The events leading to the suspension of James Hird as coach of the Essendon Football Club are a classic study in how decisions reveal, test and shape who we really are - beyond what we say we are.
James Hird stated in January that he took 'full responsibility' for everything done in the Football department. To you and me 'full responsibility' means that whatever happened, James will accept the consequences as if he pulled every lever, regardless of what he actually personally did or knew.
This is a sound legal and ethical position to take. Very commendable. His words gave comfort and reassurance that transcend the uncertainty about what happened. They were saying to us 'Don't worry. I was in charge and you know me. I am a Man of integrity and I would never allow illegal drug taking to go on. If it did, then I'd see it as such a heinous oversight on my part that I would resign. I'm still in charge, so that tells you that all is well. That shows you how confident that I am in my Club, and therefore you should be also.'
Then look at what he actually does because this is what speaks loudest. He dodges and weaves and blames others. What we assumed he meant by 'full responsibility' was wrong.
Yet we don't get to say 'James - you're wrong. You should do such-and-such.' James gets to define his Widget. Essendon affirms his definition for as long as he is employed as coach. He explains to us what he means by 'full responsibility' by his actions. He's not wrong if he acts differently to what we assumed. We are wrong in what we assumed James meant.
The result for James Hird is far worse than us thinking that he's 'wrong' - or indeed that he was ultimately suspended for a year by the governing body. There's nothing wrong with being 'wrong' - this is important and - in James' case - sad. The result of James' actions is that we can no longer make assumptions about what James will do when he says that he will do something. Indeed there's a double whammy because people also generally react badly to being duped.
'Integrity' is simply doing what you said that you were going to do. James no longer has integrity for those of us who assumed 'full responsibility' meant its plain meaning. We now have to second guess him when he says that something is a spade. Does he actually mean a shovel?
This should be such a fatal blow to his ability to lead - in any sense. We lack confidence in where he says he's going to take us. He says he's going to lead us to victory. Whose definition of victory? James' or ours? This uncertainty is death to a leader.
Our decisions - not our words - reveal, test and shape us.
It was so, so easy for James to sound noble and Churchillian in January. 'Full responsibility!' Yet James' decisions were harder to make than those words were to utter. Real life tested his courage to stand by his words.
And most fatally for him and Essendon, they will continue to shape how others will behave in the future in response to whatever he or Essendon say. This is damage that can't be undone.
It takes a few clicks of a marketing manager's keyboard to declare what an organisation is 'committed to'. But that is just plastic clickety-clack noise until a decision reveals what that actually means, tests just how 'committed' it is, and then shapes our assumptions about what it will do in the future.
As for James Hird - Essendon has offered him a two year contract extension. It appears that he has produced his Widget precisely to his employers' specifications.
And as for the governing body - the Australian Football League - what does it tell us about its Widget? How much did the $1.253 Billion in television rights and James Hird's popularity among supporters and viewers and ratings affect its decision-making? Again, it's pointless for us to argue whether it should have.
A better way to shape the AFL's Widget to our specifications? Stop buying it. Switch off the TV and with it the advertisers who pay the broadcasters who bid for the TV rights from the AFL which decides whether James Hird's Widget is well-made.