March 29, 2009

Being Accountable - Courtney Paris vs. AIG

Courtney Paris, the senior starting center on the University of Oklahoma women's basketball team, has committed to win the NCAA Championship with strong personal accountability by pledging:
If we don't, which is not even an option, just to put something on the line -- and it might take me the rest of my life -- I will pay back my scholarship because I didn't do what I said I was going to.
One way to view this public declaration is as a publicity stunt. Austin Murphy starts his article "The $64,000 question: Will Courtney Paris' big bet pay off?" by comparing her to Bill Veeck. But he comes to the same conclusion that Mechelle Voepel does in her excellent blog post "Paying it Forward" where she states:
Courtney Paris is a terrific person, the epitome of what people hope their school’s student-athletes will be. I don’t believe it ever crossed her mind that she might be sending out some kind of “message” to UConn or any other team. Her message was intended for the Oklahoma fans and the program to which she feels indebted.
See for yourself with the video below. Paris makes her bold statement in the last minute of this clip, but it's the 9 minutes leading up to it that truly demonstrate her level of indebtedness.

It may be an odd comparison, but I couldn't help but seeing Paris' sense of ownership in direct contrast to the victim language displayed in the resignation letter from AIG executive Jake DeSantis.
As most of us have done nothing wrong, guilt is not a motivation to surrender our earnings. We have worked 12 long months under these contracts and now deserve to be paid as promised. None of us should be cheated of our payments any more than a plumber should be cheated after he has fixed the pipes but a careless electrician causes a fire that burns down the house.
In fairness to DeSantis, he is pledging to donate all of his bonus after taxes to charity. Both these examples are extreme. DeSantis shows no accountability, and Paris takes on too much. Voepel sums it up best:
I also think she’s looked at this in too narrow a way. What both Courtney and Ashley Paris have brought to their university, the Big 12 and the women’s basketball community long ago exceeded the value of their scholarships.
Actions speak louder than words, and if the Sooners don't win, some tough choices will have to play out.
  • If given an easy way out, will Paris insist on paying it back?
  • If so, how and when?
  • Would the school or the basketball program accept the money?
  • If so, what would they do with it?
I'm glad to see a young leader take such strong accountability for results. I also hope time and maturity will help her learn to measure results more broadly. Either way this ends, executives everywhere could learn a lesson from Courtney Paris.

Good luck Sooners! Although, if it's not you all the way, I hope my Boilers take you out in the final four (I guess we all have our tough choices to make).

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