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5 Leadership Questions to Ask Yourself BEFORE You Tell that Next Football Story

Published: July 11, 2019

Last week I attended a management training program where the speaker, kept referring to stories about a San Francisco 49’ers Super Bowl victory to help describe how to manage a winning team. The room, filled primarily with men, left pumped and excited to unleash a stream of processes, strategies and new football stories to motivate and inspire others upon their return. Let me share something with you- I love sports and have been an athlete for a good part of my younger years. I have heard hundreds of “football stories’ from leaders and trainers in business and too often the stories are centered on the importance of having set strategies, disciplines and follow through. These areas are important in creating high performing teams in business.

Here is where I get skeptical. We know that even with impressive strategies, processes and disciplines in place too many managers are struggling in achieving team goals.

So, what is the missing in those “football stories” that have managers dropping the ball?

According to a recent Economist Intelligence Unit survey of 500 senior executives, 9 of 10 businesses fail to accomplish their set business objectives- quarter after quarter and year after year. So basically, most managers aren’t winning coaches. They have the set “playbook” filled with processes and strategies yet continue to see less than stellar results. Research is telling us that the struggle is not about strategy. The struggle is about the transition from strategy to delivery – how the team works together and is led “as a team”.

What is missing in the football story is the importance of how the feeling of “team” supports high performance results. The way a team works together, team dynamics, can be defined as the unconscious, psychological forces that influence the direction of the team’s behavior and performance. Very few managers focus on developing the skills that drive positive and productive team dynamics.

The way a manager creates the “we” environment is essential in supporting the team accountability and discipline that drives results. This shifts management into leadership. Keeping with the football metaphor, here are 5 questions leaders can ask themselves prior to telling that next “football story”.

  1. As a leader, how do I react to constant, rapid change? In football, it is all about knowing the competition, maneuvering through plays, sudden shifts in momentum and the ability to deal with the unknown.
  2. Do I support and create opportunities for ongoing employee development? In football, coaches and players are all about improving skillsets, behaviors and attitudes through training programs, health regimes and constant learning.
  3. Do I take time to pre-brief and debrief with my team? A football team has a playbook and takes the time to meet prior and after the game to review those areas that need attention and celebrate and capitalize on team strengths.
  4. Do I “call out an action” in the moment, when a team member reacts inappropriately to a difficult situation without losing the trust of the team member at issue? When a football player screws up a play on the field, a coach will let them know, in the moment, where they stand.
  5. Do my employees feel an attachment and sense of belonging to something bigger than themselves? The wearing of the jerseys, the collaboration and joint ownership of a win or lose, and the rituals that are integrated into team practices and processes create unity.

Exciting, game shifting football stories work best when the managers telling the stories understand that it isn’t just the “play” that drives success. It is how the team works as a team; the collaboration, mutual accountability and trust in that high stress situation that helped to create that Super Bowl win. A professional football team has a system in place that addresses team dynamics. Before you tell that next football story, make sure you are secure in how your team works as a team. If you want to hear more about how to help measure and create a team dynamic that will shift you into high performance- reach out to me at

Categories: Leadership, Team

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