Ethical Leadership Is Mostly About Leader Integrity

For about fifty days we have witnessed, in the United States, what happens when a lack of integrity characterises the actions of government. When alternative facts and fake news are accepted, chaos will soon follow. A good example of unethical leadership is the recent dismissal of the US attorney for the Southern District of New York, Preet Bharara. Under normal circumstances there would be nothing unusual in a new President replacing an attorney from a previous administration. Except, in this case, Bharara met with Trump in November and received an assurance that his job was secure. He would continue to act as the US attorney for New York. Four months later Trump sacked him – and that was unethical. It was the product of a leader without integrity.

On 18 December 2016 the President of Swimming NZ, Bruce Cotterill, told the NZ Herald, “I think we’ve got the right coaching in place.”

The “right coaching” he referred to was three people.

Donna Bouzaid is responsible for High Performance coaching strategy. In her swimming days she completed a crossing of Cook Strait. Donna coached successfully in Naenae, Masterton, North Shore, West Auckland and New Plymouth and was a Coach and Head Coach for a number of Swimming NZ teams. In 2014 she was presented with a Swimming NZ Honours Award.

Gary Hurring is the High Performance Athlete Development Coach responsible for overseeing the Swimming NZ pathways for swimmers from club to elite levels. Gary was a gold medallist at the 1978 Edmonton Commonwealth Games (which earned him the Sportsman of the Year Halberg Award). Shortly after that he won a World Championship silver medal in the 200m backstroke. For several years Gary coached the hugely successful Capital Swim Team.

Jerry Olszewski is the newcomer and is the National Head Coach. Olszewski has been coaching at club level in the USA for twenty-five years. The Swimming NZ website tells me he also has considerable experience in the business of swim coaching, administration and organisation.

So that is the coaching team. That is the group that the President of Swimming NZ, Bruce Cotterill told us on 18 December 2016, “I think we’ve got the right coaching in place”.

And on 9 March 2017 the President of Swimming NZ, Bruce Cotterill, announced that he was sacking both Donna and Gary. Less than three months and two thirds of “the right coaching” were gone.

Of course there is nothing wrong with an organization cutting back its costs when its income has been slashed. In that Swimming New Zealand acted properly. What is not right is the comfort and assurance given to the Swimming NZ coaching team only to reverse that pledge 81 days later. Swimming NZ has been doing too much of that recently. A fee was going to be charged to attend the Nationals then it was dropped. Finals were not going to be swum at some National events and then they were. Times were not going to be recognized and then they were okay. The impression of chaos is not good. Can we trust what comes out of Antares Place? It is an open question right now.

And so the real problem is the way Swimming NZ behaved – giving comfort and assurance and then sacking two of the team anyway. But what they did is also problematic. Two questions are obvious.

One – did they sack the right people? In my view, no. If coaching changes were required Gary and Donna should have been kept on and Olszewski sent back to Arizona. Just look at their CVs and length of service. Gary has long been the best person in New Zealand to be National Head Coach. The only reason I can think of for sacking the two New Zealanders was that they were appointed by an earlier administration. Asking Donna and Gary to go could be spun as correcting the mistakes of others. Olszewski, on the other hand, was recently appointed by the Cotterill regime. Sacking him would have meant answering the question of whether he should have been appointed in the first place. Possibly, rather than admit the appointment of Olszewski was an error, the two New Zealanders had to go.   

Two – were there better cuts that could have been made elsewhere? In my view, yes. A dozen previous Swimwatch posts have recommended that Swimming NZ get out of the expensive business of high performance coaching. It is expensive. Swimming NZ do it badly. It has had no Olympic success. Savings of between $500,000 and $1,000,000 per year would result. And second Swimming NZ should do what the Moller Report recommended in 2012. The Report’s second recommendation was that Swimming NZ should get out of the “teach the teachers” function. The Moller Report said learn to swim was something clubs could manage on their own. And in that regard the Moller Report was right. It is the ultimate irony that this one recommendation is the only recommendation Swimming NZ chose to reject.

I never understood why the Moller Report said it was fine for Swimming NZ to teach Lauren Boyle to swim but recommended getting out of anything to do with teaching learners. Moller correctly saw being involved in learn to swim as a distraction from the core purpose of governing. But Moller saw no distraction in holding on to the training of senior swimmers. Moller continued to confuse the operator and governance functions. As we have seen that confusion has caused terminal problems. Especially when Swimming NZ chose to try and do both – that is to govern the sport and at the same time operate both a high performance program and a “teach the teachers” program.

As one would expect Swimming NZ has ended up doing everything badly. Swimming NZ should focus on its core duty to govern. That means controlling and directing an environment conducive to superior performance.  Swimming NZ should get out of the operating functions of junior learn to swim and high performance coaching and leave the operation of these two functions to others. That decision would save the organization a $1million or more every year and would dramatically improve swimming in New Zealand. Oh, and would also keep Donna and Gary in a job.  

And so the decision to sack Donna and Gary was bad because of the way it was done and because there are better savings that could accrue: savings that would actually improve the organization’s performance. Swimming NZ should focus on its core governance responsibility and stop running around operating businesses that New Zealand coaches and swim schools do so much better.