Malcolm Butler – cornerback of the New England Patriots, hero of Super Bowl XLIX when he intercepted a Seattle Seahawks pass at the end of the game, and starting defensive back that was on the field for 97.8% of defensive snaps during the 2017-18 season – didn’t play a single defensive snap in Super Bowl LII. It was a coaches decision. Malcolm said they lost faith in him.
Did this singular move ruin the alignment the New England Patriots are so well known for and cause the team to lose the game? Let’s look at this issue.
During the National Anthem, Mr. Butler was visibly distraught, making it look like the benching was a decision that was told to him recently. The defense, and the team, may have been told as late as right before they came out of the locker room for introductions. That news would be quite a shock to anyone.
Two Orgametrics constructs, Communication and Leadership, were obviously strained at this moment. Several questions among players may have been swirling. Why did leadership – Coach Belicheck – make such a decision with someone that’s been so trusted all season and was a key part of the defense? Do we REALLY have what it takes to stop Philadelphia? Why is he not even playing a snap? Is everything we’ve built up to succeed in our mission going to crumble? Can I trust what’s happening? I wish someone would tell me what’s going on.
In situations like the Super Bowl, extreme levels of alignment across all tribes and groups are required in order to gain victory. Did Coach Belicheck’s well-known levels of control and secrecy, which had to date been trusted because the team experienced so much success, get eroded to a level with reported stories about infighting within the organization and then crumble with this benching move?
More detail may come forth over the coming days and weeks about how the decision and communications within the defense and team went down.
As a leader, how are decisions that may appear to be questionable to key parts of your organization and aren’t followed by relevant and honest communication going to impact alignment in your team – now and into the future? Doing your best to assess how your actions and decisions, and those of your other leaders, may impact alignment now and in the future is critically important. Don’t just assume you can manage the implications as those decisions can put you a path from which you can’t return.
It is much easier to destroy than to create.