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On June 9, Greg Glassman stepped down as CEO and founder of CrossFit Inc. Pressured to take a position in social media about #blacklivesmatter he, in his own terms, “created a rift in the CrossFit community and unintentionally hurt many of its members.” In a video call with affiliates and company executives, he stated “We’re not mourning for George Floyd,” sustaining a theory that Floyd’s death was related to money laundering. He later apologized for his comments in a tweet: “I made a mistake in the words I chose” [they were] “not racist but a mistake.”
Horacio Arruda is the much-loved Quebec’s Director of Public Health. His popularity and credibility skyrocketed since the beginning of the COVID-19 confinement. In May, however, he faced a public storm. In a video with a Quebec rapper, he performed a “confinement dance”. Many people took offense, including the charity organization who was to benefit from this fundraiser video. People saw the dance as disrespectful to those who were suffering. Arruda gave a very emotional apology, during a national government briefing, acknowledging that the dance “made the families who are bereaved feel sad or insulted” and offering “sincere apologies”. He is still seen as genuine, caring and trying his best for the people of Quebec.
As leaders, we make decisions all the time. And these decisions are often off the beaten path. We are bound to make mistakes. Why were the reactions to those two leaders’ mistakes in judgment so different? What can we learn from this?
One cannot help to note that Mr. Glassman did not really apologize for what he said. He called his words a mistake, said he was deeply saddened, but never apologized. Mr. Arruda, on the other hand, acknowledged the suffering felt by those hurt by his gesture, and apologized. Did this make a difference?
It is also interesting to note that Mr. Glassman’s mistake happened in a private video call with associates and executives. It was leaked on the net; Buzzfeed received it through its anonymous tip line. Somebody at CrossFit must have been deeply angry.
When we take a position as a leader, our teams will usually advise us. While some of this advice means “I don’t agree” or “I’m scared by what you are proposing”, others really mean “You are screwing up, buddy!”. When we do not take the time to listen genuinely to our team’s advice, the person who said it just wants to say it louder, on Buzzfeed for example…
As leaders, we must be perceived as relevant to those who follow us. Why would they follow us otherwise? Shedding tears like Arruda did is not mandatory, but genuineness is.
Finally, recognizing that what we have done or said might have hurt someone else is sometimes difficult. It’s hard to recognize that something is a mistake when we genuinely don’t believe it is. At times, we also see this as weakness. However, is it possible that apologizing for hurting someone is different from stating who is wrong and who is right?
Stephen Covey used a metaphor about relationships: each gesture we do toward someone is a deposit, each time we hurt the relationship is a withdrawal. We must make more deposits than withdrawals to maintain our relationships. In the midst of the action, we often forget this, driven as we are to achieve our goals. Would Mr. Glassman still be CEO of Crossfit Inc. if he had remembered this?
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