Search within:

Elevate. Educate. Energize.

Jim Mahoney
February 8, 2022

As America prepares for the Super Bowl featuring the Los Angeles Rams versus the Cincinnati Bengals, let’s talk about football, leadership, and two quarterbacks —- one who is just starting his career and another who is ending his this year. Both seem to share a propensity for shining in big moments, galvanizing others, and of course, for winning. I’m talking about the retiring GOAT Tom Brady of the Tampa Bay Bucaneers and the second-year quarterback of the Bengals, Joe Burrow.

 Yet these two seem to do so much more than lead their teams offensively down the field. Their skill is obvious and their “it” factor is much harder to describe but easy to see. The French might say someone has a certain je ne sais quoi meaning their appeal can’t quite be adequately described. So it is with Brady and Burrow. Author and leadership expert Jim Collins would need a new level—6— to put their contributions into a category. His highest level—5– just doesn’t do justice to these two on and off the field leaders.

Have you ever been part of a team, athletic or not, or organization where you just wanted to follow the leader? You believed so strongly in him or her that you were fully enlisted and engaged with their efforts? Of course, they aren’t perfect. Even great movies have some bad scenes. But they clearly have “it” factors that draw you in, keep you attentive, and make you want to improve your own performance. Here is my modest non-researched attempt to describe what separates these best from the rest. I encourage you to add to my three verbs based on your experiences and observations of leadership that make outliers.

ELEVATE. EDUCATE. ENERGIZE. That’s what they do differently.

Let’s start with ELEVATE. They don’t just improve their performance. They cause others around them to elevate their performance as well. They don’t expect anything of others that they don’t first expect of themselves. A recent Brady article talked of a celebrated linebacker who joined the Patriots when Brady was QB. He showed up at 7:00 am to lift weights with the one person already in the room working out—- Brady. Brady quickly welcomed him. The next day the linebacker showed up at 6:30 am. This time Brady smiled and said, “good afternoon “. The next morning the new guy shows up at 6:00 am and Brady is there with the same greeting to which this time the linebacker says, “ I’m not coming any earlier” and laughed with Brady. Nobody out works Brady and his effort elevates everyone. He does so by modeling it himself.

EDUCATE. Joe’s high school, college, and NFL coaches discuss Joe as a student of the game. A learner par excellence. He didn’t just model keeping his body strong as witnessed from his physical comeback after a season ending injury last year. While football indeed is physical, it’s also a learner’s game. Reading defenses, calling audibles at the line of scrimmage, and making moves in the moment take incredible adaptations based on learning tendencies and practicing. Demonstrating learning at a high level in your field and then applying lessons is part of the “it” factor that again serves to elevate others.

ENERGIZE. A friend advised me many years ago with this quip. He simply asked, “did you ever see someone motivated by someone who looks like they were weaned on a dill pickle?” Brady and Burrow smile. They don’t have to pretend they are having fun. They are turning their talents into strengths every day and enjoying the journey. Their sincerity, humility, coolness under pressure and genuineness for everyone else is natural and on full display.  During Joe’s run at LSU, I stopped in his hometown (The Plains) to get a sandwich at a local shop. There was a single young lady working the counter whom I casually asked if she knew Joe. Her answer. “I went to high school with Joe. While I didn’t KNOW him, he knew everyone. He was kind and nice to all.” That’s a character reference worth having!

Lastly, you can’t talk your way out of something you have behaved yourself into. Brady and Burrow have behaved themselves in ways that elevate, educate, and energize others. In doing, they have made their teams SO much better. Isn’t that leadership worth modeling or better yet, worth following? Go Bengals!