This column is part of Globe Careers' Leadership Lab series, where executives and experts share their views and advice about leadership and management. Follow us at @Globe_Careers. Find all Leadership Lab stories at tgam.ca/leadershiplab
As a long-time NFL fan, I have been disheartened by the recent spate of domestic abuse cases that have arisen in recent months.
But my distaste for the actions of players like Ray Rice and Greg Hardy has been matched by my disgust at National Football League commissioner Roger Goodell's lack of leadership in responding to those actions. This was on stark display last Friday when Mr. Goodell gave a press conference to address the crisis facing his league.
When my firm prepares our clients for important public events, we have a simple message: Treat every question as an opportunity to shape thinking and inspire action.
So it was with keen interest that I listened to Mr. Goodell's statement and subsequent question-and-answer session with the press.
My verdict: Not only did his remarks fail to inspire confidence, but they actually damaged perception of the NFL and his ability to lead it. Here is what leaders can learn from Mr. Goodell's communications failures.
1. Say something new
Leaders must provide new and relevant thinking to address the beliefs and concerns of their audience. Simply restating past positions will do little to inspire; at worst, such repetition may imply the speaker is tone deaf or evasive.
Throughout his opening statement, Mr. Goodell continually rehashed positions or brought forth messages that the public had heard already, such as:
"I got it wrong in the handling of the Ray Rice matter. And I'm sorry for that."
"I asked former FBI director Robert Mueller to conduct an independent investigation…"
"I'm here now because our rules, policies and procedures on personal conduct failed…"
The commissioner should have known that the press and public already knew these things and were looking for new thinking to demonstrate the league's commitment to addressing their inadequate responses to cases of domestic violence.
2. Move beyond platitudes
Leaders recognize that when speaking to the news media, they should move beyond platitudes to deliver substantive messages. Unfortunately Mr. Goodell consistently failed to do this, and instead relied on empty statements such as:
"We can use the NFL to help create change. Not only in our league, but in society…"
"These are problems we are committed to addressing…"
"There will be changes to the personal conduct policy. I know this. We will make it happen. Nothing is off the table."
While not inadequate on their own, such statements rang hollow because Mr. Goodell consistently failed to elaborate upon how they would be acted on.
3. Actually answer the questions asked
While the commissioner's opening statement was a set of empty commitments, it was in the question-and-answer session that he truly failed to demonstrate leadership. By consistently failing to answer questions directly, Mr. Goodell came off as evasive and unwilling to show accountability. Consider the following example:
Question: "You've announced a new personal conduct committee. What will your role be with that? Are you reducing your role or your power in these kinds of cases by having that committee?"
Answer: "We will have to develop it further to see who will be on it and whether we will have outside expertise that will join that. It's really about what are the standards and what's the conduct we want in the NFL. How do we want to represent ourselves and what's important to us as a league? We want to make sure that we are holding ourselves to that standard and maybe exceed it. That's the right thing, we want to exceed every single standard we set. That's what I expect this conduct committee to do."
Mr. Goodell fails to answer both what his role will be, and whether his level of power will be reduced.
This was far from the only question Mr. Goodell chose not to answer. On questions regarding conflict of interest in hiring the NFL's law firm to conduct an investigation to questions about the thoroughness of the NFL's attempts to obtain the casino footage of Ray Rice apparently punching his then-fiancée, Mr. Goodell consistently avoided direct answers.
4. Speak as a leader – or pay the price
I was shocked that Mr. Goodell, who had the luxury of time to prepare for his press conference, could have performed so poorly. By the end, I had less confidence in him and the NFL's ability to address these issues than I did before he opened his mouth.
If you are a leader, you can learn from Mr. Goodell by paying close attention to his mistakes, and doing everything you can to avoid them. For NFL fans, let us all hope he does the same – or that he resigns if he cannot do so.
Bart Egnal (@THG_Bart) is president and CEO of the Humphrey Group Inc., a Toronto-based leadership and communications training firm.