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Leadership takes time (Lessons from the Super Bowl)

I know, I know…yet another post about football players and what we can learn from them in moments of great stress. But it’s such a rich topic, people. I mean, really.

I’ve actually already written some posts about how players respond after a big moment – some do well (Peyton Manning), some not so well (Richard Sherman). So when I saw the post-Super Bowl press conference with Cam Newton (or “presser,” as they say in the biz), I figured I’d leave it alone. There are plenty of people out there who will weigh in on his behavior. Besides, I have work to do.

But then I read some of the comments and tweets from his peers and from sports reporters. Reaction is kind of all over the place, with a majority of people landing in the, “We get you’re upset, but you need to be a leader” camp.

People will contrast Peyton Manning’s performance in post-loss interviews with Cam Newton. They’ll point out that Peyton is always gracious, that he always makes time for the press, that he waits to congratulate his opponents. And to some extent, that’s fair.

But Peyton has been around the league for a long time, not just as a player, but as the son of a quarterback who played for a pretty terrible franchise. He learned over time the importance of humility, of dealing with the press, of using reporters’ first names, and of managing his image. In short, Peyton has learned the lessons of leadership. He did not spring from the forehead of Zeus with perfect leadership behaviors (despite what some would have you believe). He has made mistakes, learned from them, and moved on. cam

Having seen the footage, I do think Cam Newton was pretty unprofessional. He was an outspoken player throughout the year, gregarious and emotive, unashamed of how he celebrates. And he suffered a crushing disappointment – so he shouldn’t have been surprised by the onslaught of questions. If you’re chatty when you’re winning, the press expects you to be chatty when you lose. It shouldn’t be a surprise to him. He’s been called out for his “pouting” (for lack of a better word) in previous years when the team lost. This year, he was much better…because his team hadn’t really lost. As soon as he was faced with adversity, the smile was gone and he his frustration was apparent.

Despite this, I think Cam will be okay.

Cam is young. He did not grow up in a football family. He is an emotional player who hasn’t learned the art of equanimity with the press. That is not, however, everything that he is. He gives footballs to kids. He volunteers at elementary schools. He came back from a horrific car accident that could have killed him to be the NFL MVP.

I guess I just hope that this one moment does not end up defining him as a LEADER. Leadership takes time. Leadership takes repetition. Leadership takes mentoring.

Think about your own leadership growth. Can you really say you’ve never messed up? Multiple times? The only difference between your leadership growth and Can Newton’s is that he’s getting paid a LOT of money…and has the added pressure of learning in public in a 24/7 news cycle.

I think the seeds for Cam Newton are there. And he has support.

When asked about the presser, Peyton Manning had this to say:

“I’ll tell ya’, Cam couldn’t have been nicer to me.He was extremely humble, congratulated me, wished me the best. I told him just congratulations on his outstanding season, and just what a great future he has ahead of him. He’ll be back in that game, I can promise you.

Only time will tell if Peyton is right. But we should give Cam Newton that benefit of time. Rome wasn’t built in a day…and neither is leadership.

 

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Missed opportunities, or what if you spent $4M and no one cared?

[Editor’s Note: Due to the horrible performance by this author’s team, the game itself shall not be discussed.  I mean, seriously – what the heck was that?!]

Every year, the Super Bowl audience breaks down to two camps – those who care about the game and those who care about the commercials.  Ever since Apple’s ‘1984’ ad aired, the Super Bowl has risen in prominence as THE place for companies to make a marketing impact.  With the increase of on demand entertainment, live sporting events on the level of the Super Bowl offer one of the few places where millions of eyes will be watching at the same time.  And given the mythical status some Super Bowl ads attain, this is one of the few times that people WANT to watch the commercials. So you would think companies would do their best to make the most of this moment.

Sadly, this year’s crop fell short.  In fact, recent years have revealed some lackluster attempts to get our attention.  We long for the days of EDS’s “herding cats” or the CareerBuilder chimps. Instead, we get a Maserati ad that everyone hoped was a horror movie trailer and others that made Joe Namath’s coat the highlight of the evening. [Ed. Note: The Budweiser Puppy/Clydesdale ad was still awesome.  Because….puppy.  Duh.]  Not exactly everyone’s idea of $4M well spent.

missed_opportunities

We’ve all had situations in which we had a great opportunity to make a positive impression…and fell flat on our face.  Or worse, made no impression at all.  By examining the possible mistakes made by this year’s Super Bowl ad companies, it’s possible you can avoid a similar problem when provided a high visibility stage upon which to make a statement:

  • Playing it safe:  A lot of the ads toyed with audacity, but couldn’t quite get there.  That $4M price tag might have kept companies from wanting to go too far out of the norm.  As a result, there was a lack of creativity.  And I’m not the only one who thought so.
    What it means to you: When you get a chance to play on the big stage, decide whether or not you want to swing for the fences.  If you’re going to take a risk, take a real risk.  A jazz instructor I knew once said, “If you’re going to make a mistake, make a mistake of passion.”
  • Not managing the message: If you followed the Twitter feed for Super Bowl ads, you saw a wide range of negative comments – some deserved (and funny), some bizarre and intolerant. As a result, the ad’s message was lost in the aftermath.
    What it means to you: It’s not possible to anticipate all reactions to the content, but it’s good to have a backup plan. When you take your moment in the sun, consider the audience, the possible response, and how you’ll handle any backlash.
  • Losing sight of the goal: This one can also be thought of as “Letting the size of the stage dictate your message”.  Bud Light, who has had some winners in the past, decided to feature a regular guy who doesn’t know he’s in a commercial – and not just any commercial, a Super Bowl Commercial.  So you ended up with Don Cheadle and a llama, and Arnold Schwarzenegger in inappropriate shorts.  And how is this about beer? Or even about the Bud brand?
    What this means to you: Just because you’re in a high visibility situation, it doesn’t mean you should forget why you’re there.  Whatever message you want to send, keep the core of that message.  What do you want people to remember – you and your message, or the fact that you had a dancing bear introduce you?

Chances are, your stage isn’t as big as what we saw on Sunday.  But every single time you have a chance to make an impression, you should think of it as your personal Super Bowl.  Seize the opportunity to tell your story, share your message, and be memorable – in a GOOD way.  Don’t spend the social equivalent of $4M just so people can say, “meh.”

 Do you have a story about how a time you made an impression on the big stage?  Share in the comments?

 

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You are how you act (a cautionary tale)

See thou character. Give thy thoughts no tongue,
Nor any unproportioned thought his act.
Be thou familiar, but by no means vulgar.

– Polonius to Laertes, Hamlet

I hate to be yet another post about Richard Sherman and all that, but try as I might, I just can’t shake some feelings of disappointment over the whole affair.  For those of you who have been without internet, here’s what everyone has been talking about.

Sherman’s reaction touched off a firestorm of reaction.  The debate seems to have settled into two camps – those who think Sherman is a thug, and those who think the media is being unfair.

Give every man thy ear, but few thy voice;
Take each man’s censure, but reserve thy judgment.

When I saw it, I was pretty annoyed – he was asked a question about his team, and chose to use this moment to trumpet himself (not his team) and make a personal attack on Michael Crabtree, his opponent.   I don’t think he’s a thug or any of the other words used to describe him – I think he’s a guy with low impulse control who needs to have a little more professionalism.  The outburst (and subsequent follow up comments) lacked humility, a quality other greats in the game show in victory and defeat.whois

But do not dull thy palm with entertainment
Of each new-hatch’d, unfledged comrade. Beware
Of entrance to a quarrel, but being in,
Bear’t that the opposed may beware of thee.

But apparently I’m mistaken.  This story was written – telling us that we are lazy and awful because we didn’t bother to get to know the real Richard Sherman, and aren’t we all just shallow.

Guess what? We are how we act. Each of us is responsible for our behavior. Richard Sherman has a pattern of disrespecting his opponents. I’m glad he’s a person who found a better life through his talent, but that doesn’t excuse him for acting like a jerk.  And now kids are making videos re-enacting the rant.  We are supposed to be okay with it because if kids can re-enact it, there obviously wasn’t anything inappropriate done or said.  Other than the lack of sportsmanship.

There are CEOs who are assholes in their day-to-day lives who are loved because they manage their public persona so well (or the serial killer about whom everyone says, “he seemed like such a nice guy”), just as there are people like Sherman who may do wonderful things away from the spotlight, but chooses to act like a jackass when the cameras are on.  And the one we see on TV is the one from whom we make our judgements.  Is it fair?  Maybe not.

And that in way of caution, I must tell you,
You do not understand yourself so clearly

But it happens to each of us every day – our value to a company might be based on a hallway interaction with an EVP, or one meeting with stakeholders, or a chance encounter on IM.  And we don’t always get a chance to hold follow up press conferences or send out tweets to argue our case.  And most of us don’t get to play the “that’s your problem” card.

We all have choices on how we act.  No, we cannot control how people will react to us.  Nor can we control the judgements made about us based on the baggage people carry around with them.  But we can acknowledge that sometimes our actions might be misinterpreted because of the timing or tone, and we can apologize when we act inappropriately.  We can be accountable for how we act, for that is how others see who we are.

Sherman has had a good past couple of years (as well a dodged suspension due to irregularities in the collection process), and he has always had a big mouth.  If he wants to be remembered for his talent and not for his attitude, he would do well to rethink his public persona.  If he wants to be remembered for his intelligence and escape from a difficult childhood, he should act as the person he is.

This above all: to thine ownself be true,
And it must follow, as the night the day,
Thou canst not then be false to any man.

Unless he is the person he acts like.  And that’s all on him.

 
 

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