The comment resounded like a Bryan McCabe slap shot hitting the goal post.
Toronto Maple Leafs general manager John Ferguson's leadership was called into question this week after his boss wondered aloud if the decision to hire him was, in hindsight, "a mistake."
The statement from Richard Peddie, president of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment Ltd., left players, media and fans speculating about whether Mr. Ferguson is a lame duck whose authority had been undermined.
While the spotlight may be more intense on leadership dilemmas in the sports arena, the situation of being a manager who is not getting support from higher up is all too common, career experts say. And how leaders stickhandle through a management challenge will determine whether they come out as winners in their careers.
"If you feel like the guillotine is being readied, it can be difficult to focus on the positives, but that's exactly what you have to do to try to live to lead another day," says Kitchener, Ont.-based leadership consultant Jim Clemmer.
"The last thing you want to do is start considering yourself a victim," Mr. Clemmer says, adding it's important not to sit in a state of limbo but to clarify with management just where you stand.
"You've got to force the situation. It almost comes down to talking with management and saying in as diplomatic a way as possible: Either support me and shut up or fire me," recommends Mr. Clemmer, author of the upcoming book The Moose on the Table, about how to cope with leadership issues that are left unspoken.
"And if you want to stay on, it is important to continue to motor on through," he adds.
"The focus should be on what is right and what can we build on. What happens both in hockey and business is you can get into what seems to be a doom spiral, where an organization keeps failing and management believes a dramatic public firing will reverse the loop."
But that is usually a short-term fix because, typically, there are deeper systemic issues in the culture of the organization that are not fixed by just firing someone, Mr. Clemmer says.
In many cases, withholding support is a method that management uses to try to shift the blame for the shakeup by getting the leader to resign, he adds.
There may be legal recourses for embattled leaders who find themselves being forced out by the undermining of management.
There have been cases where managers have sued for "wrongful hiring," says Sheryl Johnson, employment lawyer with the firm Grosman Grosman & Gale LLP in Toronto.
"It comes down to whether they can prove they relied on promises of support and resources from management, but in reality the support or resources were not there for them," Ms. Johnson says.
But this is often difficult to prove because these promises are generally made verbally and not in a contract, she says.
A manager may also have a case for "constructive dismissal" if it can be proved that management was forcing someone out by undermining their authority and ability to perform the job satisfactorily, she says.
In most cases, being put into a lame duck situation publicly makes it difficult for an employee to continue to be effective, Ms. Johnson adds.
"In Mr. Ferguson's case, the situation is being played out in the public forum. Usually, you want to have private discussions. Once this is being argued in public, it makes it difficult to have ongoing positive relationship."
However, there are ways for a lame duck to stay on and rebuild strength and support, says leadership coach Dave Crisp, chief executive officer of Crisp Strategies Ltd. in Toronto.
"The best end result is to take the high road. And, that boils down to making the point that the team is the issue here and you are going to do whatever is best for the team."
It can be a tricky balance, he says. Embattled leaders have to make sure that they confer with the managers and the team, but still have to show that they are setting their own course, he says. "You don't want to come across sounding like a wimp, saying I'll do whatever I'm told to do."
But you also have to control the urge to say "I am going to do this my way, the hell with what you say," Mr. Crisp says. That kind of maverick attitude can erode support because it can make you appear to be temperamental and not a team player.
A conciliatory approach is to say something like: "Management is entitled to have some doubts but I don't. I am firm on what I want to do and I will continue to have my input," he advises.
"To do a good job as leader, you have to absorb the hits and come back smiling."
But if you find the situation is deteriorating and there is no upside to staying, the strongest leadership stance is to resign "for the best of the team."
As for upper management's role, Mr. Crisp advises: "The message to Mr. Peddie might be you should probably keep your mouth shut until you have made a decision. You either back up your guy 100 per cent and have your private disagreements behind closed doors or you come out swinging saying we are going to replace the guy and here's who it is."