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3 Things Football Can Teach Us About Leadership

September 05, 2013 by Bruce Jones, Programming Director, Disney Institute

The 53-man rosters are set, the lines are painted on the turf, and football is primed to make its grand return as the Super Bowl XLVII champion Ravens return to Denver in defense of their title.

The Ravens capped their improbable run to to the Super Bowl by winning four straight games, this after losing four of their final five regular season games. But it wasnt without the leadership of several veterans who set the tone for the team.

At Disney, we believe that leadership is a verb defined by ones actions rather than a position one holds. Perhaps thats how many teams are able to identify new leaders — through the players actions and behaviors which reflect the values of the organization.

While the transient nature of the NFL remains a constant threat to the value system of an organization, a teams leaders understand their responsibility in communicating the values and vision of the organization to new players — an absolute necessity to continue progressing towards the teams common goal.

Here are three other lessons leaders can take from the football field:

  • Lead by example. The adage that no game is won or lost on any single play is much more difficult to accept immediately following a poorly run play. When the going gets tough, a leader who is lost in the moment, uncollected, and frantic is likely to find his team following suit. But a game, like a project, doesnt hinge on any one individual or task. Leaders convey the bigger picture and refocus their team after a failure to concentrate on the success of the next task.
  • Be Encouraging. When a receiver drops a perfect pass in the end zone, the easy thing to do is scrutinize, especially if you are the quarterback. When a teammate falls down, thats often when they need encouragement the most. Remember that, as a leader, your actions tell a story about what you value — positive reactions in times of diversity build invaluable trust with your team.
  • Act with integrity. A leaders actions should always be consistent with their words and beliefs. Consider the example set by former West Virginia University Head Football Coach, Bill Stewart, in a speech to his team moments before playing the heavily favored Oklahoma Sooners (below).