You Might be Right, but You’re Wrong – A lesson in discretion

I was livid, raging mad, totally incensed when it happened, and I was too respectful to retaliate. My assistant berated me in front of others — many others.

It was the first weekend in July, 2013, and I was one of the officials of an Ontario-wide soccer tournament for competitive girls’ teams aged U14 and U16. There are very few women soccer officials, so I was honoured when selected, and excited to be part of this prestigious event.

The conditions are gruelling: six games to officiate per day for two days in hot, humid conditions. Let me reframe: that’s six hours of running in the midday heat, with teenage athletes barely out of the womb who do not require a reinforced bra. Look at my picture: It’s been a while since I was a teen! Yet, I was elated to be participating as a referee.

There are three officials in two positions for each match: Centre Referee, who is in charge of officiating the match, and two Assistant Referees, who run the lines (primarily identifying off-sides and out-of-bound balls) to support the Centre Referee. I was Centre Referee when the affront occurred.

There was a player offense that occurred on the pitch, team side at mid-field — right in front of the coaches and players. I blew my whistle and made the call. The players involved and coaches who heard complied with my ruling. As I was walking away, my assistant shouted out that she disagreed with my call. I was shocked! I turned and stated that I made my decision, yet she continued. Due to my respect for others and my belief in the solidarity of the team when on the stage, (there is a time and place to disagree with one another) I was silent. Gratefully, I was able to blow my whistle for half-time, then speak to her privately.

True leadership is knowing when to lead, and knowing when to stand down to allow others to lead. In the case of the latter, it is important for leaders to become followers for many reasons, like for the purposes of succession planning or to assist in the development of leaders within your organization. Being a mentor is a noble calling, especially for leaders who must, temporarily, relinquish their role and become a follower to enable the individual development of others.

My Assistant Referee may have more experience with the rules of the game than my seven years. I do not know. I would have gladly listened to her opinion at half-time, or at the end of the match. However, that was not the issue.

To be a great leader, you need to be respectful of others. You need to demonstrate fairness, compassion and kindness, and you must also do what is right. My assistant believed that she was right in ensuring that an accurate call was made at this match. She probably believed that she was morally obligated to uphold the rules of the game. She may have been correct (and I still am not sure if this is the case), but she was not correct in how she conveyed her opinion to me.

Berating me in front of many others did not bode well for either of us, and the second half became very hard to manage as a result. In a competitive situation, when others perceive a weakened opponent, the vultures set-in. The coaches “assisted” and questioned every call I made. With bile in my throat and a tremble in my hand, never was I more pleased to end a match as this one.

Undermining a colleague in front of an audience is highly disrespectful, and doing it to a superior is a career-limiting move. My assistant did indeed apologize, and, although I do not believe that she was intentionally malicious, my opinion of her professionalism has diminished. This will be short-term, however. Although my ego is still bruised, forgiveness is a value that I embrace.

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