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Leadership Lessons from Super Bowl Greats

With the Super Bowl upon us, I can't help but think of some of the exceptional leaders that have taken their squads to the ultimate crown.

Amazing leaders like Tom Brady and Drew Brees.

What inspirations these two were for their teammates - fellow veterans, as well as those rookies.

Interesting, these two superstars - icons in the sports world - would much prefer to talk about their teammates, and their potential and contributions, rather than themselves.

It is well known that Brady and Brees were always clarifying to their teammates throughout the football season what the team goals were, and stressing how they all had to work together to achieve these objectives.

They led and delivered the absolute best from their teammates. How? By showing that they cared... really cared about them as people and the individual roles that each played in helping the team become the best they could be.

As Tom Brady said following a key victory: "I love being part of a team; I love working toward a common goal. And, I have a deep caring for the people I work with."

During their stellar careers, Tom and Drew paid particular attention to - and demonstrated in their actions - a little extra care toward the younger, up-and-coming players on their teams.

They instilled in the younger talent ideals around what their franchise stood for in terms of value, purpose and meaning. They helped the younger group understand what wearing that jersey meant. They stressed how to live up to the team's ideals.

Of course, their results speak for themselves.

As leaders of organizations - especially these days - it might do us well to emulate Tom and Drew's ways of leading and inspiring.

A book is coming out in a month by three senior McKinsey & Company partners called "CEO Excellence: The Six Mindsets That Distinguish the Best Leaders from the Rest." In an advance digital copy, I came across an excerpt that I found enlightening:

"The best CEOs manage the 'soft stuff' - issues related to purpose, people and culture - with the same rigor and discipline as they do the 'hard stuff' (finance, operations, compensation, etc.)."

Younger people these days are into this "soft stuff" while some more seasoned business leaders still find this focus away from the "hard stuff" issues a bit uncomfortable and somewhat baffling.

Though they may not admit it, young professionals today crave leadership. Meaningful leadership around values and audacious goals. Leadership which clarify a bigger purpose. Leadership that constantly communicates where the organization has been, how it got started and why, what it has achieved and most importantly, where it is going. Leadership where the troops at all levels of the company are authentically "all in".

And, everyone feels cared about... as people.

We've all seen the surveys.

What is the number one driver for millennials?

"Finding meaning and purpose in their work."

Gallup reports that millennials are looking for "work that fuels their sense of purpose and makes them feel important."

Why does this matter? To answer this, maybe a more consequential question should be explored: Why does it seem that in our current business environment, attracting and keeping great people is just harder... and seemingly becoming more difficult every year?

Money matters. Purpose matters more. Shift your primary message to purpose.

In those tight games, what do you imagine Tom Brady and Drew Brees were saying to their teammates on the sidelines? In the huddle, as time was ticking and they had to find a way to win? How did they inspire those veterans as well as their young people to reach deeper and take the entire team to a higher level?

The fact is that most successful businesses and organizations are very purposeful places and do purposeful work (They wouldn't have that long term success if they didn't.) But amid the demands of business today, one must ask: Is the company's higher purpose being communicated enough? Or, more importantly, is this higher meaning being clearly perceived these days - both internally and externally?

Are leaders today doing enough to let each person in their organization continually know that they that are important and highly valued? Do they know that this inspiring team purpose cannot be achieve without them?

It seems like that over the last thirty years, this idea of purpose has taken a bit of a backseat. It has become buried under "more pressing things." Things like: focus on continual growth, increasing shareholder value, product line expansion, top management compensation issues, and more and more ...things.

Is it time to pause and reflect? Time to brush off and clarify the organization's authentic purpose. Time to bring the team together to collectively ponder: What do we stand for? Why do we exist?

Whether you're leading a Super Bowl contender or just a company's division, these days real leaders need to do what leaders do best. Attract the brightest to join your team. Inspire your young people. Provide constant communications about the company's bigger purpose and values. Build a culture of teamwork, trust, and mutual respect. Be accountable to what the organization is really all about.

Just think, you're lucky. You're still in the game of awesome leadership while Drew and Tom? Well, they now just have to watch from the stands.

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