Saturday, January 25, 2014

Leadership Lessons from a Super Bowl Sideshow

No man will make a great leader who wants to do it all himself, 
or to get all the credit for doing it. 
-Andrew Carnegie-

I watched the interviews of Richard Sherman following the Seattle Seahawks' NFC Championship victory over San Francisco. If you don't what I'm talking about it, you missed a powderkeg that exploded on Facebook and Twitter for the last week. Basically, his comments about the team's win focused mostly on his confidence in his own physical talents as well as ability to belittle his opponent.  He said very little about his team's success. In short, his comments came off to many as cocky rather than confident.  What's interesting was that his teammates were ok with his comments while his critics were fired up, and in the end, I don't think he gained more supporters.

Every bit of research says that leaders must be confident individuals if their organizations are going to achieve success. They must believe in their abilities to overcome the toughest of situations. They must be ready to step up when no one else will. But here's the issue. Some leaders exert their confidence to move people forward while others flaunt their confidence to turns followers off. 

Why is that?

It all comes down to how and when leaders use the words, me and we, as they deal with success or failure. 

In Times of Success 

Cocky leaders use the word, me, to describe the reason for the team's success. They may use the word, we, to define the team, but you will definitely hear overtones of the leader's abilities in every action that they describe as the reason for team's success. Success couldn't have happened without the cocky leader. 

Confident leaders see no use in the word, me, to describe reasons for success.  Confident leaders let their actions do the talking for them. You will hear constant praise for the team as they describe how everyone worked together to make it happen. You will hear no overtones of 'Me' because the leader will be constantly praising the strengths and contributions of every member that played an integral part of the team's success. 

In Times of Failure

The cocky leader will be extremely disappointed and moderately immature. His anger, aggravation, and frustration will reveal itself in the way that he describes the team's failure. Rarely will he point the finger at himself because there were too many variables and too many people involved that contributed to the team's failure. Cocky leaders cannot accept failure; and therefore, their narcissistic behavior will not allow them to personally accept responsibility for loss. 

The confident leader will acknowledge the fact that 'we' did not win the game; however, the leader will not put the blame on 'we' but on 'me'. Because of the leader's poor planning the team was not prepared to win the game. The leader does this because he knows that the team looks to him for guidance and strength. Strength is only revealed in times of true vulnerability. In showing flaws and revealing human imperfection, confident leaders grow and organizations respond positively. 

Super Bowl Sideshow 

Whether you agree with Richard Sherman or not, the fact remains that his statements put him in the spotlight rather than the team. Don't get me wrong. He's a great player and made a great game saving play in the NFC Championship Game; therefore, he deserves lots of credit for making that play, but we mustn't forget that the Seahawks put him in the position to make the play.  Without the team's effort and success, he just made another good play.

Now in the end, his comments may help his team prepare for the Super Bowl by taking the focus off of other key players on the team, but one thing is certain.  Sherman will be under intense pressure on Sunday to back up his statements when he faces arguably the best quarterback in NFL history, Peyton Manning.  Cocky leaders allow their emotions to get themselves into this position, but confident leaders never allow words of bravado to cause them this type of unnecessary pressure.

Finally, cocky leaders never consider using their words to bring people together as their first priority. Their insecurity won't allow that. However, confident leaders constantly find ways to put their team in the best position to win the game. When they win, the leader gives the team credit for doing so. And when the team loses, the leader takes full blame for not putting the team in the best position to win.

That is true leadership. 

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