A Lesson in Leadership From a Football Game





I have followed Pete Carroll‘s football coaching career since his early days at the University of Southern California (USC). This guy is stellar! His leadership style is very similar to that of the NBA’s Phil Jackson: mindful, collaborative, responsible, and that of my mentor, UCLA basketball coaching legend, John Wooden.

A Lesson in Leadership From a Football Game

Postgame to last Sunday night’s NFL game between the Arizona Cardinals and Seattle Seahawks contrasted the two coaches as the game made NFL history–but not in a good way.

You see, the game ended in a 6-6 tie, officially making it the overtime tie with the lowest score in NFL history.

CBS sports writer Ryan Wilson summed it up well:

“If you love suspect coaching, horrible special teams and offensive football before the advent of the forward pass, all sandwiched around superb defense, Sunday night’s Seahawks-Cardinals game was your Super Bowl.”

The most exciting (i.e., gut-wrenching) plays of the game included two potentially game-winning (and extremely makable) field goals.

First, with 3:26 left in overtime, Arizona kicker Chandler Catanzaro missed a 24-yarder (he had already made two field goals over 40 yards, including a 45-yarder just a few minutes earlier).

Then, Seattle kicker Stephen Hauschka had his chance to be the hero–but his 28-yard attempt didn’t go in either (Hauschka was also successful in his two previous kicks in the game, despite the fact that both were longer attempts).

It’s safe to say both coaches were in disbelief. But the real lesson would come just a little while later.

The Coaches’ Reactions

Those that know me well, know that I don’t watch much football, or much of any sports for that matter. But when I heard what happened in the postgame press conference, I just had to share it with you here. It is a great lesson in leadership:

In the postgame press conference. When Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians was asked if he had any words for his kicker after the game, he said simply:

“Make it. This is professional, this ain’t high school, baby. You get paid to make it.”


And how about Seattle coach Pete Carroll? What was his postgame response to his kicker’s blunder?

“[Hauschka] made his kicks to give us a chance and unfortunately he didn’t make the last one. He’s been making kicks for years around here … and he’s gonna hit a lot of winners as we go down the road here. I love him and he’s our guy.”

Now that’s what I call having someone’s back.

In contrasting these two reactions, we learn a lot about leadership. The truth is, anyone can fall victim to a misstep in a high-pressure situation.

The question is, can these two kickers come back from their mistakes? Or, by extension, will your business team members be able to recover when they slip up?

Of course, much has to do with the individual, the person’s unique personality and character, and how he or she chooses to respond.

True Leadership

Leaders are in a unique position to help individuals recover from mistakes like these. When a leader keeps his or her own failures in mind, it’s easier to use words of encouragement to build one up rather than to dishearten and tear down. By skillfully sharing your own personal experience, or simply reminding the person that everyone has a bad day, you do everything in your power to help that person recover.

Action Step

Here’s an action step for my business owner and team leader clients out there … and for that matter, all of you, because this will apply to personal relationships too, including parenting and spouses/partners:

Ask yourself this question:

How do I react when a member of my team makes a mistake?

And when they do, because it’s not IF but WHEN (and so will you), consider your words carefully, and you’ll not only make the best of a bad situation–you’ll get the best out of your people, too.

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