Coach Bobby Bowden of the Florida State Seminoles football team announced his retirement today, at the age of 80. FSU football has endured mediocre seasons for many years now after putting together an impressive dynasty from 1987-2000, and the university's alumni, boosters and fans in general had grown increasingly restless for Bowden to call it quits. Today he made it official, ending a 34-year-reign that helped make him the second-winningest coach in college football history and included other accolades such as two national championships and an impressive streak of bowl game victories.
I admit to having been among the alumni grousing in recent years that Bobby needed to head into the sunset and allow a younger, more dynamic coach to take his place. It was obvious to so many from the outside that the game had passed him by, that he no longer could recruit and develop talent at the level it takes to compete with the major collegiate conferences.
And yet now, reflecting on the coach's decision, I wonder if Bowden simply isn't representative of human nature in general. Quite often, we are way too close to ourselves to know when enough is enough. This quality is particularly pervasive in leaders who have tasted a good deal of success. Such persons often feel they have one last winning season; one more successful political campaign; one final military rout, etc., in their arsenal.
The strength of an effective leader is the belief that victory is possible. The weakness of an effective leader is the belief that victory is possible…when the math no longer adds up, the talent is no longer there, or the game/industry/socio-political situation has changed.
In general, whether we hold a formal leadership position or not, we as a species resist change. It is our common hubris, our insatiable ego, the plague of unconsciousness that infects much of the human race. So, in our shared frailty, pointing the finger at a Coach Bowden or another leader who doesn't know when to say goodbye should not be done with a great deal of indignation or self-righteousness. Such figures are merely a popularized manifestation of our own inability to let go.
Instead, an event such as Bowden's long-awaited retirement is an opportunity for our own “soul searching,” a time for personal reflection. This involves asking questions such as, “What important changes am I avoiding?” And, “What am I holding onto, and how is such attachment standing in the way of my personal or professional growth?”
And just as important, it is a time to celebrate what marvelous things we have accomplished, and let them stand on their own rather than be diminished by the passing of one season into another.