As we come down from our Superbowl high, I've been reflecting on a trio of values lessons that can be drawn from this amazing Seahawks team.
Values lesson #1: Life, like football, is a team sport. The power and value of being a team — a whole made up of strong parts, each playing its own role well — was most clearly on view in the Superbowl itself.
Denver's Super Bowl narrative was simple: The Peyton Manning story. Every time you turned around, there was another piece about the Manning family, Peyton’s past performance, Peyton’s legacy. Is he the greatest quarterback ever?
When the Super Bowl arrived, this came back to bite Denver. As the Broncos prepared to snap the ball, Manning, like a sort of gridiron magician chanting incantations, ran left, ran right, barked audibles, called signals and changed cadences.
But it was too much weight on one man’s shoulders and not enough balance of responsibility among the Bronco team.
On the Seahawks side of the ball, it was a different story. You could sense a certain frustration with the Seahawks among media and some fans in the runup to the Super Bowl. They wanted it to be more about the personalities of Russell Wilson or Richard Sherman or Marshawn Lynch than it was. But Carroll — and his team — get it: Less is more.
When the big day came, each man played a crucial part. Even the game standouts, like Superbowl MVP Malcolm Smith, weren’t all that easy to single out.
The Takeaway: Effective leadership is key, but it's almost never all about one person. Contemporary celebrity culture, with its fascination with the rise and fall of individuals, often forgets the power of team play. Thank you Hawks for reminding us.
Values lesson #2: Common purpose drives a group. It's not just about teamwork. The whole organization needs to be on the same page, with individual egos subordinated to a common purpose.
This is particularly evident in the working relationships of key figures in the Seahawks off-field organization: head coach Pete Carroll, general manager John Schneider and owner Paul Allen. These three, and their staffs, are all on the same page when it comes to common goals and shared values.
None is trying to build his own little fiefdom or separate fan-base. Each one, and the staff people who work with them, do their job and — here’s what’s crucial — they don’t try to do someone else’s for them. Carroll respects Schneider’s abilities and lets him do his job. Allen does the same by staying out of their way and off their turf. Turns out “shy” is good in an owner.
Other teams prove the point, by their contrary example. Notable this year were the bickering Washington Redskins and the dysfunctional Dallas Cowboys. In each, the owner played an outsized role, undercutting his head coach. In past seasons, even Seattle has seen its share of internal competition and undercutting. When individual egos eclipse shared purpose, its a mess.
The Takeaway: It's not just the winning that Seahawk fans love, but seeing a group of impressive people on the same page, pulling in the same direction. This doesn’t very often seem to be the Seattle story these days. Too often, our civic life features various factions and out-sized egos propelling themselves forward at the expense of shared progress.
Values lesson #3: Maintain focus and manage expectations. Every week, for the Seahawks, we came to understand was “a championship opportunity.” The point was to go 1 - 0 that week. Focus on this week’s game, this week’s opponent and manage expectations.
I was actually surprised when, after the Superbowl win, Coach Carroll let himself talk about getting to and winning the Super Bowl again next year. I expected him to say, “We have our next championship opportunity, our next chance to go 1- 0, in the first game next year.” Oh well, no one’s perfect.
But throughout a long season, Carroll and Wilson did an amazing job of staying focused and managing their expectations, as well as those of the team and its fans. That was no easy task when so many were talking Superbowl even before the season began. In some respects, that may be the greatest challenge for the coming year. Now that they have a Superbowl win under their belts. can the team maintain its focus and manage expectations?
The Takeaway: Success and progress come one step at a time. And often it's a matter of breaking whatever the big job is down into many small steps. That was writer Anne Lamott’s point in her great little book, "Bird By Bird." When her young brother was utterly overwhelmed by the homework assignment of creating a bird collection, their father advised doing it “bird by bird.” One step at a time. Focus on the task at hand. Manage your expectations and don’t let yourself get overwhelmed.