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Leadership Lessons From The NFL

The National Football League kicked off earlier this month, much to the relief of fans who had endured a months-long labor standoff that threatened the season. And while millions of fans tune in each week to see the finest athletes in the word compete, the league offers more than just entertainment. In fact, business owners and organizational leaders could learn quite a bit from the NFL in terms of effective leadership

1) The key to building an efficient team is to clearly assign responsibility to each individual—and then to hold him or her accountable.  The New England Patriots have consistently been one of the top teams in the league over the last decade. They’ve won three Super Bowls and played in a fourth. They have done this despite experiencing substantial personnel change at almost every position. What’s their secret? Patriots coach Bill Belichick consistently hammers home the theme "Everybody do their job!" His linemen block. His receivers run routes and catch the ball. His quarterback surveys the defense and throws the ball. When each player does his job, the team succeeds—and when someone fails to get the job done, it is clear exactly where the responsibility lies. Do your employees know their roles—and do you hold them accountable?  

2) Dedication, a tireless work ethic, and a willingness to learn can make up for many disadvantages. One of the biggest stories early in this NFL season has been the play of Carolina Panthers rookie quarterback Cam Newton.  It is very difficult for a rookie to succeed at the position of quarterback, simply because of the huge amount of information that must be absorbed. The situation was even worse this year, as the labor standoff prevented players from practicing with their teams throughout the spring and summer. But Newton has impressed his critics by putting his nose to the grindstone and leading by example.  His teammates have rallied behind him—not because of his name recognition or the amount of money he makes, but because he is willing to dedicate himself completely to his team. Do you make excuses, or do you find a way to get the job done?  

3) To ensure long-term success, don’t become overly dependent on any individual. Like the Patriots, the Indianapolis Colts have been a dominant team over the past decade. Unfortunately for Indianapolis, star quarterback Peyton Manning suffered a neck injury and has been unable to play thus far. Instantly, the Colts have gone from a dominant team to arguably the worst team in the league. They made the mistake of putting all their eggs in one basket, so to speak, and did not have a backup plan. Think about your organizational structure—are you overly dependent on one or a few individuals?  Every business has "key" employees—but make sure that you have a plan to succeed without them if necessary!

[Image: Flickr user Duke Yearlook]