A sporting star’s reputation is in tatters, and a press conference where a man, who plays the game with such finesse and authority, looks broken.
You cannot watch Steve Smith, the Australian Cricket Captain’s press conference, without feeling some compassion for him. His reference to how he has let down his parents was particularly moving. One error of judgement, a fateful decision to tamper with the ball, and his world comes tumbling down.
But the seeds of his downfall were not hatched in the lunch interval on the third day of the third test against South Africa in Cape Town; they were hatched in the mission or purpose of the team. When the culture of any organisation whether sport or business becomes solely about ‘winning’ then cheating is an entirely plausible option to consider.
And when things aren’t going your way – the opposition are in a stronger position, your sales figures are not in line with projections – the moment of madness occurs with terrible consequences for all of those involved. For Steve Smith perhaps read Martin Winterkorn, CEO of Volkswagen addressing the emissions scandal in 2015. VW needs to change more than just its chief executive FT article.
The best safeguard is a clear and articulate Purpose stating in the case of Volkswagen why we build cars – “to help people get safely from one place to another whilst minimising damage to the environment” (no room for emissions cheating in there) and for Cricket Australia why we take the field – “to entertain and inspire everyone who watches to be the best they possibly can be” (no room for ball-tampering with this as a Purpose).
When the stakes are high and an overbearing teammate or boss is asking you to do something that doesn’t feel right, a clearly articulated Purpose statement is what you turn to, in order to keep your integrity and reputation intact. It is the antidote to that old adage – ‘when you’re waist deep surrounded by alligators it is easy to forget you came to drain the swamp’.
Steve Smith is feeling pretty miserable right now but it is a good moment for us all to reflect on what option we would take in our moment of greatest weakness. A good starting point within our working lives is to think about our organisation’s Purpose – when faced with adversity does our organisation make cheating a plausible option or does it encourage us to do those things that will make our parents’ proud?