Lessons in Leadership from the Super Bowl

I’ll admit it. I was pulling for the Falcons. Even though I lived in Atlanta for six years, I didn’t really have a stake in the game—I was never a big fan. It’s not that I’m not into sports—I was a huge Braves fan when I lived in Atlanta (when they went from worst to first) and I can tell you the names of every Golden State Warrior who was traded for Kevin Durant. Seriously. But this Super Bowl for me was a little like the election—I was rooting against one team more than pulling for another.

Now picture this…we’re watching the game at a friend’s house. We wisely recorded it so we could enjoy the good commercials and skip through the bad. It’s the 3rd quarter and the Patriots finally score a touchdown. Knowing that the Pats would still need two touchdowns, two 2-point conversions and a field goal in order to TIE the game, the odds were against them. Seemingly impossible. Now fast forward to the final two minutes. Under Tom Brady’s leadership, they’ve tightened the score to 28:20 and are driving the ball. And then it stops. What?! The DVR had STOPPED RECORDING THE GAME. That’s right. One of the best 4th quarters in Super Bowl history and the only one to ever go into overtime and we missed it.

To say I was shocked by the outcome would be an understatement. Atlanta had controlled most of the game. But as I reflect on the day, I can’t help but think of the valuable lessons it reinforced:

A good leader realizes that they are part of a team. Until the 4th quarter, the Patriots just couldn’t find their groove. But Tom Brady stuck with it. He didn’t let himself get rattled. When a leader stays calm and leads with grace, the team will follow suit. But the leader actually has to recognize that they are part of a team—not the team itself. I still find Jim Collins book Good to Great to be one of the best management books ever written. In it he shares the window and the mirror model in which leaders “look out the window” to their team when credit is due and “in the mirror” at oneself instead of casting blame. Tom Brady could take a lot of credit for the win on Sunday…but he didn’t. In post-game interviews, he talked about the team. He spoke of their time together on and off the field and how it helped them develop a belief in one another that everyone will do their job. In one interview, when asked for final words, he said “I’m proud of us.” Us. There’s no “I” in team and Tom Brady was a good example of a leader who knows that it takes a lot of teamwork to be successful.

Slow and steady wins the race. Sure, it’s a cliché, but boy was it true on Sunday. The Patriots couldn’t make anything happen until the last few minutes of the game—arguably the ones that mattered most—and then they slowly and methodically chiseled away at the score until they were tied. Sometimes in the business world we want to get everything done right now. There is an urgency to succeed that is sometimes hard to fathom…and it can have serious consequences. Companies that don’t thoughtfully plan often end up shooting from the hip in ways that come back to bite them. (Wow—that was a whole sentence of clichés!) The Patriots showed discipline and planning in their strategy to win Sunday’s game. Discipline, strategy and scenario planning can all go a long way in defining business success.

Timing is everything. None of us has the power to control time. But we can do the best we can with the time we have. On Sunday, the Pats couldn’t make anything happen in the first three-quarters of the game. But when it mattered in the final minutes, their timing was right. Sometimes it’s serendipity. But most of the time it’s simply because a lot of planning has taken place beforehand…steady planning that allows people to make the right decisions when it matters.

Delayed gratification isn’t the be-all-end-all. Sometimes the only way to appreciate the little things in life (and big things) is in real-time. I don't generally watch network television anymore as it is being aired. I “DVR” it so I can watch what I want and skip through the rest. That serves me well most of the time but on Sunday when we got to the final two minutes and realized that the recording stopped before the most crucial moments of the game, I could have died.  I hate it when someone ruins a surprise, so who won the game was NOT something I wanted to hear—I wanted to watch it. And yet I had to know what happened and was blown away when I heard the outcome.

In fairness, I did end up recording the game when it was re-aired in the wee hours of the morning just so I could watch the ending, but alas I already knew what would happen. Watching it though reinforced what I already knew…that games like the Super Bowl can bring out the best and the worst and provide great lessons in leadership. And no matter what really happened with Deflategate…Tom Brady can go down as one of the greatest quarterbacks ever.



Sarah Holliman, Chief Marketing Officer, SIG

Sarah Holliman, Chief Marketing Officer, has more than 20 years of experience in the sourcing industry. Prior to joining SIG's leadership team, Sarah was with A.T. Kearney, leading the marketing efforts for the A.T. Kearney Procurement & Analytic Solutions unit. She also spent five years at A.T. Kearney consulting primarily to financial services companies on topics that ranged from strategic planning to procurement cost reduction to back-office operations. Before joining A.T. Kearney, Sarah was in business development at one of the largest commercial banks in the country.

Sarah has held numerous leadership positions on non-profit boards promoting children, women and educational issues, and has specific expertise in membership development, fundraising and strategic development. Sarah has a BA from Furman University and an MBA from the Anderson School at UCLA.