updated 9/15/2014 6:15:24 PM ET 2014-09-15T22:15:24

This year alone, a set of professional athletic organizations have been thrust into the spotlight with negative headlines. Two NBA owners have faced pressure to sell their teams as the result of making racist statements, and now Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice’s domestic abuse scandal has taken center stage.

The recent news of Rice’s assault on his girlfriend Janay Palmer (now his wife) and the NFL’s slow response to impose higher consequences on him until after a video surfaced can be used as a cautionary tale for business leaders, CEOs, executives and managers alike. 

The bright lights of the professional sports world often provide lessons for business leaders everywhere. When personnel problems arise in business, keep the following in mind:

Related: What Donald Sterling's NBA Blowup Teaches Entrepreneurs

Are leaders ready if an unexpected crisis hits the organization? It’s up to managers to respond in the appropriate way. Not only are employees looking for the manager to lead them through a crisis should one arise but so are customers. How managers handle a situation is a direct reflection on the company’s values and their ability to continuously uphold them.

Initially Rice received a hand slap ( a two-game suspension ) for his actions. It took the public release of the video to prompt a full suspension. What's the lesson from this?

It's essential to deal with an issue fully, promptly and swiftly. Not only will an employee’s negative actions damage his or her own reputation, they will also harm the company’s brand. Now the NFL and Ravens are doing damage control. They had the chance to lead by example and stand up for victims of domestic abuse and were too slow to respond. Rice received “celebrity justice,” meaning that the penalty was mild relative to the crime and what a normal person would have received.

Does your company administer celebrity justice, allowing star performers to get away with things that a regular employee would not?  

Related: 5 Secrets of a Jerk-Free Workplace

Technically excellent employees are often difficult to find. Yet hiring cannot depend solely on whether someone can perform a particular task. As a leader, hire for values as much as, if not more than, technical skills. Skills can be taught. But finding someone who upholds company values should be what determines whether someone is a good fit.

Rice’s actions were captured on an elevator camera. Had this occurred off camera, public awareness and appropriate punishment might never have ensued. When encountering adverse behavior, treat the issue as if it were in the public eye.  

And about those cameras --  actually they always are rolling. Employees watch and judge every decision the management makes. Executives are in the spotlight every day, whether they know it or not.  

At best, the Ravens and the NFL were willfully blind to the situation. Managers knew abuse happened at the casino, which is always full of cameras. Could they have probed deeper?

When problems erupt, especially serious issues, don't be willfully blind. Be committed to digging deeper and taking the right action no matter what the facts say. 

It might be a great NFL or corporate team, but if the players or employees are out of line with the organization's culture and values, what's left? Even worse, if the culture and values condone such behavior, the situation is a ticking bomb. It’s just a matter of time before management will be doing damage control.  

Related: Can Lance Armstrong Rebuild His Brand?

Copyright © 2013, Inc.


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