Kansas City is reveling in the afterglow of its first Super Bowl championship in 50 years. Watching the Chiefs’ dramatic path to the championship has excited and enlivened the hometown of Burns & McDonnell and 1898 & Co.
Watching the team’s growth and successes inspired some valuable ideas about what makes an organization and its leadership great. And although sports metaphors for the business world are often cliché, the fact is they become so because they have the ring of truth to them.
In honor of Patrick Mahomes, the young superstar quarterback who wears No. 15 and who led the Chiefs to victory, here are 15 organizational leadership lessons for the business world that we all can draw from the champs.
- It’s not about you. The best leaders are quick to credit others and know everything is not about themselves. It’s about something bigger than themselves, and they know it takes a collective effort for any team to succeed. From president Mark Donovan and general manager Brett Veach to head coach Andy Reid and defending Super Bowl MVP Mahomes, the Chiefs were exemplars of selfless leadership all season, crediting others at every step along the way.
- Experience does not always make the right leader. In Mahomes, the Chiefs have a leading player who is mature beyond his years. Organizations should ask whether they have the flexibility to put the right people into leadership positions even when they might not seem ready based solely on looking at their resume. Before Mahomes became the starting quarterback, the Chiefs had a Pro Bowl quarterback in the more experienced Alex Smith. But the team had the gumption and organizational agility necessary to take a chance on a less seasoned player who they believed could lead the team to win it all.
- Trust the process. Many analyses of this team’s success look back to the hiring of Reid in 2013, but some believe the path to glory began when the team hired Donovan as its chief operating officer in 2009. He was elevated to team president two years later. After two more years of the Chiefs losing more games than they won — even stooping as low as 2-14 in 2012, Donovan hired Reid. From there, the team went on to finish second in its division for another three years. As business author Jim Collins has written, it takes time to get the flywheel spinning before it can provide sustainable momentum. The Chiefs’ long process of gathering the right pieces and putting them in place took years but ultimately led to the desired outcome — and set the team in position for continued success. Building a Super Bowl championship team takes time. There will undoubtedly be ups and downs along the way, but strong leaders trust the process and remain resolute in working toward the end goal: bringing home the Lombardi.
- Have the courage to run the Wasp. The “Wasp” is the name of the play that broke open the Chiefs’ fourth-quarter comeback in the Super Bowl. Trailing by 10 points and facing third down with 15 yards to go, Mahomes convinced offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy (and Reid) to call the play on which he connected with a receiver on a 57-yard pass that set up a touchdown and sparked the comeback. The play takes time to run, making it high-risk, high-reward call. When an organization is at a turning point and has done everything it can to put the pieces in place, it needs to exercise the courage to go for it.
- Embrace the setbacks. The Chiefs did not have an easy path to the championship, facing a variety of challenges over the course of the season. One of the biggest came in week seven when Mahomes injured his knee. An injury to one of the team’s most important players could have caused the organization to fall into disarray, but instead, others stepped up. It created an opportunity for backup quarterback Matt Moore, among others. Organizations should look for the silver linings and recognize that things that look like setbacks on the surface also can be opportunities for growth within the team.
- People, not just numbers. Reid got results from players who would do anything for him because he demonstrated that he cared about them as individuals, not just as football players. It’s an attitude that emanates throughout the organization. A culture that recognizes contributors as people first and workers second is likely to get more out of those individuals, because care inspires commitment.
- Follow the leader. You know you’ve got a great leader when subordinates follow him or her from job to job. Many of Reid’s coaches and players followed him from his previous position with the Philadelphia Eagles. They are eager to work with him because they recognize his strengths as a leader. It is a testament when people from different chapters of an individual’s life seek to follow; that is a great sign that you’ve brought a good leader into your organization.
- A team united in a common goal is extremely powerful. Harry Truman said it best: “It is amazing what you can accomplish if you do not care who gets the credit.” There were countless times this season when players who didn’t score the touchdown or make the big play were equally as excited because they helped enable that play. And they were genuinely happy for the playmaker who got the cheers from the crowd. The players all bought in and wanted to win, rather than focusing on individual achievements. That selflessness enabled the organization to thrive beyond the sum of its individuals.
- Every team needs its blockers. Fullback Anthony Sherman played a less glamorous but vital role on the team, one that every organization needs for success: clearing the way and removing obstacles.
- Trust rules all. When an organization has full confidence in those in leadership positions and believes they are transparent and straight shooters, that trust unlocks efficiencies.
- The best organizations give back. This is not unique to the Chiefs, but the organization is heavily involved in local charitable efforts, both as a team and as individuals through the players’ foundations. Contributing millions of dollars, as well as many volunteer hours, the team and its players recognize that putting others first can make a big difference in the community. Good things tend to happen to good people, and organizations are no different.
- There’s no replacement for hard work. Talent is great — maybe even essential — but you’ve got to be prepared and put in the work. Reid and Veach, as two examples, are well-known for their work ethic and long office hours, often foregoing sleep to strategize and plan for every eventuality. This year, it paid off.
- Let your unconventional people stay unconventional. Mahomes is a baseball player who switched to football. His passing style is out of the ordinary, but it works for him. He has credited his coaches for not correcting his technique. Many organizations would have attempted to “correct” his throwing motion to a more conventional, NFL-approved motion. Individuals might not always do things the way their leaders would, but great leaders recognize that more than one method can be used to achieve the desired result. In the end, it’s about the scoreboard.
- Celebrate the wins. In high-functioning organizations, top performers work hard, but they also know when to stop and celebrate the wins. After putting in the effort and achieving the ultimate prize, it was important for the whole team to enjoy its success with the city in a celebratory parade. In the same way, great leaders give employees outlets to recognize the payoff for all of their hard work.
- Don’t rest on your laurels. The championship has been won and the season is over, but the Chiefs believe they’re just getting started. Asked how he could possibly top winning the Super Bowl and being named Super Bowl MVP, all at age 24, Mahomes didn’t hesitate: “Win another one.” Success is a tonic, but the best leaders push their organizations to stay hungry.
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