Some would think it strange for a woman to write about the Super Bowl.  Yes, it is true, I have never played a down of football, except in the backyard, first with the neighborhood friends and then with my little boys in our own yard.  It’s worth noting, however, that even though I was taking dancing and piano lessons at the time, I broke my arm in the sixth grade throwing a block in a playground pick up game with the boys.

As a little girl, I spent my Saturdays watching college games and Sunday’s watching the pros with my Dad. He was a student of the game and taught me the difference between the option and the wishbone formation.  He explained blitzing and the nickel defense.  Eventually, he helped me understand and spot penalties such as clipping, block in the back and ineligible receiver  down field.

My best memories are of watching my 3 sons play the game, from middle school to college.   Many of the other moms (and some dads too) like to sit next to me because I can explain what was happening on the field.  Some do not care to sit next to me because I refuse to talk while my boys are playing!

There has been a lot of discussion about the players involved in Super Bowl 50.  Emotions run high when our team wins or loses and there is no shortage of opinion on how either occurred.  What I find most useful are the life and leadership lessons we can learn from competition.

As I watched the Super Bowl this year, and the aftermath, here are five lessons worth noting:

  1. What takes years to build can be undone in a few minutes.

    As leaders, we work so hard to earn followership. For most of us, it takes years or even decades to convince anyone to follow us.  A lapse in judgment can undo that hard work instantaneously.  While followers want us to win, they are also counting on us to calmly lead with confidence when we don’t.

  1. Character starts early and builds over time.

    Character success and failures don’t develop overnight.  Good decision making begins early in life.  Strong character is exhibited by a track record of good decisions.  Poor character is the product of a track record of poor decisions.

  1. Graciousness earns grace.

    Humility can be a leader’s best friend.  When leaders are winning, they should give the credit to the team and when they are losing, they need to take responsibility.  It’s simply part of the deal.  Being a gracious winner can help garner grace for a losing moment.  People remember how a leader behaved at the top of his game.  Sometimes, it can help rally the team on your side (and even the opposition) if you have a reputation of humility and graciousness.

  1. If you raise people’s expectations, you had better deliver.

    Leaders must exhibit confidence and a belief in themselves.  However, the more confidence in yourself that you claim, the more people expect that you will accomplish all you set out to do.  Sometimes, it is better to under promise and over deliver.  People like to be pleasantly surprised by achieving a high goal.  Share confidently with the team a vision of what the team might achieve, but let your fans and opponents be surprised by your strength.  Over confidence is admired when you are winning, but often criticized when we fail to live up to the hype.  If you want to ride the wave of positive praise, be prepared to take your lumps when the tide turns Click To Tweet

  1. The team always comes first.

    Leaders have to be willing to give themselves up for the good of the team.  They have to be willing to go first into the unknown. They don’t wait for somebody else to do the hard stuff, especially when it is all on the line.  While I would never compare football to the seriousness of military engagement, I do think of some extraordinary examples of leadership from the battlefield. The heroes in that arena are the ones willing to sacrifice everything for the good of not just their military unit but for every life they are ultimately defending.

In Super Bowl 50, I did not “have a dog in the fight,” and had no preference as to which team won.  I also cannot judge anyone’s behavior as I don’t know the full story or any of these people, personally.  But like all of us, I can be curious and discover the lessons we can learn by what we observe. In the end, in just a few years, except for the winners and the losers, most people won’t remember who won, what the score was or who the MVP was.  In fact, more people will probably remember the half-time entertainment and the commercials.  Hopefully, the players, coaches, fans and critics will also remember the leadership lessons from the big game.