Lessons in Leadership from the 2019 NFL Draft
Lessons in Leadership from the 2019 NFL Draft
Changing the landscape of an entire organization takes guts, a solid plan, and buy-in from the entire organization. Decisions have to be made, they may pan out, they may blow up. Here are some leadership lessons I took from the 2019 NFL Draft.
Over the weekend, I watched glued to my phone and TV. This was the first time I could remember my team, the Arizona Cardinals, picking first in the NFL draft. It was going to be a crazy weekend for local sports.
Let me set the table for you so that you might stay awhile. Going into the offseason the Cardinals had the worst record and were the worst team in the NFL. They fired their entire coaching staff. The rookie quarterback was just okay. It was obvious that something needed to be done.
Enter new head coach and completely different philosophy. You knew that times were changing.
The entire offseason was debated about a very controversial move the team could make. Do you replace your new, rookie quarterback with another new rookie quarterback (by the way the quarterback in question was the first round pick the year before)?
If you decide that a new quarterback, you admit that 2018 was a complete failure and mistakes were made. This does not look good for the current leadership in place, it is a very difficult proposition for any organization.
You invested in talent, paid them top dollar, and now you could potentially ship them to another team. Doing this could be a huge step backward. I mean you are the worst team in the league, and you could use your pick to fill another position on the team.
Now that you are all caught up, let’s talk about what happened. The Cardinals take another quarterback with the first pick. He is a dynamic playmaker. He can throw, he can run, and he could be the best player ever to play the game. He could also be a bust. The risk of this move is high. But the reward could be even bigger.
The draft continues to move on through the weekend and the Cardinals pick 3 wide receivers to ensure that the new quarterback has people around him. In theory, the new coach has gotten what he needs to implement and execute his plan. He has the people around him to get the job done.
Think of it this way. You are the CEO of a company. You just hired a great marketing director (head coach) and product manager (quarterback). This team was hired to take a product to market via direct sales. Your sales team is ready for the team to lead them past the goal line.
After 6-months, you decide that the direction of the company should change. Maybe, you have been living under a rock and you just heard about the internet.
“Let’s blow this thing up and hit the web.”
You fire your marketing director, what do they do anyway. You go through the interview process and find someone you really like. A marketing manager that specializes in everything digital. You promote him to Marketing Director and give him a raise.
He starts the process and you get a call that a new product manager is looking for work. They have the skill set that aligns with your new marketing director and you move your old product manager to another department or sister company and hire the digitally minded product manager.
You now hope that the change in philosophy is going to pay off and your customer actually use the internet because you have put all your eggs in this basket.
Okay, I know the example is a bit of a stretch, but you get the point.
Now that we are all on the same page, let’s chat about the leadership lesson we can take away from this crazy NFL draft. Let’s give credit where credit is due, the Arizona Cardinals leadership team made some really hard decisions, put their neck on the line, and they should be recognized for this.
Identified a change in the landscape
Over the last 5 years, something has been happening in the National Football League. These freakishly talented, large me, are getting bigger and more freakishly athletic. There are 300-pound men with 6% body fat running as fast as college sprinters.
The way you play the game is different. The Arizona Cardinals saw this and decided to drastically change the roster, starting with a new quarterback that is probably the most athletic football player in the draft. He can throw, run, and dodge his way through any NFL defense.
The Cardinals saw this change in in the “industry” landscaped, made a pivot to accommodate, and went all in on the new direction.
There is no shame in admitting your previous plan did not work. The Cardinals were the worst team in the NFL, they needed to do something different. In your business, professional life, or even your personal life, it is okay to admit you made a mistake, chose the wrong path, or your plan failed.
However, if you hold onto your plan or strategy, knowing it failed, because of pride or lack of awareness, then you will fail. It is okay to go out there and fail if you learn from your lessons. So, if you know your plan is failing, don’t be afraid to pivot or change. I support you.
Picked a direction and committed 100%
Okay, the Arizona Cardinals saw the change in the landscape and decided to do something with it. Well, it went deeper than drafting a quarterback. They hired a new head coach, drafted the quarterback that best fits the style of the head coach, and drafted 3 additional receivers to aid in the success of the new head coach’s game plan. The Arizona Cardinals committed 100% to the new direction.
Once you decide to go in a different direction, you cannot just try it out. If your old plan failed and you only hang on because of comfort, you are falling further and further behind. Put your plan on paper and commit 100% to it.
At work, we have been in the process of taking our new product to market. During this process, we have tried cold calling (not my idea), event marketing, PPC, social media marketing, and pretty much everything under the sun.
2 weeks ago, we determined that we needed to sell the new product through our existing customers. Here is the kicker because I am sure you are like, “No crap Steve.” Our existing customers will not be using the product. They are not the end user. However, they have the relationships with our new customer base.
So, we have 100% committed to the new sales channel, committing 100% to our existing customer base. We have moved personnel from the out-outbound sales team to support. We have redesigned our website from a sales message to a support message, and we have even changed the way we look at events. Events are no longer about demos; they are about onboarding and answering questions.
The point here is we did not know this was going to work. We did not know how things were going to fall in place. What we do know is that by making the pivot, is in the last 3 weeks we have been able to accomplish what took 2 years.
Once you pick the direction you are heading in life, business, or even relationships commit 100%. Don’t sit around and wait for things to happen, write your plan down and get moving.
Selected the right talent to fulfill the plan
The plan is in place and thing is starting to come together. The Arizona Cardinals identified a change in the landscape, and they committed to the change of direction 100%. Firing staff, trading a top 20 draft pick from the prior year all indicate the commitment to the plan.
In order to make the plan work you still need talent. The talent is going to oversee, execute, and get things done. Without it, your plan is as good as the paper it is written on.
The Cardinals brought in a new head coach, coaching staff, and players. The talent is in place for the plan to work. Only time will tell if the talent is any good, but it is in place.
Just like in business, you are going to need the right people to execute the plan. For example, at my current job, we are getting ready to launch a new product. This new product needs a solid product manager to see that the development and get the product ready for marketing to take it to market.
Unfortunately, we have now hired and fired 2 product managers over the last 6 months because they were not the right talent. At the time, they seemed like they had what it took, but ultimately things did not work out.
So, as you identify your direction and gain commitment in the organization, ensure you have the right talent in place. The right talent will make or break your plan.
Only time will tell if leadership for the Arizona Cardinals made the right call. However, like any leader, it is hard to know what is going to happen now or in the future. You are making decisions based on limited data, a hunch, and your best guess.
I was not a fan of the trade of their 2nd-year quarterback, but I do applaud the team for identifying that things were not working, committing 100%, and selecting the right talent to get the job done. So, as a leader get out there and get things done. Just make sure you continue to execute and pivot as needed.