Talk about snatching defeat from the jaws of victory…
On the 20th of August 2023, after months of preparation, investment, sacrifice, and execution, the Spanish Football Association and all its stakeholders (the fans, players, officials) declared victory when American referee Tori Penso blew the final whistle on a pulsating final game between Spain and England’s women’s national teams with Spain in the lead at the final whistle.
Jubilation ensued as months and years of struggle and sacrifice appeared to have been vindicated by the fact that the Spanish women’s national soccer team would soon be crowned with medals as World Champions.
Suddenly, in a cruel twist of fate that could not have been designed by the most diabolical mind, through an act of sheer madness that may in later years be attributed to temporary insanity, the President of the Spanish Football Association (Luis Rubiales) kissed Spanish forward Jenni Hermoso on the lips on the medal podium in front of thousands of fans in the stadium and millions of people watching on live TV all over the world.
In one moment, the leader of the Spanish FA transformed everyone associated with Spanish football from winners to losers. Jenni Hermoso lost because she felt degraded and publicly abused by the unwanted sexual act that was perpetrated upon her without her consent in front of millions of viewers.
The Spanish women’s national team players lost because all of their hard work and achievement was swept away by one act that has now rendered their stellar performances irrelevant and undiscussed as the only thing that the majority of people remember about this World Cup is now “the kiss”.
The Spanish Football Association lost because of its delay in taking action against its leader which led to FIFA having to suspend him and created the image of the Football Association as a chauvinistic organization that is unwilling and unable to police itself and purge itself of non-compliant officials.
The Spanish citizenry lost as the days of controversy that followed due to Rubialies’ unwillingness to resign which had followed his initial multiplicity of explanations of the incident led to global accusations of a culture of abuse of women that was tolerated in Spain.
The family of Luis Rubiales lost as they suffered the shame of agonizing over their father and brother’s shame and discomfort as comments were made across the globe about his behavior and accusations were flung about the intent and precedent that made have led to this act.
And finally, Luis Rubiales himself lost as he became the symbol of male chauvinism and gender disparity in sports and his putrid explanations were dismissed by onlookers and Hermoso; his initial refusal to resign was projected as further proof of his lack of remorse and it eventually led to his suspension, and resignation. His troubles are far from over as a legal suit has been filed against him by Jenni Hermoso.
Everybody in Spain lost on the 20th of August because a leader forgot that he does not belong to himself.
What if Luis Rubiales had not been a leader of the Spanish FA? What if he had been just a fan on the field? What if he were just a rich billionaire who had paid for the privilege of standing on or near the podium and had then “taken a chance” and kissed Hermoso? It is unlikely that this would have become an international incident.
The chances that anyone would have noticed would have been minimal, and the chances that Hermoso would have pressed charges slim. (This is not to say that she does not have the right to do so…she does). Even if Jenni Hermoso had pressed charges, they would likely have been civil charges that would have been quickly settled out of court without much fanfare and Luis Rubiales would not have suffered this indignity and the rest of the stakeholders (his family, the team, the FA, the people of Spain) would not have suffered this loss.
The incident became a national incident because Luis Rubiales forgot that as a leader, he does not belong to himself. His actions as a leader are not simply his own; his actions and decisions have repercussions and consequences that extend far beyond him and on to the entire organization that he leads and its stakeholders.
As a leader he was duty-bound to remember that whatever he does and says matters far more than what a non-leader does and says. The freedom that he might have had when he was not the leader of the Spanish FA was exchanged for the chains of leadership responsibility and accountability on the day that he accepted the post of leader of the FA. The chains of leadership responsibility and accountability go hand in hand with the privileges that he enjoyed as a result of his lofty position.
Dear African leader, it is easy for us to aspire to positions of authority and leadership because we view the privileges of the position and covet those privileges. Whether those privileges are a nice fat salary, bonuses, official car and driver, business-class travel, personal assistants, front-row seating, or traffic-free driving, it is important for us to be aware that these privileges come with constraints. These constraints are what I call the “chains of leadership responsibility and accountability”.
You must remember that there are many activities that are perfectly legal and perfectly acceptable when you are not a leader but become unacceptable (even though they are still perfectly legal) when you are a leader. The Bishop of a Pentecostal Church may no longer be free to engage in public consumption of non-communion wine (even though the Bible does not expressly prohibit the consumption of wine) because there are responsibilities attached to his position that must be respected enough for him to abstain in order to avoid the desecration of his position and the organization that he leads.
The leader of a multinational company may not be able to register with a political party in a country because her affiliations and associations reflect on the interests of the shareholders and stakeholders of that company, even though there is no law prohibiting any citizen from being a member of a political party.
Recently, a friend of mine lamented the fact that Rubiales made a simple emotional mistake and that calls for his resignation were an overreach; the punishment of him losing his job was far too severe compared to the “crime”. To justify this, my friend pointed out that what Rubiales did was not even a criminal act. My response to him was that whether the kiss was a criminal act or not is something that I, as a non-lawyer unfamiliar with the laws of Spain, could not decide.
However, what is clear is that by committing this act in public, Rubiales desecrated his office and, by extension, the organization he had been entrusted with leading. It was the desecration that made the termination of his leadership tenure a necessity.
Dear African leader, please remember that the only time that you belong to yourself is when the only person that you lead is yourself. As long as you are entrusted with leading others (whether it be your family, company, or community), you are no longer your own. Your actions and decisions reflect on your followers and they have a right to expect much more from you than you may expect of yourself. If you are unwilling to accept this responsibility, then please relinquish the mantle of leadership. Your people deserve better.
>>>the writer is a scholar and practitioner of organizational development and leadership and a leadership Coach and Facilitator. Over the past three decades, he has successfully coached and trained leaders in Africa, North America, and Europe. His passion for leadership enhancement was born out of his experiences as a cadet in the U.S. Military Academy (West Point) and as a military officer serving in combat in the Sierra Leone Civil War where he was shot twice. As the only Sierra Leonean with a Ph.D. in Leadership, Modupe was the founding Dean of the African Leadership University School of Business, an institution providing a Pan-African MBA degree to Africa’s mid-career professionals. He is the Founder and CEO of BCA Leadership (www.bcaleadership.com), an organization that has impacted over 3000 African leaders with coaching and knowledge-sharing services. He leads a team of thirty-two Coaches across Africa and he is the curator of The Made in Africa Leadership Conference. Contact Modupe through email at [email protected]
To register for The Made in Africa Leadership Conference scheduled for 12 & 13 June, 2024 in Nairobi in Kenya, visit www.bcaleadership.com