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Leadership: Michael Vick – Role Model for Regret

I was struck by Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick’s recent statements, which he made last week before and after pleading guilty to felony charges of conspiracy related to running an illegal dogfighting operation.

I was struck by Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick’s recent statements, which he made last week before and after pleading guilty to felony charges of conspiracy related to running an illegal dogfighting operation.

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There are many who think that no matter what Vick says now, there is no way to adequately make up for the horrendous crime he committed: the sickening abuse and killing of dogs in the pursuit of sport and gambling dollars. But they are wrong. Michael Vick can redeem himself and based on my reading and viewing of his statement, he is well on his way. Here are some of the things that Vick did that make his statement especially notable:

1.He accepted total responsibility. Vick did not blame anyone, did not roll over on anyone and did not hint at any anger at the people who may have blamed or rolled over on him.
2.He apologized. Vick mentioned the Falcons’ coach, owner and his teammates. He also directed his apology to fans, especially young fans, saying he had done something immature and needed to grow up.
3.He accepted his fate. Vick will be going to jail, perhaps for as long as a year. That is a big comedown from the heights he is accustomed to. He used the prospect of his incarceration as having “a lot of downtime” in which to consider his deeds and his future.
4.His delivery was believable. Vick did not seem rehearsed. His eyes were cast downward. His body language was closed, hands down, folded in the fig-leaf position, shoulders rounded. His voice was quiet and he seemed to not be reading from prepared text or using notes (nothing of that nature was in evidence). He seemed genuinely humbled and shaken by what had transpired. He looked and sounded ashamed.

Before I go any further, let me say I am no fan of football or big sports of any kind, especially the ones comprised of aggressive men who hurt each other for a living. Nor am I an apologist for dogfighters. I love dogs, have had several of them as pets and know how sweet they are and what great companions they can be.

To those who argue that Vick is not sincere, that he is just trying to repair his badly tarnished image so he can get back to football when he gets out of jail, I say not so fast. “What took him so long?” these people are asking. “This has been going on for years and now he sees the error of his ways? Oh please.” I understand. I am as cynical as they come and it may be true that Vick is just a good actor and a master manipulator. Truth is, we’ll never know for sure.

Nonetheless, he has put in place the right elements for a comeback. It is a bold approach although it shouldn’t be. When was the last time you heard anyone in the public eye who had done something wrong come forward with a statement as forthright and clear as Michael Vick’s? I can’t remember the last time. More often than not, such people blame others or situations out of their control. They disappear quickly into rehab. They find God. They sometimes resign and disappear for a time. They never apologize.

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Apology is among the most powerful communication tools in the arsenal. It is an unparalleled defuser of highly charged situations. It persuades the most stubborn to take another look. Don’t you wish that people in business and politics would do it (and mean it) more often? I do. In fact, I crave it. I think the rest of the public does, too.

Michael Vick apologized for his crime. He did it correctly. He did it well. He is a role model for taking ownership when things go wrong. I believe it will go a long way toward softening the public’s – and perhaps the sentencing judge’s – view of him and pave the way for his eventual return. It will be interesting to see if that happens.

Ruth Sherman • Ruth Sherman Associates, LLC • Greenwich, CT • www.ruthsherman.com

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About the author

Ruth Sherman, M.A., is a strategic communications consultant focusing on preparing business leaders, politicians, celebrities, and small business entrepreneurs to leverage critical public communications including keynote speeches, webcasts, investor presentations, road shows, awards presentations, political campaigns and media contact. Her clients hail from the A-list of international business including General Electric, JP Morgan (NY, London, Frankfurt), Timex Group, Deloitte and Dubai World

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