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Lisa Larson
Consultant

Lisa Larson

Lisa Larson is the Founder and President of Larson & Partners, LLC. When she is not helping companies optimize the business results delivered from their IT projects, she can be found watching football.

The leadership Brett Favre lacked

The quarterback is the equivalent of a middle manager -- the leader on the field but not someone responsible for choosing personnel or deciding overall strategy. This Sunday we'll watch the Indianapolis Colt's Peyton Manning go head-to-head with the New Orleans Saint's Drew Brees in Superbowl XLIV. Both are impressive on-the-field leaders, but what might be more telling is the story of a prominent quarterback who didn't make the Super Bowl with his second team in two years: Brett Favre.

Leadership, as Alan Keith of Genentech has said, "is ultimately about a way for people to contribute to making something extraordinary happen." This is especially true for NFL quarterbacks, who must strike a balance between the selflessness it takes to be the best, and the selfless leadership required to succeed as a team. To the general public, they may look the same, but the results are very different.

Favre showed us he has the "fire in the belly" needed for personal greatness, but his performance in the playoffs showed he may not have what it takes to lead the team, while Manning and Brees cut a very different leadership profile.

Favre was beat up pretty badly when his Vikings lost to the Saints in the playoff game. In fact, he may have been playing on a broken foot; it's a sure sign of poor team dynamics is when the big offensive linemen up front let their quarterback get hit that hard and that often.

The game was tied in the 4th quarter with less than 10 seconds left, the Vikings had the ball, it was third down on the Saints 38 yard line. The Vikings could try to kick a long field goal to win the game or let it go into overtime. This play was their last opportunity to get their field goal kicker as close as possible. When the ball was snapped, Brett Favre had the choice of passing it or running with it himself - he chose to pass the ball, and it was intercepted by the Saints.

When we look at Favre's leadership style as a whole, that single play is telling. Favre ended the Green Bay Packers chances at a Super Bowl berth in 2007 with a very similar interception against the New York Giants. He seems to feel his best chances of success lie in personal heroism, not team greatness.

A quarterback must be an excellent performer himself but his real objective is to execute the offensive strategy with all 11 players on the field. His players must achieve success by following his lead. A receiver has to trust that their quarterback will place the ball where they can catch it. The receiver has to focus, pursue the ball aggressively, and be willing to take tremendous hits when they are most vulnerable.

In contrast to Favre's style, when Darren Sharper, the Saints safety who began his career playing with Brett Favre in Green Bay, was asked about the leadership of Drew Brees, he said: "He's the best leader I've ever been around... He can get guys to follow his lead."

The Colts have a "next-man-up, play-the-next-play" philosophy that requires every single player to be ready to step up and do his part. The Colts went into the playoffs with several injuries to key starters, but the next player in line filled the role. Both the Saints and the Colts had fumbles, interceptions and other mistakes during their playoff games but their game management skills allowed them to correct those mistakes and go on to win.

The offensive coordinator for the Indianapolis Colts, Tom Moore, sums up his own management philosophy as simply: "It's people, playing your people. As a coach your job is to give them every opportunity they can possibly have to succeed." Peyton Manning seems to understand his job as quarterback is to execute on that philosophy -- that includes, as he has said, "being there in the offseason, to train, to lift, just the accountability factor, being there every single Sunday for your teammates." After the Colt's defeat of the Baltimore Ravens, Manning said, "We're relieved we got this win. Obviously, it's a great team effort."

Similarly, the Saints' Drew Brees talks about the importance of working together as a team: "We had to lean on each other in order to survive and in order to get where we are now." In contrast to both Manning and Brees, the majority of Favre's public statements about the games are in the first person, as in "I don't think I had anything to prove."

So when we watch Brees and Manning tomorrow, we can take satisfaction in watching two team leaders at work. Maybe Brett Favre will watch and realize the same.

By Lisa Larson

 |  February 6, 2010; 6:09 AM ET
Category:  Sports Leadership Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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Excellent article. Looks like the best leader turned out to be Drew Brees. One thing I didn't hear any analyst talking about was the wisdom and support surrounding Drew Brees. Did anyone notice the veteran Mark Brunell talking to and encouraging Drew Brees during the game? It must have been tough for someone like Brunell to sit and watch from the sidelines, but did you notice who the first to congratulate Drew Brees was? You guessed it, Mark Brunell. It truly was a great team effort - won by all players, even those who never even got into the game!

Posted by: Chum1 | February 9, 2010 10:02 AM
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