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Friday, March 24, 2023

Leading with Character: The Art of Losing Well

A winning team has superb coaching and exceptional players, all supporting the quarterback. But then there’s leadership.

Last Sunday millions of Americans gathered together, broke out the chips and dip, and tuned in to watch Super Bowl LVII. The atmosphere was charged like the high-voltage wires powering televisions across the United States as the Kansas City Chiefs, led by quarterback Patrick Mahomes, and the Philadelphia Eagles, led by quarterback Jalen Hurts, met in Glendale, Arizona, to kick, run, and throw for the title. Everyone wanted to win, yet only one team would emerge victorious.

The game was incredibly close, but in the end, the Chiefs came from behind to clinch the title 38-35. Although I’m not a huge fan of watching football, I always enjoy the postgame analyses. Two days after the game, on February 14, the Wall Street Journal sports page published a pair of articles – one by Jason Gay and one by Andrew Beaton – that captured my imagination.

Sports Teaches Us About Leadership

I’m an athlete and firmly believe leadership lessons learned on the sports playing field translate directly to the playing field of life, including the workplace. Take, for instance, the winning quarterback, Patrick Mahomes. Following his Super Bowl win and naming as the game’s Most Valuable Player, some are comparing him to Tom Brady, who led his teams to seven Super Bowl victories and is considered by many to be the greatest quarterback of all time. So, what can we can learn from Mahomes and Brady?

Diversity on the Playing Field

Those two superb quarterbacks have succeeded by employing completely different styles; that’s real diversity that has nothing to do with what they look like, which I call demographic diversity. Rather, it comes from experience and how they think. I call that experiential diversity and cognitive diversity. As the columnist Andrew Beaton observed, “Brady and Mahomes play football so unlike one another that they could be confused for playing different positions. Brady mastered the art of how to nimbly move inside a phone booth-sized space behind his offensive line and strike with deadly precision. Mahomes plays from sideline-to-sideline with a brilliant freneticism that has annihilated perceptions about what a quarterback can do.”

Think about that powerful last sentence describing Mahomes. What if leaders in the workplace were bold enough to play like Mahomes? What if they encouraged their people to cover the entire field “with brilliant freneticism” instead of taking the safer route of staying in one place? Yet stepping outside the box and trying something novel, imaginative, and creative carries more risk. People who do so are sometimes judged and criticized more so than those who stick with what’s familiar. That’s a lost opportunity because every workplace needs the kind of diversity that Brady and Mahomes bring to the playing field.

You Either Win or You Learn

Getting back to Super Bowl LVII, the matchup was not Tom Brady and Patrick Mahomes this year. It was Patrick Mahomes and Jalen Hurts, two young and incredibly talented quarterbacks. Last Sunday, they showed us a lot about leadership that translates directly to the workplace. In his postgame evaluation, the columnist Jason Gay examines how Jalen Hurts dealt with defeat. In the postgame, Hurts summed up his feelings with an insightful statement: “You either win or you learn, that’s how I feel. The beautiful part about it is everyone experiences different pains, everyone experiences different agonies of life. You decide if you want to learn from it. You decide if you want that to be a teachable moment. I know I do.” What if we all adopted that philosophy – at work and at home? That’s an attitude every leader should try to cultivate, and every employee should strive to adopt.

Making Everyone Better

Winning the Super Bowl isn’t just about the quarterback. A winning team has superb coaching and exceptional players, all supporting the quarterback. But then there’s leadership. A quarterback who’s a superb athlete must also be a leader to bring out the best in the team. According to Jason Gay, when asked about Patrick Mahomes the Chiefs’ coach, Andy Reid, observed, “The great quarterbacks make everyone around them better.” They do that by leading well. And they do it whether or not they win. When they win, they celebrate with the team and share the victory by recognizing the coaches and the other players. When they lose, they take it as a learning experience, as did Jalen Hurts. Jalen Hurts has mastered the art of losing well, and I’ll bet that in the future Jalen Hurts wins far more than he loses – in sports and in life.

Look in the mirror. As a leader, do you make everyone around you better, even if you don’t win every time? Do you encourage your people to do their jobs “with brilliant freneticism”?

Please join me again in two weeks for more on Leading with Character.

If you enjoyed this post, please visit my website where you can buy my book, Breaking Ice & Breaking Glass: Leading in Uncharted Waters, and sign up for my mailing list: https://sandrastosz.com/book/breaking-ice-and-breaking-glass/

Sandra L. Stosz
Vice Admiral Stosz, a Homeland Security Today editorial board member, started out in the U.S. Coast Guard as an ensign serving on polar icebreakers, conducting national security missions from the Arctic to the Antarctic. Her 40-year career is filled with leadership lessons gleaned while breaking ice and breaking glass as the first woman to command an icebreaker on the Great Lakes and to lead a U.S. armed forces service academy. She finished her career as the first woman assigned as Deputy Commandant for Mission Support, directing one of the Coast Guard’s largest enterprises. She has lectured widely on leadership, and has been featured on CSPAN and other media outlets. In 2012, Newsweek’s “The Daily Beast” named Vice Admiral Stosz to their list of 150 Women who Shake the World. Proceeds from “Breaking Ice and Breaking Glass: Leading in Uncharted Waters” will be donated to the US Coast Guard Academy James M. Loy Institute for Leadership.

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