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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