Integrity Lessons From John McEnroe

I had the privilege of meeting John McEnroe at the US Open a few years back – funny, charming, passionate about life and one of the most enthusiastic, energetic people I’ve ever met.

One thing that puzzled me was that while John gives commentary for the BBC during the Wimbledon fortnight, when it comes to the finals day he goes missing. When I got talking with Gary Swain (his agent) I took the opportunity to ask why this was so.
“He told NBC years ago that he would do the commentary during the final, so he works with the BBC for the rest of the tournament and covers the final for them” Gary said.
I suggested that a contract change was in order, so we in the UK got the full benefit – and learned something surprising. He doesn’t sign contracts – he just says he will do it, and then does it.
I asked Gary if he had a contract with him, the answer was the same – and at that time they’d been together for over 25 years. Wow.
Imagine using that model in a typical company, agreeing a deal with a customer based on your word and a handshake? Leaving the idea of no contract between company and client aside let’s focus on internal issues.
  • How many emails are sent detailing what’s been agreed in a meeting?
  • How often do you call somebody and check to see if they are on track?
  • How many times have you felt let down because someone didn’t do as they said?
  • How much paperwork exists purely for the purpose of holding people accountable?
Those C.Y.A. emails “Just confirming what was agreed….” really annoy me. When I receive one of those it makes me feel that I’m not trusted, not engaged and not to be believed. When you feel like that – are you likely to deliver your best? Go the extra mile? Of course not.
These failures of trust are self perpetuating and cause untold damage. People stop keeping track of responsibilities and stop holding themselves accountable as they learn to expect emails and calls to remind them of what they need to do. 
The next time somebody says they’ll do something, try trusting them to deliver. Experience has taught me that a team with this kind of ethos will ALWAYS exceed your expectations – they are focused on getting the job done.
People who don’t deliver shouldn’t be part of your company – they are a drain on resources and part of an ever growing bureaucracy problem, but it’s very possible that you are part of the problem by managing and not leading. 
If your integrity is important to you, then your word should be enough. Trust those around you to do as they say and see how much of a difference it makes.

Note: ESPN covered Wimbledon from 2012, rather than NBC – I have no idea what the current agreement is!
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