What's the secret for taking habitual losers and also-rans to the Super Bowl? (iStockphoto) What's the secret for taking habitual losers and also-rans to the Super Bowl?
FEATURED IN LEADERSHIP
I'm writing this article the Saturday before Super Bowl Sunday. If you're a bubble boy or girl, permit me to inform you that it's a highly improbable match. The Arizona Cardinals are Seabiscuit, David. The Pittsburg Steelers are Secretariat, Goliath.
This will be the Steelers 7th appearance at the Super Bowl. They've won 5 of the other 6. They were the first team in the NFL:
- To win 3 Super Bowls
- To win 4 Super Bowls
- To win back-to-back Super Bowls -- a feat they repeated.
Their 5th title matched the most in NFL history, tying with the San Francisco 49ers and the Dallas Cowboys.
Then there are the Cardinals. No team in football, and only the Chicago Cubs in baseball, has gone as long without a championship -- over six decades.
And it's not like they've come close during that time. Since losing the NFL title game in 1948, the Cardinals have posted 44 losing seasons. In the last 20 years, they've had only one winning record and that was over a decade ago.
Just this past December, sports analysts pegged the Cardinals as the weakest team in the playoffs and favored their opponents in every post season game.
And there are losers who become winners.
How did the Cardinals end up poised to take the field in the 43rd Super Bowl? Ask their leader, Coach Ken Whisenhunt, who just two years ago took over the team with a six-decades-plus loser's legacy.
Interviewed by the Arizona Republic the week before the BIG game, Whisenhunt resisted the current phrase-that-pays—"culture change." He said simply,
"I think a lot of people want to say 'culture change.'
It's really about getting people to believe."
Asked, "And how do you do that?" he replied, "Raise expectations."
During a news conference the previous week, Whisenhunt disclosed another key to his leadership when he spoke admiringly of Dick LeBeau.
LeBeau, 70, is one of the most respected coaches in the league. He and Whisenhunt were on the Steelers' staff together before Whisenhunt took over the Cardinals. Describing LeBeau, Whisenhunt said,
"He cares about all of his players, and he lets them know that."
Three lessons in leadership from this year's Super Bowl, notably from the leader of the underdogs:
- Raise expectations.
- Get people to believe they can meet them.
- Let those you hope to lead know you care about them.
Let's look at each of them.
Jaime Escalante (of Stand and Deliver fame) taught college-level calculus to inner-city Hispanic kids attending one of the worst high schools in LA. Not only did he teach them, he took them to the nation's top rankings. Most of Escalante's students achieved high enough scores on the national Advanced Placement Calculus test to earn them college credits. Only three public schools in the country had more students take this test, and two of them were elite math-and-science-oriented schools.
Marva Collins took inner city Chicago kids who had failed in the public schools—many labeled "learning disabled," "retarded," or "emotionally disturbed"—and treated them like they were gifted. Her second-grade class began with the lowest reading level measurable. By June they were reading at a fifth-grade level and studying Aristotle and Tolstoy.
When Collins started her own school, a reporter with The Chicago Sun Tribune went into the school and described four-year-olds discussing "dipthongs" and seven-year-olds reciting Shakespeare—with excitement.
When 60 Minutes did a segment on Collins, Morley Shafer tried to get a student to say he didn't like the school. "It's so hard here. There's no recess. There's no gym. They work you all day. Why do you like it? It's just too hard." Unswayed, the kid replied, "That's why I like it, because it makes your brains bigger."
Both Escalante and Collins expected their charges to perform winningly and both expressed that expectation. Explaining the success of his program, Escalante says,
"When students of any race, ethnicity or economic status are expected to work hard, they will usually rise to the occasion, devote themselves to the task and do the work. If we expect kids to be losers they will be losers; if we expect them to be winners they will be winners. They rise, or fall, to the level of the expectations of those around them, especially their parents and their teachers."
How would I honestly rate my expectations of those I lead and work with?
___ High___ Moderate ___ Low
How do I express my expectations?
Get people to believe
Expressing great expectations to those you hope to lead signals your belief in their potential. It strengthens and enlarges their spirit. It builds the trust between a leader and her followers that is essential to high achievement.
- Do I believe the people I lead and work with can learn the skills they need or do I believe they mostly have to be born with such skills?
- Am I more or less cynical than when I first began working in law enforcement?
- How am I communicating this view?
- How am I influencing others with this view?
Cynicism is a scornful, negative belief system. It does NOT inspire or motivate. Only you can control your beliefs. If you are more cynical from having chosen the hero's path of policing, the forces of evil have triumphed over you. It's that simple—and that difficult—a choice. As a leader, your cynicism can suck the spirit right out of those you have a duty to inspire.
A recruit recently told me,
They don't care how much you know,
Until they know how much you care.
Coaches Whisenhunt and LeBeau get this. Educators Escalante and Collins get this. Escalante says,
"I exhibit deep love and caring for my students. The power of love and concern in changing ... lives should not be overlooked. ...This happens when a teacher loves to motivate and teach the difficult students as well as the good ones. I make sure that my students know that I believe in them."
Do those you hope to lead—the good officers and the difficult ones—know that you care deeply about them? Do they feel that you believe in them? What would they say if you asked them?
Whisenhunt's cornerback, Ron Hood, answered, "We're inspired from within. We believe in each other."
And there are champions
I'm going to file this article before I know the outcome of Super Bowl XLIII. The lessons in leadership aren't contained in that final game but instead in the road to it.
Look up the word champion in the dictionary and you'll find more than one meaning,
- One that wins first place or first prize in a competition;
- One that is clearly superior or has the attributes of a winner;
- An ardent defender or supporter of a cause or another person:
- One who fights; a warrior.
Whichever team takes first place at the Super Bowl, the Cardinals have already shown themselves to be ardent, winning, warrior athletes. Thanks to a leader that changed their losing legacy by raising expectations, believing in, and caring about them.
- America always captivated by underdogs by Carrie Watters
- These Cards done wandering in the desert by Greg Boeck, Special to FOXSports.com
- Whether a team or business, changing direction difficult by John Faherty
- Jaime Escalante Math Program
- Mindset: The new psychology of success by Carolyn Dweck, Random House (2006), describing the work of Escalante and Collins (at Amazon.com)