LET Virtues LEAD

What do virtues have to do with football?

LET Virtues LEAD
Sig Berg
June 4, 2024
LITER Virtues

It would be useful to set the framework for my remarks. In my book, The Virtue Proposition, I outline the difference between values and virtues. First, let us turn to values.

They are a choice that an individual makes about moral priorities based on their feelings. Three things are characteristic of values: they are the result of individual choice, they are based in the subjectivity of the self and feelings, and they are malleable over time and place. Values amount to little more than individual opinion. (p.9)

The goal of values-based leadership is authentic personal performance based on one's own personal truth. (p. 10)

Virtues are a different matter entirely.

Virtues appeal to an older philosophic and religious tradition in which morals are based in a transcendent objective reality. They exist outside of the self. They are part of the structure of reality. They are how the world works. They function like gravity, a universal objective reality that we deny at our own peril. They function like oxygen, a requisite for not just living a good life, but life itself. The virtue proposition acknowledges that there are objective moral criteria, however arrived at, which, like gravity, like oxygen, impinge themselves on a person regardless of how he or she thinks or feels about them. (pp. 10-11)

They define the substance of character and are the standard by which the behavior of every leader is judged. (p. 11)

The five virtues of The Virtue Proposition are love, integrity, truth, excellence, and relationships, catalyzed by courage. They unite, empower, and in the final analysis, are the DNA, the moral compass, for me, for you, for leaders, and for long-term team performance.  

This past New Year’s Day the Iowa Hawkeyes and the Tennessee Volunteers played in the Citrus Bowl in Orlando. Tennessee won the game, but that is not the story I want to share.  Quarterback Joe Milton started all of Tennessee's games in 2023 except for the final game in Orlando.  

'Joe played football at Michigan (2018 – 2020) and then transferred to Tennessee (2021 – 2023).  He reportedly received $838,000 in NIL (Name, Image, Likeness) money. It should be noted that Tennessee replaced Milton in the Citrus Bowl with freshman, “phenom” five-star athlete, Nico Iamaleava (NIL - $8 Million). Please understand, that my intent is not to offer commentary on the state of college football but to have it serve as background for my comments on leadership.

Joe Milton opted not to play in the final game of the year. He said he wanted to prepare for the NFL. He traveled with the team to Orlando, provided advice and insight to Nico Iamaleava, and cheered for his team on the sidelines.

Tennessee Head Coach Josh Heupel said this about Milton, “Joe has done this the right way -- by staying with us. He shows us who he is as a leader.”

Is Joe the leader Coach Heupel claims him to be? Did Heupel get it right?

This is where the five virtues come into play. They ground who we are and at the same time provide us with a framework for discerning the world around us. How does one know whether the virtues are in play or not? Just watch the behaviors of those we see and hear.

Joe Milton chose to leave his team before the “big” game -- to prepare for his future.  On January 1 Joe’s team was on the field, he was not. Yes, his replacement might be a “star’ but that is not the point. Joe was more concerned about himself and his future in the NFL than his team and its final game on New Year’s Day. He could say he wanted to, but his behavior betrayed him. Joe does not meet the standard for being called a leader because of his behavior. 

Leaders and their teams are inseparable. The measure of a leader is his/her ability to build a team that trusts each other and fully believes in their mission or goal. A team is not a group of individuals but is an inseparable “band of one”. In the final analysis, Joe, standing on the sidelines, had no team. It is all about him and him alone.

From a “virtues” perspective, Coach Heupel did get one thing right. Joe did show us who he is as a leader. His behavior exposed the answer -- he is not.

The questions for the Tennessee football team under new leadership are: 

Will they embrace virtues over values?

Will virtuous behaviors speak louder than words?

Will Nico Iamaleava and Josh Heupel finally get it right in 2024?

Sig Berg

Let Virtues Lead

Sig Berg is the Founder of the Severn Leadership Group. With degrees from the United States Naval Academy, Trinity Lutheran Seminary and the Harvard Graduate School of Business, he has served in the Navy, as a senior pastor, and in global executive positions. He currently is a Senior Mentor and Chairman of the Severn Leadership Group Board of Directors.

LET Virtues LEAD

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