Why I Still Respect Russell Wilson

The only thing deflated from last night’s Super Bowl game is my heart. What a tough way to end the night and a football season. From my previous post, I think you already know who I was rooting for. If you’re new to “Justinland” then you should know that I enthusiastically bleed Seahawk blue and green. If you were one of the 110 million+ people that watched the showdown between Seattle and New England, then you know the outcome came down to a call made in the final 30 seconds of the game.

In the last 2 minutes of regulation Seattle had marched down the field with a couple of clutch plays, including a miraculous catch by receiver Jermaine Kearse. As the game clock ticked away, the Seahawks found themselves just one yard shy of the end zone and down by four points; only a touchdown would suffice. With several chances to punch the ball across the line Seattle made a decision that could possibly haunt them for years. Instead of putting the ball in the hands of Marshawn Lynch, one of the fiercest running backs in the NFL, Seattle opted for a passing play. In a heartbreaking finish, the ball was intercepted by the Patriots and essentially the game was over.

As a devoted Seahawks fan I was devastated. The shocking end took my breath away, in the worst of ways. Though I woke up this morning still under a cloud, I began to think through the events of last night and the post game conferences. As a student of leadership culture, I understand that all great leaders falter in moments but their long term influence will always ensure the potential for future success. So, in the spirit of perpetual learning, here are a few leadership lessons that emerged from that drama that was Super Bowl XLIX.

1.) Great leaders aren’t defined by a bad call.
“If I could just go back and change that decision…,” says every single person who has ever made a choice with an unsavory result. After all, hindsight is 20/20 as they say. In the case of last night’s final offensive play call, the Seahawks should have run the ball. Okay, so that’s pretty obvious now. But had that pass been simply deflected and eaten precious seconds from the clock with two more playmaking opportunities, head coach Pete Carroll would have been called a genius for restricting the Patriot’s multiple Hail Mary attempts at the end of the game. All I’m saying is that there are many ways to dissect the events of last night, after the fact. Look at the end of the first half of that game. Pete Carroll and his coaching staff made a gutsy call to run a touchdown play instead of kicking a field goal and it worked brilliantly; they entered half time tied up. Great leaders take risks. Sometimes they work, sometimes they don’t. Great leaders should be given grace when they make bad calls from time to time. I’d rather celebrate the culture of gutsy competition that exists on the Seahawks team that has put them into the Super Bowl two years in a row. What separates the tiers of leadership from average to great is the ability to get back up from those mistakes and embrace the future with courage and optimism.

2.) Great leaders never blame others.
I heard Nicole Reyes, an exceptional leader and preacher (and my sister-in-law) in Los Angeles, once say to her team, “As your leader I will always give the credit to you when we succeed and I will always take the blame if there’s failure.”

In the fallout of failure, leaders rise to the surface and I can’t think of a sharper contrast than one found in the comments of Bruce Irvin and Russell Wilson. Bruce Irvin, the Seahawks outside linebacker, came into the spotlight last night by becoming the first player in Super Bowl history to be ejected from the game after an all out brawl in the final moments. In an emotionally charged postgame interview, Bruce Irvin apologized for his conduct but also publicly questioned his coaching staff and the play calling. And while I recognize that emotions were running high among every player on the team, team quarterback Russell Wilson had a different response. Instead of blaming the coaching staff for the decision that was made Wilson took responsibility for the intercepted throw and then looked to the future and affirmed his hope for next year.

3.) Great leaders show honor in every moment.
I think great leadership is cemented in the way leaders handle difficult moments publicly. Speaking to the previous point of blaming others, honor not only takes ownership of mistakes but simultaneously shows restraint by not degrading others in the process. Seattle’s head coach Pete Carroll answered one reporter’s questions directly after the game was over. Clearly downcast, Carroll took full ownership for the call that was made. He didn’t blame his offensive coordinator or Russell Wilson or anyone else on his team. Instead he commended everyone for their effort and teamwork through the course of the season and the final game.

It’s okay for leaders to have negative emotions and opinions about how a situation turns out; that’s being human. What’s not okay is rejecting responsibility, casting blame and turning that emotion toward others in a way that undermines their value. Mistakes will happen. Falling short is a part of leading people. But great leaders understand that the trust of their team is strengthened when they speak to an individual’s potential and exercise collective grace.

What other attributes of leadership did you notice from the outcome of yesterday’s game? Are there any principles that have guided you when moving forward from mistakes or failure?

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5 Comments

  1. Good post… And yes, my condolences on the loss. Next year is looking good though, and who knows – maybe someday the bengals might win a playoff game?!? Just one, c’mon! On a serious note, the most impressive leadership, in my opinion, came not from the teeth-whitened MVP quarterback, but from Bill Bellichick for his coolness under pressure. The fact that he didn’t panic, and refrained from calling a time out after Lynch got down to the 1 yard line with a minute to go was incredible. I think every Pats fan was yelling, call a time out, Billy Boy! But if Bellichick calls a time out to save the clock, and Seattle still had one of their timeouts, that ball is going straight to Lynch on the next play. Game over. But amazingly, Bellichick had a vision that probably no one else had. And he believed it might work. And work it did….

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    1. I can’t condone your support of the Patriots, LOL! Only kidding… that is a really interesting thought about Bellichick and his “chess move”. I’ve heard it said that the first to lose their cool in an interaction is the first to abdicate leadership. Agreed – keeping your head in pressure is so important!

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