Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Lessons in Leadership, from the NFL

Like many people, I tuned in to watch the NFL division semi final football games last weekend, and as I watched, I was struck by two particular instances during the games that coincidentally reminded me of two important examples of leadership, or perhaps more accurately, a lack thereof.

The first example came through a series of botched plays, where the commentators were united in their criticism of the player involved for what they described as “taking his eye off of the ball,” (during a hand-off), so that he could look around at where he might run after he received the ball.

To me, it served as a great reminder that we too must constantly keep our eye on the ball, as it relates to our commitment to our brand, to service excellence, to producing exceptional financial results for our owners, and, our commitment to our employees.

We must always ensure that we have a clear focus on what is important in our business, what sets us apart from our competitors and is the basis for our unique selling proposition.

In an industry that is constantly changing and evolving competition is fierce and like our friends in the NFL we risk losing the game if we allow ourselves to be unnecessarily distracted and as a result, take our eye off the ball long enough to create a negative impact, or, an opportunity for one of our competitors to step into the void that we have created and steal share.

I don’t know of anyone who is willing to give up some of their loyal guests to their competitors, so remember, keep your eye on the ball, always.

My second example came much later in the same game when a player was fortunate enough to run into the end zone to score a game changing touch down, taking the lead away from their opponents, with only a few minutes left in the game.

After the player ran into the end zone and the touch down was confirmed, that same player proceeded to run around the field as if he were flying, in a self aggrandizing display in the end-zone at the expense of his team, and the potential outcome of the game as well.  Because of his unnecessary display his team was penalized by 15 yards after the next kick off.  

In short, he gave his opponents a significant benefit in field position, with only a few minutes left to play in the game.  This could very easily have cost his team the game, and their chances to advance to the finals and ultimately to the Super Bowl, and for what?  So that he could run around the field showing everyone how great he was.

I actually have two comments here:

First, isn’t this what he gets paid to do, his job if you will?  Not that he shouldn’t be proud of his contribution to the teams’ success, but he knew, in prancing around the field for that long, that his team would incur a penalty for his actions that could jeopardize the outcome of the game, and he did it anyway, placing himself above the needs of his team.

Which brings me to my second point, and the oldest cliché of all: there is no “I” in team, something that this individual clearly lost sight of as evidenced by his self aggrandizing display.

Leaders see the world through the eyes of others, they recognize that it isn’t about them, and that the more you take self-interest out of the picture and instead do for others, the more you end up benefiting your own interests, in both the short and long term.  

Regardless of our position, we all have the opportunity to demonstrate effective and compelling leadership when the opportunity presents itself, to set an example that others will want to emulate.

Ghandi said: Be the change you want to see in the world. 

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