Stopping With The Culture Of Excuses
Two world-famous sports teams give us reasons to pause and think.
I have been watching the new episodes of “Drive To Survive,” the Netflix series about Formula 1. It covers the 2021 season which saw, in the final laps of the final Grand Prix, Lewis Hamilton being robbed by Michael Masi, the race director, of his hard-fought eighth world championship title. Masi has since then been dismissed from his position.
What struck me most in “Drive To Survive” was the behavior of Red Bull’s key people: Christian Horner, the team’s principal, Helmut Marko, his advisor, and their two drivers, Max Verstappen and Sergio Perez. While I would never question their competence, I was once again astounded by their absolute lack of sportsmanship. They are nothing but hatred and contempt for their Mercedes rivals, whom they vilify and insult all day long, and whose merit they refuse to acknowledge. They accuse them of all the evils in the world, exonerating themselves of their own excesses. They even go so far as to assert, against the evidence of the facts, that the Mercedes team is never sanctioned when it does not respect the rules.
The reaction of the two star-drivers at the end of the last two Grand Prix illustrates the respective behaviors of Mercedes and Red Bull. After the race in Jeddah, won by Lewis Hamilton, Max Verstappen did not congratulate him. At the end of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, which gave rise to one of the biggest scandals in the history of sports, Lewis Hamilton went to congratulate Max Verstappen on his victory, followed a few moments later by his father, Anthony Hamilton, who congratulated the young Dutch driver and his father warmly. The losers showed the respect and class that the winners were unable to muster, having no consideration for their rivals. One can only imagine what would have happened if the situation between Red Bull and Mercedes had been reversed in Abu Dhabi.
The arrogance of the Red Bull men is based on a culture of excuses: They want to win at all costs and feel that they can do anything to do so. They have no regard for the values of sport, for their opponents and for the general public, to whom they set a deplorable example. They would do well to learn from champions with even greater achievements than their own who, like Rafael Nadal for example, never forget their principles.
Red Bull’s culture of excuses is morally wrong, but it doesn’t prevent the team from winning. There is another example in today’s sports that exhibits a culture of excuses that prevents the concerned team from winning. It is French soccer team Paris Saint-Germain.
Since its takeover by Qatar, this franchise is built on the idea that its executives and players are infallible. The lessons of successive failures are never learnt and those responsible for the debacles are always identified elsewhere than within the team. It is more comfortable to accuse external factors than to question its own recruitment decisions, its state of mind or the physical shape and motivation of its players.
This was the case again two weeks ago after the fiasco against Real Madrid: PSG CEO Nasser Al-Khelaifi and sporting director Leonardo unjustifiably and unreasonably blamed the referees, even going so far as to commit verbal and even physical violence in the referees’ dressing room after the game. When one doesn’t respect others, they end up not respecting themselves.
Ultimately, the culture of excuses prevents total fulfillment. Red Bull will never be recognized as an icon of its sport because its values are not on par with its performance. As for Qatar-led PSG, it will long be studied in management schools as a failure of leadership.
Red Bull and PSG executives should reflect on one of my favorite quotes, some advice from the great Maya Angelou: “If you don’t like something, change it. If you can’t change it, change your attitude.”
This is a recommendation that all organizations should adopt to move from a culture of excuses to a one of responsibility.