11/21/2014 02:04 pm ET Updated Jan 21, 2015


Odd, given my recent musings about UNC's despicable behavior in the sports realm, that I found myself on Friday night at the Kenan Flagler Business School's Sixteenth Annual Alumni Merit & Leadership Awards dinner. As I sat listening to the accolades heaped upon the six men and one women who were recognized, I found myself reflecting on the huge disparity between two of UNC's flagship programs: the business school and its sports programs. As I sat listening, increasingly moved and inspired by the honorees (one of whom, Gary Monroe, I work closely with, as he's the President of the investment firm I lead), I realized, again, how complex we human beings are.

It's just never black and white with us, is it? We just can't be all bad or all good, can we? What is it about us humans that we continue to surprise each other with inconsistent behavior, living in the gutter one moment, and displaying profoundly inspiring leadership skills the next?

We just can't stop ourselves. We get tempted by the glitz and the glamour of big success, wrapped in celebrity and greenbacks. We convince ourselves that it's okay to break the rules, maybe because everyone else is doing it, or because we won't get caught, or because so much good will follow doing one small, maybe not so good thing. (Think of all the donations that have come to UNC over the years because of the success of their sports teams.... Think of how those dollars have contributed to the education of countless students.... You get the idea).

But, we are also driven to improve our communities, to care for the people we perceive as within our inner circle (for some, that's just their nuclear family, for others that's some combination of their place of work, their school, their place of religion, and for still others, that's their neighborhood, their city, their country). And, in the name of making a difference we stretch ourselves and answer the call to greatness, tackle challenges on behalf of others we'd never dream of undertaking for our own benefit, standing up to injustices that diminish others' opportunities and efforts.

The fact of the Kenan Flagler school's high road educational approach doesn't diminish the severity of the problem with UNC's sports program. It doesn't justify it. It doesn't balance it out. It does present a fuller picture of the type of people who comprise the university's leadership: human; deeply flawed, who sometimes lose their way. Deeply committed to improving the world in some way, who exemplify values that would make anyone proud: Excellence.

Leadership. Integrity. Community. Teamwork. In short, just like the rest of us, sometimes bested by our worst selves, while deluding ourselves that we are driven by good intentions. As for me, I'm left thinking about punishment and redemption, about blame and compassion.

Although I don't feel any less unhappy over the fake classes, manipulated transcripts, and unfair advantage taken of both student athletes and competitors, I am reminded to tread a bit more lightly in my condemnation of the folks who forgot their better selves in going for big wins. It's hard to be human, given our hard-wiring. And therein lies the opportunity: to rewire ourselves moment by moment, reminding ourselves that the glitter of gold ahead can blind us to the pitfalls along the way; that the prize that looks so promising can come with a hidden price tag, which can debilitate and devastate us when the moment for settling up arrives.