Hurney and Gettleman, Grace & Truth

I’m always looking for current events that display Biblical principles for successful leadership. The decision by Carolina Panthers owner Jerry Richardson last week to fire Dave Gettleman as the team’s general manager provides some excellent fodder for a discussion of good and bad leadership traits. After being fired in 2012, Marty Hurney was appointed as the interim general manager.

Here are just a few observations:

  1. Timing is everything. As King Solomon pointed out, “A wise heart knows the proper time and procedure” (Ecclesiastes 8:5 NASB). One of the unusual things about Richardson’s decision is that it came just eight days before the start of the Panthers’ training camp. Even Richardson had to admit that the timing was “not ideal.” An organization’s major decisions ordinarily should be planned with enough time to allow for a smooth rollout and careful communications to all the stakeholders. In this case, even Panther’s head coach Ron Rivera was apparently caught off guard by Richardson’s decision.
  2. Instead of evaluating a person’s overall track record and the long-term picture for an organization’s success, leadership often comes down to “what have you done for me lately.” By almost any measure, Gettleman’s tenure with the Panthers was extremely successful—except for last season. But despite an amazing Super Bowl run in 2015, Richardson apparently felt that the trajectory was going in the wrong direction. And, no doubt, trajectory is more important than past successes. I’ve seen numerous situations where pastors face similar scrutiny. Past success is deemed irrelevant if church attendance and finances are on a downward slide.
  3. We must resist the urge to jerk between extremes. From my perspective, Marty Hurney’s decisions as general manager tended to err on the side of GRACE—giving players big contracts and sometimes keeping them past their prime. In contrast, Dave Gettleman was a man of TRUTH—looking at a player’s current productivity and being unwilling to break the bank when a player’s performance didn’t merit a huge contract. In switching back to Hurney, I think Richardson was siding with grace and loyalty. He wanted to take care of players like Greg Olsen and Thomas Davis, who were in negotiations for new contracts. And it seems he may have been unhappy with how Gettleman parted ways with Panthers stars like Steve Smith and Josh Norman.

I would argue that both Hurney and Gettleman were successful, but partly because the Panthers benefited from the combination of grace and truth that these two general managers provided. Hurney was credited with a harmonious locker room, full of players who felt honored and appreciated. Gettleman was applauded for clearing out players who were past their prime, which greatly improved the salary cap situation.

Jesus, the greatest leader of all time, was full of BOTH grace and truth (John 1:14). He didn’t have to jerk from one extreme to another, for He perfected embodied these two qualities every successful leader must demonstrate.

In Jim Collin’s best-selling book, Good to Great, he notes that organizations thrive when they have “the right people on the bus and have them on the right seats on the bus.” That pretty much describes what a successful general manager must do in the NFL.

When it comes to the future of the Panthers, my hometown team, I hope Marty Hurney will have learned the lessons from the past—both from his own decisions and from those of Dave Gettleman. May he bring back the grace needed to recreate a harmonious team culture, where past performance is honored. But may he also have the guts to make hard decisions when a player is overpaid or should no longer be “on the bus.”

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When the Odds Are Stacked Against You

As you may have heard by now, the Carolina Panthers crushed the Arizona Cardinals 49-15 in the NFC Championship Game, winning a place in Super Bowl 50. And in a surprising development, Las Vegas odds-makers have even made the Panthers a slight favorite in their Super Bowl matchup against the Denver Broncos.

What’s astonishing about this scenario is that at the beginning of the season the Panthers were a 50-1 underdog to win the Super Bowl. Few people even expected them to win their division, let along end the regular season at 15-1, one of the best records in NFL history. And the naysayers came out in force after the Panthers’ #1 wide receiver, Kelvin Benjamin, was lost for the season because of an injury in training camp.

Don’t you love it when the naysayers are proven wrong?

I think God loves it too…

  • When over a million Israelites are able to walk away from Egypt, the strongest nation on earth at the time.
  • When Samson slays hundreds of Philistines with the jawbone of a donkey.
  • When David disregards his naysayers and defeats Goliath with his slingshot and five smooth stones.
  • When the fledgling band of Jesus’ followers becomes a powerful movement encompassing the known world.

And I bet you’ve had your naysayers too. People who’ve said you’ll never amount to anything. Critics who’ve predicted your dream will never come to pass. Enemies who were bent on your destruction or defeat.

But God can’t wait to prove your critics wrong…

His Word says that if He if for you, it doesn’t matter who is standing against you (Romans 8:31).

You’ve already been promised that the One living in you is a champion more powerful than anything or anyone you’ll ever encounter in the world (1 John 4:4).

And just as the Panthers achieved more this year than even their greatest fans could have envisioned, the Bible promises that God can do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to His power that is at work within us” (Ephesians 3:20).

So it’s time to set your sights higher, my friend. Even though the people around you may be counting you out, this could be your Super Bowl season after all.

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Benefits of Cheering for the Winning Team

I’ll admit, I had never even heard of New Zealand’s “All Blacks” rugby team until I visited the country a few weeks ago. But it didn’t take long for me to become a fan. Rugby Fever had clearly captivated New Zealand, and nearly everyone seemed to rise at 5 a.m. to watch the match against South Africa, broadcast from London.

Today I was rewarded for my newfound allegiance to the All Blacks. They made history by beating Australia 34-17 in the Rugby World Cup final.

If you’re wondering what any of this has to do with YOU, stay tuned while I tell you about two other teams I’ve been cheering for this fall. For the first time in forever, BOTH the Carolina Panthers and Ohio State Buckeyes are undefeated at this point in the season. Amazing…

So what’s the point of this?

I’ve been thinking about the importance of cheering for the winning team—not so much in sports, but in life. We all have choices to make about the political candidates, the lifestyles, and the values we will align ourselves with.

And it sure feels good when our “team” ends up winning.

But most of the time we don’t know in advance whether our team, our cause, or our candidate will win or lose. Fortunately, in the case of the All Blacks match today, I recorded it rather than watching live. So by the time I actually viewed the match, I already knew the outcome.

If you believe what the Bible says, this has great significance. In the final chapters, we’re told that God ends up winning—and overwhelmingly so. Those of us who align ourselves with the Lord and His purposes will experience this ultimate victory as well.

However, most of us have had times when we’re not really sure whether we’re on the winning team. There seem to be losses…setbacks…disappointments along the way. Sometimes we lose elections, Supreme Court decisions, and public debates, and it’s tempting to think the devil and the forces of evil are winning the game.

That’s why it’s so important to have confidence in the final outcome, no matter what may be going on around us. Sure, we don’t know how all the details will play out along the way. But we can be assured that when the dust settles and the final score is tallied, our God will be sitting on the throne, reigning over His creation (Revelation 4:1-2). All the kingdoms of this world—even the ones ruled by ruthless despots today—are destined to become the kingdoms of our Lord and His Christ (Revelation 11:15).

And I learned one more lesson from the All Blacks…

It was a stunning to see an entire nation united  in support of one team. It’s been a long time since I’ve experienced such intense national unity in America, even during the Olympics.

Watching New Zealand’s allegiance to their national rugby team made me wonder what would happen if every professing Christian in America had that kind of passionate devotion to the cause of Christ. Instead of being splintered by our diverse denominations, doctrines, and congregations, what if we were united with passion to crown Jesus as our King?

Far too many of us have split loyalty, hedging our bets about which kingdom we will support. Hard as it might be at times, why not believe the Bible and throw our allegiance wholeheartedly to the winning team?

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3 Lessons From Fair-Weather Fans

After the Carolina Panthers’ 38-0 victory over the New York Giants in the third game of the 2013 season, it was easy for me to acknowledge that I am a fan. It was the Panthers’ biggest blowout victory in team history, after all.

However, things had been much different in the previous few weeks. The Panthers had blown leads in the fourth quarter of their first two games of the season, resulting in a disappointing 0-2 record and lots of angry fans.

Sports radio was full of calls from fans ready to fire coach Ron Rivera, and many even were wondering whether Cam Newton was truly fit to be the team’s franchise quarterback.

I’ll admit, I was one of these disgruntled fans. Just like the past few seasons, the Panthers were off to a terrible start, and their prospects for making the playoffs seemed bleak.

But something amazing happened after the 38-0 victory. Now the fickle fans were talking about the Panthers as a Super Bowl contender! How quickly perspectives can change.

The phenomenon of fair-weather fans offers us some valuable lessons for life and leadership:

      1. Successful leaders recognize that things are seldom as bad, or as good, as they seem.  Although the Panthers managed to lose their first two games, they really weren’t as bad as their 0-2 recorded indicated. And despite their huge 38-0 victory over the Giants, that doesn’t mean they’ve corrected all their problems and are ready for the Super Bowl.

      2. Successful leaders are able to see past the present moment.  In order to effectively lead any team or organization, the leader needs an “inner gyroscope”—an ability to maintain balance and perspective regardless of the immediate circumstances. They can’t afford to swing on a bipolar pendulum of lows and highs, depending on the organization’s defeats or victories. They can see past the failures to a coming day of success, and after every success they look for ways the team can excel still more.

      3. Successful leaders aren’t overly influenced by public opinion.  As Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey one Sunday, the crowd enthusiastically greeted Him with shouts of “Hosanna, blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.”  For some of us, that might have been the cause for quite an ego trip. But Jesus knew that, only a few days later, some of the same people would be shouting “Crucify Him!”

Yes, even the Son of God had fickle fans. Through it all, however, His inner gyroscope stayed in tack. Perhaps He called to mind the heavenly proclamation He had received from His Father at the Jordan River a few years earlier: “You are my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.”  When the voices on earth turn against us, we desperately need to hear that voice from heaven.

If you are a business leader, you’ve no doubt encountered fair-weather followers among your board or your investors. Even the great Steve Jobs was banished for several years from Apple—the company he created.

And as a former pastor I remember well the highs and lows of people’s approval or rejection. I had to learn the crucial skill of allowing the peace of Christ to rule in my heart as an inner gyroscope—whether people liked me that week, or whether they didn’t.

I wish I could tell you that all your fickle fans would have a permanent change of heart—especially after a 38-0 victory. But no, fans are fickle by nature. Only a few are loyal through thick and thin. There are many Sauls, but few Jonathans.

Yet I encourage you to find those few faithful friends. And in the meantime, cultivate your sensitivity to the inner gyroscope of God’s peace, regardless of what the crowd around you is saying.


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