The first time he got the ball, he fumbled it and the other team scored. The third time he got the ball, he did the same and the team scored. It was running back Ryan Grant’s first playoff game and his two mistakes had put his team, the Green Bay Packers, down 0-14. It was not an auspicious start, but his on field boss, no other than the legendary quarterback himself, Brett Favre, told him to shake it off and do what he did best: run the ball. Grant took Favre’s message to heart and had a career day, running for three touchdowns and 201 yards, many of them gained in driving snow in last Saturday’s NFC divisional playoff game on the “frozen tundra” of Lambeau Field.
While Grant deserves credit for keeping his head in the game, it was Favre’s leadership that opened the door for him to clear his mind. Favre, himself a gambling sort of player, reminded Grant that he had once thrown six interceptions in a single game. Favre’s message should resonate with any manager facing adversity. Keep it loose. When the leader gets uptight, the team tightens up. When the boss loses him composure, the team starts bickering. And when the boss walks around in a sulk, the team clams up. The result is that nothing gets done. Here are some things we can learn from Favre’s example.
Stay focused. When adversity strikes, people will look to look to their leaders for cues on how to respond. When the leader remains calm, but focused, it makes it easier for the people to do their work. Favre is a master of shaking off a bad play and remaining attentive to what must be done next. The leader should be visible and present, speaking frequently to the team, offering encouragement when necessary but also talking about the challenges ahead and what it expected of them.
Make plays. Few are better at making big plays in games when it counts than Favre. During this game, in trying to elude a tackler he slipped on the slick turf, but before he fell, he underhanded the ball to a receiver who snatched it and ran for a touchdown. That play naturally uplifted the whole team, and gave them the confidence that they could play and win. Managers sometimes make plays themselves, but more often they encourage their team to execute by providing time, resources, and support to succeed.
Throw snowballs. After one successful touchdown drive, Favre scooped up some snow and make a snowball which he threw playfully at one of his players. If that does not keep a team loose, nothing will. Yes, the Packers were ahead and appeared headed for victory, but Favre was reminding his teammates that work (the game) should be fun, despite the weather. Managers can keep things light by maintain an air of playfulness – making sur smiling, posting cartoons, providing snacks. Doing so does not diminish the seriousness of the challenges facing the team, but it does remind people that as serious as conditions may be, we can still enjoy what we do.
No matter how loose you keep it, you need to compete. That is, you maintain the expectation of achieving good results. Honestly speaking, if the Packers had not won this playoff game, Grant would have ended up the goat and few people would have been talking about Favre’s performance in this game. Results matter. And so when times are tough, the boss must lead by example. He must exhort the team to keep doing what they do best. He must not give them a break when it comes to expectations. Reassurance of their abilities is one thing; slacking off is another. By keeping the team focused on what is possible and even probable, the team keeps their eyes on the goal and in turn on the road ahead.
While Favre’s on-field pursuits are well documented, the other side of his leadership is perhaps just as important. Favre, the smiling, easy-going man from Mississippi, leads by keeping his team loose as well as providing exceptional personal play when the game is on the line.
John Baldoni • Leadership Expert:Executive Coach/Author/Speaker • Baldoni Consulting, LLC • www.johnbaldoni.com