06 Dec Living With Authenticity: A Page From Russell Wilson’s Playbook
When the Seattle Seahawks’ season started, quarterback Russell Wilson was by all indications Mr. Perfect. He had a Super Bowl ring, a string of endorsements, and a flawless public image.
To put things in perspective, Russell has one of the most high-pressure jobs there is, living and working under the scrutiny of the public eye as a professional athlete, not just any pro athlete but the most visible player on one of the most visible teams in the country’s most visible spectator sport.
Sure, no pressure.
Yet, he even handled the revelation last spring of his sudden divorce with dignity and grace, without a hint of any scandal. (I wrote about his divorce and public image here in a previous blog post.) This is a guy who’s hard not to love.
Eventually, someone was going to get some dirt on him. I just didn’t expect that someone would be Russell himself.
Last month, he wrote a first-person article for the website The Players’ Tribune, called ‘Let’s Talk About It.’ Those of us who were used to his squeaky-clean image, myself included, were surprised to read what he wrote. He got right to the point:
“I used to beat people up. Truthfully, I used to beat people up a lot. Many of you readers probably think I have been Mr. Goody Two-Shoes my whole life, but honestly, I was a bully growing up.”
If you’re like me, you were only more impressed with Russell after reading his essay, not because you admire bullies, but because of the honesty he displayed at a time when people in his position rarely do the same.
Some of my other posts touch on the concept of authenticity, which is the courage to live honestly and in alignment with who you really are. Russell didn’t have anything to gain, and potentially a lot to lose, by admitting flat out that he was a bully at a time when the media is paying a lot of attention to the issues of bullying and the culture of violence in the NFL. That part of his history was a long time ago and probably would not have ever been revealed if he didn’t want it to.
His essay was written in support of awareness of domestic violence. My guess is that he figured whatever damage his admission might cause him, his reasons were worth it. I’d like to think I’d do the same thing.
It’s about owning your reality, apologizing for it if necessary, being proud of it when warranted, most of all being consistent in who you are.
If living with authenticity makes you a better person, does it also make you a better leader? I say it does, which makes Russell’s admission even more important. As a leader, you set the example and set the boundaries others follow. You need people to believe in who you are, whether you’re winning or losing, succeeding or failing.
Lately, the Seahawks haven’t looked quite as invincible as they did last season. They’re 8-4 and have a real shot at making the playoffs. What hasn’t changed is Russell’s demeanor while in the spotlight. He didn’t let himself get caught up in all the winning last season, and he’s not getting caught up in the losses this year.
As always, his steadiness and authenticity shine through the most. It will be interesting to watch him evolve further as a leader in the four tough games that are left this season. My guess is that he’ll continue to do what he’s always done, be himself.