Lessons from RG3

1/17/13

In the recent NFL Wild Card game between the Seattle Seahawks and Washington Redskins, the Redskins rookie star quarterback, Robert Griffin III (or RG3) began the game with a sprained lateral cruciate ligament (or LCL, i.e., the one that keeps your knee from folding outward to the side). He wore a brace, but after trying to make a cut off with his injured knee in the first quarter, it was obvious to all that his knee had gotten worse as he walked and ran with a significant limp. In the fourth quarter, reaching for a low snap, he turned and his knee buckled awkwardly, ending his game and season. A few days later the team revealed that he had torn both his LCL and anterior cruciate ligament (ACL).

After the game many second-guessed his coach, Mike Shanahan for leaving him in the game because it risked (and actually ended up resulting in) further injury. Both Shanahan and the expert orthopedic surgeon on the sidelines noted that RG3 had said he was fine and kept going back out on the field. I don't write this to be one of those second guessers, but rather to ask CHROs to think about what they would do.

CEOs and other senior business leaders have incredible intelligence, ambition, energy, and records of success. They, like RG3, want to be out there in the fight, even when they have the emotional or experiential equivalent of an injury. It may be a bad press experience, a bad board experience, or a bad experience with one of their direct reports. If they get back in too soon, they may risk further damage, yet their past success drives them to think that they can succeed in fixing the situation.

One of the CHRO roles we have identified is titled "Counselor/Confidante/Coach" and the most recent CHRO survey technical report provides a number of examples of how CHROs play that role. But RG3's recent experience highlights what can happen if the coach does not sit his star down in an effort to minimize the risk of further injury. I'd challenge CHROs to use this recent tragedy in two ways.

First, talk with your leaders about it, and help them to understand that even though with all of his being, RG3 wanted to be out there, it ended up causing more damage by letting him do so. See if they can think about times when they saw others try to go back out there when sitting might have been more prudent, or even when they might have done so themselves.

Second, recognize that as a coach, you also have to walk the fine line between letting your stars play through pain (i.e., minor obstacles) and keeping them from risking permanent injury. The bad news is that, like Mike Shanahan, you may only know where the line was after the game is over.