The final week of the NFL season

I know I blog often about sports. Partially, it’s because I really enjoy being a sports fan – the passion and excitement of being a fan is invigorating. But more importantly, it’s because of the great leadership lessons we can learn from sports. Even if you are not a sports fan, the lessons are valuable for us as leaders in our organizations.
Take a look, for example, at the last week of the regular season of the National Football League where just last weekend we had the following great stories:
1) Adrian Peterson, running back for the Minnesota Vikings, was attempting to break Eric Dickerson’s record for most rushing yards in a season, a record that has stood since 1984. Peterson was chasing the record and the Vikings were chasing a playoff berth; they needed a win to have a shot at the playoffs. Peterson had an outstanding game. But he came up just 9 yards short of Dickerson’s record. Peterson was no doubt disappointed. It would have been an amazing accomplishment to break a record that is nearly 30 years old. After the game, Peterson sent a tweet that read, “It’s bittersweet coming up 9 yds short of the record but I came into this game w my main focus being getting a ‘W’. Mission accomplished!” Peterson displayed great leadership. First, he was honest about being disappointed. But he also acknowledged that the team was more important than his individual record. Getting a win and making the playoffs as a team was the ultimate goal. This is the true essence of teamwork. When team goals are more important than any individual goals, you have achieved real teamwork!

2) Three rookie quarterbacks, Robert Griffin III, Andrew Luck, and Russell Wilson have taken their teams to the playoffs this season. They have dismissed the notion that new team members cannot be leaders. They have proven that leadership is not something that comes from years of experience or length of time in an organization. Leadership comes from your behaviors. And you can exhibit leadership behaviors even if you are new to a team. Griffin was even voted captain after the first half of the season. He was voted captain, as a rookie, because his teammates see what a great role model he is. He is the first one at the practice facility each day and the last one to leave. He is the first one on the bus and sits in the very first seat where he can shake hands with every teammate as they enter the bus. He is one of the hardest working members of the team. Griffin shows the discipline, enthusiasm, and commitment to team that are important behaviors of all great leaders. So even if you are new to your organization, be a leader. Model leadership behavior and show your leadership skills. Don’t let the fact that you are new, or inexperienced, or young be an obstacle. Leadership is up to you and can happen right now on your team.

3) Indianapolis Colts coach Chuck Pagano was undoubtedly excited about his first season as an NFL head coach. He was appointed head coach of the Colts in January 2012 and worked all year to have his team ready for the 2012-13 NFL season. Unfortunately, in September 2012, Pagano was diagnosed with a form of Leukemia and was forced to take a leave of absence from football. Last weekend, Pagano returned to his team and coached the Colts to victory. He’ll have at least one more game this season, as the Colts have qualified for the playoffs. And if they keep winning, he could have a few more games this season. During his treatment and then his return to the team, Pagano displayed courage, determination, emotion, sensitivity, and persistence – all great qualities for a leader. Hopefully, we won’t face challenges as large as the one presented to Chuck Pagano. But our challenges, no matter how big or small, require courage, determination, emotion, sensitivity, and persistence. Pagano is a great example for us and he is an inspiration that we too can overcome the challenges that come our way.

These are just some of the lessons from that final week of the NFL season. I am sure there are many more. If you identified others, please send them to me and I will be glad to share with others.

Thanks for reading. Happy New Year!
Jim

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