Tattoo’s and Courage – Lessons from the Superbowl

Right now many of you are at the least tired or at the worst hung over and tired from a night of revelry celebrating the uniquely American tradition known as the The Superbowl.  In this time-honored tradition we celebrate watching the two best teams in the NFL battle it out for the Lombardi Trophy, while drinking (usually) beer and eating chicken wings.

I’ve developed a fondness for American football in the last few years. I blame that largely on my upbringing (we planned our Sunday dinner around game time) and marrying a life-long Cleveland Browns fan. Beyond the entertainment value I’ve found many an allegory to the workplace through football and have blogged about that often (here, here and here).

So on this day after Superbowl Sunday (which by the way should really be a national holiday) let’s talk about some workplace lessons you can take away from this year’s two top teams:

1. Don’t judge a book by its cover: This is an old rule isn’t it? But one we often forget. Earlier this year some controversy was generated over Colin Kaepernick’s tattoos. A sportswriter claimed that Kaepernick looked like a recent parolee and wasn’t a good image for the 49ers. Those are tattoos of bible verses. So really get over your tattoo/piercing/hair/ bias– learn to look past the physical or you could end up missing a great person or opportunity.

2. Don’t be scared of intensity or fiercely competitive people – To say that Jim Harbaugh is intense is an understatement:

Just a little excited…

The 49ers coach is well-known for his passionate outbursts and fierce competitive style, which goes back to grade school.  It’s that determination and grit that makes some of our most successful leaders and employee’s.  Too often we discount people who are openly passionate as “kooks” or too emotionally involved. Instead of discounting these people, let’s embrace them. After all these are the people who are thinking about the business 24/7, when they think up the next great thing don’t you want them on your payroll? Not your competitor’s?

3. Besides passion, you need people who have the knowledge, skill and courage to make the tough decisions.  An example from both Superbowl contenders:

  • Jim Harbaugh: he shocked the nation when he benched Alex Smith and replaced him with backup QB Colin Kaepernick. After Kaepernick became the starting QB average points per game shot up amid impressive wins against teams like the Green Bay Packers
  • John Harbaugh: In December, this Harbaugh replaced his Offensive Coordinator…in December.  To make a change in that pivotal role, late in the season was a huge gamble that paid off.  Ravens QB Joe Flacco has flourished under his new OC.
  • Organization: Both Harbaugh’s needed a gutsy organization that trusted them to pull off those moves. You can hire all the stars you want but if you don’t give them the freedom to work independently, they will just be frustrated and walk away.

Some might say we can’t compare our organizations with professional sports…I don’t agree with that.  Your company and the NFL are certainly not identical. But can we learn something? Absolutely. How much better would our organizations be if we followed those basic rules I outlined above? Put away your bias, don’t discount the passionate as kooks and have the courage to trust your employees.