calls for action after George Floyd's murder has accelerated the ever inevitable move away from such hurtful branding, no matter how violently Snyder protested over the years.

Related: Washington Redskins change official name after years of protests

A missed opportunity for proactive leadership

Ultimately, an NFL team is a brand, and owned by it is primarily about making money by building that brand's popularity. The Redskins had two options given the ongoing setback: change the name years ago, alienate some fans and deserve the gratitude of others, or stand firm and insist that it's a question of believing in what the Redskins do Icon for fans and the city depicting Washington, DC

Instead, the Redskins management systematically decided to take the path that destroys the perception of leadership in the higher levels of an organization from outside: throwing in the towel in the middle of the fight.

Do not get me wrong. I'm glad the name is changed, but as someone who has had a career and has studied and written about great leadership, this situation is an example of how it ultimately does not exist.

Related: Why the best entrepreneurs have employees who disagree with them

If you believe something is a morally correct choice, you should pursue it resolutely and proactively, even if there is a price to pay in the short term. But if you don't share other people's objections and were vocal in your position, you can't just turn around and surrender. This kind of stamina is a clear indicator of poor intuition and reactive management.

Pardon the pun, but from a leadership perspective, Snyder and Co.'s handling of this situation could be the biggest falling ball in the history of the Redskins franchise from day one, and we all have to learn from that.

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