The Atlanta Braves, Cobb County, Leadership, and Unforced Errors
Leadership is a risky business.
Leadership is a risky business. Sometimes you march through a rain of opposition, only to come out stronger and more connected to those you lead and your former opponents for having led with honor and grace.
And sometimes, just as you are about to cross the finish line, you step in a hole, twist your ankle, and end up walking with a cane for the foreseeable future. Every subsequent appearance before your group carries a visual reminder of your misstep.
Something along those lines happened this week in Cobb County, where, as you’ve no doubt heard by now, the Atlanta Braves will be moving to a new stadium in 2017.
While I am heavily involved in the entrepreneurial and business networking circles within Cobb County, I am not a resident. I love Cobb and think of it as a generally successful example of good leadership at the county level. While I may have disagreements with issues here or there, overall I tend to think of Cobb as the kind of county that many other metro counties could learn from. I leave my encounters with Cobb’s business, political, and social leaders thinking, “These folks get it.”
But even the best sometimes stumble.
Even the best sometimes stumble.
This week, the Cobb County Commission voted 5-0 to approve multiple agreements that form a 30-year partnership with the Braves. As is the usual case with Cobb County commission meetings, they allow citizens to speak on issues before the commissioners by allowing people to sign up for a number of open speaking slots.
The supporters of the Braves’ move organized themselves to arrive five hours before the meeting and sign up for all twelve slots. This ensured that no opposition voice was heard at the meeting.
I’m sure that the creators of this strategy thought it was a master stroke. “Nobody else will get to speak and put any kind of a damper on the festivities.” “No negative thoughts or visuals will impede the progress of this project.” “We will present a unified view to those who are watching.”
It’s not that there aren’t admirable elements to the idea of showing unity and keeping things positive. But it didn’t turn out that way. Opposing voices were led away by authorities. The meeting has made the news all over the country. The commissioners and the advocates of the deal have come off looking really bad. I don’t support the opposition’s attempt to disrupt the meeting, either, but that pales in comparison to the mistake of not reserving a slot or two for the opposing view.
Avoid unforced errors.
The sad part is that it was completely unnecessary. Even if some of the opponents had received speaking slots, the vote was a fait accompli. This deal was already done and everyone knew it. Despite some reasonable arguments from the opposition, I actually support the Braves’ move to Cobb and am looking forward to the new entertainment venues and development in the area. I personally think the pluses outweigh the minuses in the long run. Others disagree. Fair enough.
The commissioners and the community business leaders who supported this outcome got what they wanted. They got their vision, they got their stadium, they got their vote, and they got their speaking spots filled. But what they failed to remember was that they actually have to lead the whole county from this point forward, including those who were escorted out of that meeting and the other people whose views they represent. This episode, spread across media far and wide, is going to make it more difficult than it should have been to lead effectively through the days to come. It will invite ugly comparisons to past mistakes; even when such comparisons are unfounded, the fact that this happened will give credibility to future complaints.
In controlling the environment of this meeting and strategically excluding the opposing voices, the advocates have unwittingly strengthened their opponents’ voices. The advocates didn’t need all twelve slots. The commissioners didn’t need to retreat into a “we didn’t pick who got to speak” dodge. They could have reserved 6 slots pro and con, or 10 slots pro and 2 slots con. Almost any other way of handling it would have been preferable to letting absolutely no opposing voice have a speaking slot on the agenda.
In leadership, as in baseball, few things are as frustrating as unforced errors. The way this meeting was handled may not change much about the outcome of the game, but it’s going to make it significantly harder for all of these leaders to regain the trust of many talented people whom they will want on their team going forward.