Pittsburgh Steelers Quarterback “Big Ben” Roethlisberger has a bit of a reputation for airing criticism of teammates in public. This past season he made some comments on his weekly radio show following a 7-point loss to the Denver Broncos, a game that turned on a couple of plays:
1. Rookie receiver James Washington was unable to make a diving grab on a deep pass down the sideline.
2. Roethlisberger’s pass attempt to All-Pro wideout Antonio Brown was picked off in the end zone on the Steelers final play when the center blocked Broncos lineman Shelby Harris so far back off the line that he ended up in perfect position to intercept the throw.
The following Tuesday, Roethlisberger aired his opinion on both plays, calling out Washington for the first, saying that he should have kept running under the throw instead of trying to dive for it and alluding to Brown’s need to run a better route on the second to avoid the game-ending interception. He even went as far as to criticize the play-calling in that stretch as well. The overall sentiment was that Big Ben had crossed the line, using a public forum for something that should have been kept in the confines of the Steelers’ locker room. Maybe so, but some of that backlash may also be due to people’s general discomfort with a critical element of successful teams: peer-to-peer ACCOUNTABILITY.
Simply put, great teams need teammates to hold each other accountable for how their efforts and behaviors impact the team. As a leader, it starts with you. You’ve worked hard to build trust, cultivate healthy conflict, and reach commitment to clear goals. Accountability is the force that holds it all together.
Everyone on the team can see whether the leader is comfortable holding members of the team accountable for their behavior. If you aren’t, they won’t be either. Nobody wants to make someone else feel bad. But it’s essential that the leader demonstrates the value of accountability to break down that discomfort for the rest of the team. Ironically, the more willing you are to address issues, the more likely it will be that others on the team will beat you to it.
Whether it’s benching Brown for missing a walkthrough prior to the Steelers’ must-win game against the Bengals, or taking responsibility for his own bad decision, like a failed fake punt late in a critical game against New Orleans, Steelers coach Mike Tomlin sets a strong tone of accountability. While he isn’t known for public callouts of players and coaches, and no doubt he prefers that his players follow suit, his name is notably absent from the ranks of those upset at Roethlisberger’s handling of things. So, while Big Ben may cross the line with where and how he holds teammates accountable, his boldness in doing so speaks volumes for the Steelers team culture.
Your team’s culture and ultimate success depend on everyone holding everyone else accountable. Just maybe not on the radio.
This is part four in my series on Team Dynamics. You can review the others here:
Part 1, Trust: The Foundation for Team Success
Part 2, Conflict: A Key to Making the Right Call
Part 3, Commitment: Even When Your Number Isn’t Called
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