Leadership tips from Dan Snyder
Countless LinkedIn posts extol the top qualities of great leaders.
Leaders listen. Lead by example. Share the glory. Know how to develop a team. Show humility. Etc.
In his 20 years owning the Washington Redskins, topped off by another pathetic season, Dan Snyder has racked up one of the NFL’s lousiest records, 139–180, and made the playoffs just a handful of times. (In the pre-Snyder 20 years, the Redskins were 176–135 and won three Super Bowls.)
Sports Illustrated once named Snyder “Most Hated Owner” in professional football. In the pantheon of reviled business enterprises, the Redskins are the Comcast of sports.
But Snyder is worth $2.2 billion, mostly from owning the Redskins, which in spite of its losing record is one of the league’s most profitable teams.
That makes Snyder a winner. What are his leadership secrets?
1. Screw the snowflakes
People are offended by your team’s racist name? Sounds like their problem.
Changing the Redskins name would destroy its glorious heritage. Even though the former NBA Washington Bullets team did fine after owner Abe Pollin re-branded his team the Wizards.
Pollin did so days after his friend, Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, was assassinated by a gunman and in reflecting on DC’s rash of drug-related gun violence in the early ‘90s.
“My friend was shot in the back by bullets,” Pollin said. “The name ‘Bullets’ is no longer appropriate for a sports team.”
Dan Snyder is no Abe Pollin. Morals, values, doing the right thing and caring how people feel is for sissies.
Besides, other major brands have racist names and nobody is melting down. You don’t hear Southern whites who wave Confederate flags whining about Cracker Barrel, do you?
2. Screw the media
A friend’s father, a legendary PR hand, coined the phrase, “Never argue with a guy who buys ink by the barrel.”
Wrong. Make that always argue.
What right does the media have to ignore your spin and report incontrovertible facts that your record stinks, your organization is a fever dream of chaos, you ignore experienced experts to make bad gut decisions, and you sneer at critics, even friendly ones who want to help you?
What the hell does Sports Illustrated know about sports?
During one Super Bowl week, Snyder sued the free DC local weekly paper for $1 million and unspecified damages for its cover story headlined, “The Cranky Redskins Fans’ Guide to Dan Snyder.”
Snyder claimed, among other defamations, that the horns and goatee scribbled on his cover photo were anti-Semitic. “Redskins” isn’t racist, but the scribbles were. Snyder’s claim does not make him a snowflake or a hypocrite. Great leaders embrace cognitive dissonance.
Snyder later dropped the suit. He also admitted he hadn’t read the whole article. Why should he? Great leaders have PR people to read articles before they are fired for failing to make the media put halos on their leaders’ heads.
3. Screw the customer
You know the whole thing about how the customer is king, the customer is always right, the customer pays the bills, yadda yadda?
Not for Snyder, even though his customer base is fleeing in droves, leaving empty seats at kickoff and even emptier seats in the third quarter when another loss is inevitable and fan F-bombs are flying and parents are covering their kids’ ears.
One loyal Redskins fan blogged some helpful customer feedback:
“Dan Snyder cares about 1) himself; 2) his ego; 3) making money; 4) pea-cocking his midget d**k around, waving it in people’s faces; 5) sucking up to people that are cooler than him so hopefully someone likes him; 6) giving his friend’s children positions in the organization they don’t deserve; 7) suing old ladies; 8) paying his employees way too little; 9) paying players he likes way too much; 10) charging $50 to park 3 miles away; 11) charging $50 to leave tickets at Will Call; 12) cease and desisting our ‘Fire Dan Snyder’ shirt …” and more.*
4. Sh*t rolls downhill
Being boss means never having to say you’re sorry. Sorry is for losers.
When your organization is failing, blame the top people you picked to run it. So far, Snyder has fired eight head coaches and seven general managers. But he will always remain loyal to the guy in the mirror.
For future job applicants, meeting Snyder’s #1 qualification of being a boot-licking yes man will help but won’t be enough — you have to compensate for his shortcomings. Which is not easy. He’s pretty short.
On the other hand, a leader like Snyder knows it’s useful to have hand-picked loyal deputies to shift the blame onto when deep down you know another old saying is true, “a fish rots from the head.”
5. Honey Badger don’t care
Snyder may be small, furry and feral, with tiny sharp teeth and little paws with claws that dig.
But he knows enough not to attack a bee’s nest to eat the larvae and get stung ten thousand times. Pain and suffering for his actions is what Snyder has PR people for.
Unlike NFL owners beloved by their communities (Robert Kraft, Patriots; Dan Rooney, Steelers; Paul Allen, Seahawks; the people of Green Bay, Packers), Snyder Badger don’t care that the greater Baltimore-Washington metropolitan region doesn’t care for him.
The feeling seems mutual. Although perhaps it was not for spite that Snyder had more than 130 trees cut down from a hillside between his $49 million estate and the historic C&O Canal. Snyder simply wanted to improve his view of the Potomac River.
(The U.S. National Park Service official who facilitated Snyder’s evisceration later got in trouble for it. That official, Dan Smith, is now Trump’s acting head of the Park Service. He got in trouble again last year after he allegedly “grabbed his crotch and his penis and acted out as though he was urinating on the wall” while walking down the hall at the Interior Department.)
Beyond writing tax-deductible charity checks from his $2.2 billion, Snyder don’t think owning and being enriched by the local NFL team and loyal fans gives him any duty to be a respected leader in the community. Or to be likable in any way whatsoever. Honey Badger ain’t no Honey Boo-Boo.
Leadership coaches might be aghast at the Dan Snyder lessons. Or maybe cite them to coach the opposite.
But these leadership qualities work for winners like Snyder.
Given his success, and not to compare him to the current White House resident, maybe Snyder should consider running for president?
Jeffrey Denny is a Washington writer