Big public lessons in accountability (or lack thereof) have become too frequent across all walks of life. And Urban Meyer is just the latest in the tiny niche of revered college football coaches in the unwanted spotlight (joining Brian Kelley of Notre Dame and Joe Paterno in recent history).
Meyer was just placed on administrative leave as Ohio State University's head football coach for potentially denying knowledge that Zach Smith, one of his assistant coaches, faced allegations of domestic violence in 2015. Investigations of what Meyer did or didn't know and when are underway.
Meyer publicly made the denial during last week's Big Ten media days that he did not know of two alleged domestic violence incidents involving Smith.
In response, Courtney Smith, the assistant coaches ex-wife, then told college football reporter Brett McMurphy that she believed Meyer lied and that he was fully aware of the situation. Courtney Smith provided texts to McMurphy, indicating that all of the coaches wives knew about the pattern of abuse, including Shelley Meyer (Urban's wife), a registered nurse and instructor of Clinical Practice at the Ohio State University College of Nursing.
In fact, McMurphy revealed this string of texts given to him by Smith's ex-wife:
Shelley: "I am with you! A lot of women stay hoping it will get better. I don't blame you! But just want u to be safe. Do you have a restraining order? He scares me"
Courtney: "Restraining orders don't do anything in Ohio-I tried to get protection order which is what started this whole investigation. And that should go through soon finally. It's hard bc you have to prove immediate danger. Legal system is tough. Basically, you have to prove he will kill u to get protective order"
Shelley: "Geesh! Even w the pics? Didn't law enforcement come to your place ever??"
Urban Meyer has also been very public in stating what an impact his wife has on his approach to his job. Combined with the text string above, it makes it unlikely the head coach didn't know about the allegations against his wide receivers coach. In addition to being placed on leave, Meyer has also already lost an endorsement deal with Bob Evans, a popular regional restaurant.
It's not the first time suspicions of Meyer's shortfall in the accountability department have surfaced. Sporting News reported in a 2012 article that Meyer had "broken Florida football" (Florida being where Meyer coached before taking the reins at Ohio State).
Accounts from multiple former players accused Meyer of leaving the Florida program in disarray with a pattern of preferential treatment for key players and enabling a sense of entitlement among all players. This correlates with reported drug use among players and the fact that 31 players were arrested during Meyer's six-year tenure as Florida head coach.
Unfortunately, it appears this is yet another reminder that leaders simply cannot shirk their responsibility for holding others accountable. So, this terrible situation begs a question.
How can you create a culture of accountability?
1. Build feedback skills.
Accountability flows when you get really good at giving feedback, and yes, that includes giving feedback to your boss. Go beyond just personally role modeling the skill to making it an expectation that your entire team builds this skill.
The most powerful work environments I've ever been in were where a culture of honesty and integrity encouraged real-time and real-truth feedback loops across functions.
2. Go public with commitments and revisit them often.
On the coaching side of my business, I stress the importance of having an accountability partner, someone you can publicly share your commitments with and that will help hold you accountable.
As a leader, communicate team decisions to the troops and ask them to help hold you accountable for delivering. Make reinforcement of these commitments a daily habit. In leadership team meetings I use to ask that we start out with a review of what we committed to do in the last meeting.
Repetition yields responsibility.
3. Make consequences and rewards crystal clear.
Meyer has especially fallen down here, sending mixed messages to players/coaches on what happens when you do things you're not supposed to.
There is no room for playing favorites in leadership. There's even less room for a lack of clarity on what's expected, what happens when that's not delivered, and what happens when it is.
I fervently hope that we stop getting so many public, egregious examples of failed accountability thrust upon us. We can't control that, of course. But we can be accountable for learning from these accountability transgressions.