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Leadership: Good Bob, Bad Bob

The General has left the hardwood. Robert Montgomery Knight, nicknamed the General not only for his stint as coach at Army, but also for the discipline and control he exacted at Indiana and Texas Tech, has abruptly resigned. Saying he was tired after 42 years of coaching, Bobby Knight is handing the reins of this team to his designated successor and son, Pat Knight.

The General has left the hardwood.

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Robert Montgomery Knight, nicknamed the General not only for his stint as coach at Army, but also for the discipline and control he exacted at Indiana and Texas Tech, has abruptly resigned. Saying he was tired after 42 years of coaching, Bobby Knight is handing the reins of this team to his designated successor and son, Pat Knight.

Let the dissection of his career begin. For some Bob Knight represented everything good and wholesome about intercollegiate athletics. His teams played as a unit. His kids graduated, most often within four years. He played by the rules. And he won — 902 games, more than any other Division I coach. At Indiana, the Hoosiers won three national championships and he also coached the U.S. Olympic team to a gold medal. By any standard, Knight was, and is, a true champion, in the purest and most authentic sense.

But then there is the other side of Bob Knight. Mercurial, irrational, heated, arrogant and down right mean spirited. Bob Knight once threw a chair across the court during a game in Puerto Rico. He repeated bumped heads and thumped his players’ heads and chests with his hands. He was caught on videotape grabbing the neck (and possibly choking) one of his own players at practices. He insulted deans and university presidents and threw tantrums in his office as well as in press conferences.

So which is it? Good Bobby. Bad Bobby. The truth is both coexist within his persona. We see his virtues. We feel his flaws. And I suspect that many, if not everyone, in the workplace have worked with bosses like Bobby. Sweet as ice tea one moment, and scalding as hot coffee the next. That inconsistency keeps people on edge and makes for a volatile work environment.

Inconsistency in behavior, and in particular in mood swings, demeans workers. The boss who alternates so quickly is one who thinks only of himself. Such behavior may be clinical and require treatment, but the manifestation of it is pure selfishness. The boss lives by his own hubris; he is saying by his action that only what he thinks and feels is what counts. No one else, especially those who report to him, matters. Ultimately people get tired of the boss and they do the one thing that such bosses fear the most; they tune them out. They simply stop listening and stop following. Oh yes, they comply in order to get the work done, but they fail to commit to excellence. In a sense that likely occurred to Knight’s teams; his last national championship came in 1987. Highly recruited high school players refused to play for him; and his own recruits never lived up to his own lofty expectations.

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John Wooden, the legendary Wizard of Westwood who won 10 NCAA titles at UCLA, is quoted as saying that he did not approve of Knight’s methods but he appreciated his accomplishments. Wooden admired the fact that so many of Knight’s players, respected him and praised him for making better men. That ultimately may be Bob Knight’s legacy. On the other hand, Knight’s temper, his meanness and his arrogance will color the debate for years to come.

The General has left the arena.

Source:Steve Inskeep “Interview with John Feinstein” Morning Edition NPR, 2.05.07

John Baldoni • Leadership Expert: Executive Coach/Author/Speaker • Baldoni Consulting, LLC • www.johnbaldoni.com