Leadership Qualities of Nine Football Greats

By Dennis McCafferty  |  Posted 09-16-2013 Email Print this article Print

Sports metaphors are dropped all the time in business. (Probably too often.) But CIOs can't dismiss the clear connection between victories on the sports field and success in business. After all, a good number of marque athletes have launched outstanding "second careers" after they quit playing pro sports: Magic Johnson's many pursuits have included a national chain of movie theaters, a studio and co-ownership of the Los Angeles Dodgers and Lakers. Roger Staubach worked in real estate during his NFL off-seasons, and went on to sell his Staubach Company in 2008 for more than $600 million. For three decades, Gayle Sayers has run Sayers 40 Inc., a successful IT/cloud solutions and services firm. So with football season upon us—we know some of your IT employees are managing their fantasy rosters right now—it's a good time to examine the leadership qualities of NFL greats. Especially because the following nine characteristics of nine players and coaches (active and historic) are highly applicable to modern, organizational challenges. Ultimately, each current and future Hall of Famer highlighted here are defined by one unifying trait: A willingness, or obsession, to do whatever it takes to come out on top.

  • Peyton Manning: Agility on the Fly

    Famous for shifting plays and entire personnel formations on the line of scrimmage, once he sizes up what the competition is trying to do.
    1-Peyton Manning: Agility on the Fly
  • Vince Lombardi: Commitment to Fundamentals

    He perfected the simple yet potent "power sweep"—and built strategies from there.
    2-Vince Lombardi: Commitment to Fundamentals
  • Tom Brady: Work Ethic

    Demonstrates how intense preparation can overcome any perceived limitations. (He was only a sixth-round draft pick in 2000.)
    3-Tom Brady: Work Ethic
  • Joe Gibbs: Adaptability to Talent

    Got the best out of a variety of talents and "types," like the free-spirited John Riggins, winning three Super Bowls with three different quarterbacks.
    4-Joe Gibbs: Adaptability to Talent
  • Eli Manning: Ability to Filter Out "Noise"

    Manning shrugs off tabloid criticism and just wins. His unflappable manner led the Giants to two of the Super Bowl's most historic upset wins.
    5-Eli Manning: Ability to Filter Out
  • Bill Walsh: Passion for Innovation

    Considered a pioneering strategist of modern football, he routinely "scripted" the first two-dozen plays of every game.
    6-Bill Walsh: Passion for Innovation
  • Larry Fitzgerald: Well-Grounded and Globally Connected

    During the off-season, Fitzgerald takes fellow players to places like Africa and Ethiopia to support outreach efforts.
    7-Larry Fitzgerald: Well-Grounded and Globally Connected
  • Johnny Unitas: Perseverance

    Cut in his rookie year, he had to play semi-pro ball for $6 a game before getting a shot with the Colts—and launching a Hall of Fame career.
    8-Johnny Unitas: Perseverance
  • Joe Montana: Calm (and Humor) Under Pressure

    Trailing late in Super Bowl XXIII, he looked to the stands during the huddle and said, "Hey, isn't that John Candy?" Then he led his team on a championship-winning drive.
    9-Joe Montana: Calm (and Humor) Under Pressure
Dennis McCafferty is a freelance writer for Baseline Magazine.


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