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Super Bowl Quarterback Face-Off: Who Has The Leadership Advantage?

Super Bowl Quarterback Face-Off: Who Has The Leadership Advantage?

Former NFL quarterback and leadership expert Tom Flick has a unique perspective on the upcoming face-off between Peyton Manning and Russell Wilson. Kotter International interviewed Tom in Forbes magazine to get his perspective on the contrast between the two quarterbacks:

KI: Tom, what leadership styles will we see in the Super Bowl this weekend with these two quarterbacks?

TF: Well, first off, they’re definitely very different. One is fast and creative. The other is methodical, and incredibly precise. One is a brave, young firebrand, and the other is an older, seasoned expert.

Peyton Manning is the by-the-book, quintessential pocket-passer. He’s the son of an NFL star, born to be a quarterback. He relies on experience and knowledge to get the plays done – and done right. And he has a vast play-book. The Broncos move like a finely-oiled machine with him at the helm. He’s what I’d call a player-coach – he knows how to get more from his team than any other quarterback could. If the team were a car that can go 150MPH, he knows how to push them to go 170MPH. Now, Peyton lives in the pocket – a space of about 4 feet by 3 feet – all his work, commands, hand-off, and throws happen there. He’s reliable and consistent – you know what you’re going to get. He’s going to beat you with his precision, and almost perfect execution.

It used to be all executives led this way too – it’s more traditional. These kind of leaders are practiced professionals at what they do, and they are exceptionally good at it. Relationships with their team are based on trust, history, and clear expectations. Their commands start at the top, and those instructions get passed down to the next guy. These guys are great at getting things that need doing, done, and they execute the details better than their competitors. It always used to be done this way – that’s not true anymore.

Now, you take Russell Wilson, he’s more of a “start-up quarterback.” He’s a new brand of athlete that looks at the world completely differently. He’s unconventional, adaptable. He’s got a great arm and can run like a deer, which has him adapting on the move, and this makes him an exciting and dangerous competitor. He takes big risks that have huge potential for payoff. The defense never knows if he’s going to throw a pass or run the ball himself. This makes him a really difficult player for the Broncos to pin down. They’re going to be thinking, “How do we contain him? What’s he going to pull this time?” That can wear the defense out – so many possibilities they have to be accountable for. This is cultural, coming from the Seahawks coach, Coach Carroll. In his organization, if you’ve been a starter for five years, your seat isn’t a given. You may be replaced by a kid who had a better week in practice.

Just four years ago this concept of a mobile quarterback didn’t exist. Football is seeing new young guns that are a new kind of leader – they’re winning differently. Many of today’s younger leaders tend to be more unconventional, open to change and questioning authority. This gives them an agility that, when they take big risks, presents the opportunity for huge gains. In companies with these types of leaders, there tends to be fewer rules and no standard “way we do things around here.” People will try new things because they aren’t afraid to fail.  They know if they make a mistake they need to bounce back, learn and move on quickly.

KI: How do you see the parallels between these quarterbacks and what a successful executive has to bring to his company?

TF: There’s a bedrock of foundational things – discipline, hard work, preparation, trust, taking calculated risks, and knowing your strengths – these are universal in any successful company, in any team. Quarterbacks, like executives, have to gain the trust of their team and know the individual strengths of each player on their team so they can put those strengths into play when the time is right. That preparation is key. Now, on the field, before the snap of every play, quarterbacks have to do two things simultaneously – identify where the threats are going to come from, and align their offense to be ready to take advantage of that threat, because every danger creates a correlating opportunity. The guy who does this best wins the game.

The best quarterbacks find the opportunity in every play. They read the defense, adjusting the offense by audiblizing to a better play that gives their team an advantage based on what they’re seeing on the field. It’s very covert, a language only your offense understands – developed over 60 hours of meetings, practice, and film study each week, in order to put it into 6-minutes of whistle-to-whistle game play. In the audible, the quarterback adjusts the play to put each of his players in the best position to take advantage of their specific talents. All these things are critical for any leader to get the most from their team.

KI:  So who has the leadership talent to win the game?

TF:  At the Super Bowl, talent is the price of admission, but these guys have also got character, preparedness, the trust of their teams, and the ability to handle playing under pressure. These guys really are the polar extremes of playing style, but they represent the highest levels of exceptional leadership and good management – two styles, both are essential and have to be functioning in parallel in order for a business to do more than just survive – to succeed. In Dr. John Kotter’s new book Accelerate, he writes about how the traditional management structure we see in most companies today isn’t enough to keep you in business. What’s required is additional leadership. Kotter calls it a “network” that allows people to step outside their box to try something new, act on things they can see need to be done, or do something differently from “the way things are done around here.” At the same time, the traditional style of management is absolutely critical to getting today’s business done and out the door. Without it there would be no structure, and things would fall apart.

So is one leadership style better than the other? Well, both these quarterbacks have prepared themselves for this moment in very different ways, and each one plays the game stylistically differently. The methods they use and the team dynamics we’ll see will be drastically different. One thing is certain – both quarterbacks are exceptional leaders, and they both have the potential to win for very different reasons. The test of their styles is going to be in the stadium on Sunday. I can’t wait to watch. 31, 2014