One of the realities of being a leader is that you can serve effectively and diligently for years, only to one day find yourself facing a challenge that you’ve never faced before, and which will very likely make or break your reputation.
This is what many experienced leaders know as “the moment of truth.”
Yes, it’s fair to say that his opponents, the Denver Broncos, challenged Newton in a way that was unlike any of the opponents he faced over the rest of the season. But his real moment of truth actually came after the game during the post-game news conference where he was asked to explain his on-field failure.
Instead of facing up to what happened, he acted like a petulant child, sulking and being as uncooperative as possible. After a few cursory, one-word answers to questions from journalists, he fled the news conference after only three minutes.
New York Times reporter Michael Powel described Newton’s behavior as a “self-imposed” humiliation. Another writer said that Newton went from being Superman to becoming the Incredible Sulk in his post-game performance.
Faced with his moment of truth, Newton simply didn’t show up as a leader.
Granted, I can’t imagine being in his situation on Sunday. Manhandled by the top defensive unit in the game, Newton was sacked six times and fumbled twice. Given his amazing performance all year, it was clearly a huge disappointment for him. My sense when the game was over was that most fans would be sympathetic to a great athlete who came up one game short of immortality.
Unfortunately, when it came time to own up to his failure, he couldn’t face the music. Many of his teammates, who attended the news conference and stayed to answer many questions, showed greater poise and leadership in the same difficult situation.
Yahoo Sports writer, Eric Adelson summed it up the best: “Newton was supposed to be big enough for any moment. Instead, on Super Bowl Sunday, he was steam rolled by a moment he created.”
Newton responded to his criticism by admitting he is a sore loser, and that his actions were taken out of context. It also seems he left in response to being in an earshot of a Denver Bronco player boasting on how they planned to beat Newton.
In the end, these are little more than excuses.
Like most of us, we learn from our difficult experiences. I assume Newton will learn from this one. He’s a gifted athlete and will realize that being a truly great leader means showing up on and off the field, regardless whether you are winning seventeen of eighteen games in a season, or losing in the big championship game.
There is a lesson here for all of us in leadership roles.
This week’s gut check asks: Will you show up for your moment of truth?
The second edition of The Leadership Contract is now available in hardcover and a Kindle edition