7 Leadership Lessons from the 2017 NCAA National Championship

I hope you had the chance to watch at least part of the great football game last night between Alabama and Clemson. It turned out to be one of the best college footballs I’ve seen, and exactly what a National Championship game should look like.

As I watched the game, I was struck by the amount of leadership lessons we can learn from one simple game of football. Below I share seven pieces of advice I gleaned as I watched the game. I hope they can be an encouragement and challenge to you today.

1. The little things make all the difference. 

In football, inches matter. The smallest amount of distance make some of the biggest differences in the game. Whether it’s getting a first down, a touchdown, a player dodging slightly to the side and getting extra yards, inches matter.

The same thing is true in life. Little things make a big difference. Daily faithfulness, daily discipline, is what will lead to big differences in the future. Do today what will take you to where you want to be tomorrow.

2. Discipline (or lack of) is revealed under pressure.

This game is the biggest stage in college football. Alabama and Clemson made it through the entire regular season, the playoff games, and reached the National Championship two years in a row.

What was obvious in the game is that each team was well-coached. A disciplined team will defeat an undisciplined team every time. This is because the undisciplined team will beat itself. When under the pressure of this kind of game, the disciple or lack of discipline, becomes obvious. Both teams had incredible discipline.

What daily discipline do you need to start this year in 2017? Your daily disciplines can be the difference between success and failure.

3. Adjustments are essential to success.

When you come into a football game, the team that makes the best adjustments will be the team who comes out on top. This year, that team was Clemson. They executed plays with great discipline, kept calm, and made the right adjustments on defense and offense to come out on top.

Adjustments are a necessary part of life. When things don’t work, we can’t give up, but we push on, making adjustments and growing in understanding. Making the right adjustments at the right time is key.

4. It’s not over until it’s over.

It looked like Alabama had this won. From the beginning they dominated the game. Until the fourth quarter. Clemson started to come back and the momentum shifted. BUT, just as it looked like Clemson was going to win, Alabama scored with very little time on the clock to go ahead in the game. Clemson determined the game was not over because they scored. They kept pushing, kept playing, and eventually made the right plays to get in the endzone and finish the game in regulation as the winners of the 2017 National Championship.

Whatever situation you’re in (life, business, relationships), it’s not over until it’s over. Broken relationships can be healed. Healthy relationships can be cultivated. New opportunities can be leveraged. Old habits can be forgotten and new habits begun. It’s not over until it’s over.

5. Sometimes you need a break

There are players from the bench, who didn’t start the game, that made huge differences in the outcome. As starters got tired or injured, their replacement from the bench came in and had a job to do.

We must keep in mind that we are not the Energizer bunny. We need a break. We need to allow someone else to take ownership at times so we can have a day off. Healthy leaders realize it is necessary to take a break now and then. It keeps you fresh and focused.

6. Winners take risks

The final drive of the game, as Deshaun Watson is slinging passes, Clemson is taking a risk. They could have played it safe and gone after a field goal to tie the game instead of a touchdown to win it. But they kept passing! There was a risk of interception, a risk of time running out, but they kept pushing and taking the risk. It definitely paid off!

Risks don’t always work out, which is what makes them risky. But winners know that it is hard to win long term without taking risks. Some risks are not worth taking, while others must be taken to move forward. Risk is a part of life and we must embrace it.

7. Leaders are resilient

Both teams were resilient until the very end. Clemson kept in the fight even after fumbling the ball multiple times. Alabama lost the lead, gave up the ball, but didn’t give up. They scored to get the lead back and never lost sight that the game is 60 minutes, not a second more or less.

No matter what set backs we face, what obstacles loom large in front, we must be resilient if we want to succeed. Push forward. Don’t let discouragement gain control. Push forward. Be resilient.


You should be playing chess, not checkers

Recently I read Mark Miller’s book, Chess Not Checkers. Being fairly new to the leadership game/leadership world, this was a reading for me that was full of incredible insight. Mark does an incredible job of taking leadership principles and implanting them very clearly into a story. The book is a quick read because it reads as a story, and yet it is a book that leaders should return to over and over to glean all of the incredible principles to elevate our leadership game.22647288

When we first look at the title, it seems a little odd – Chess Not Checkers: Elevate Your Leadership Game, but when we really begin to consider the implications of the game of chess and the game of checkers, the strategy is much different. As Mark Miller describes it, checkers is primarily reacting to situations or focusing on the problem instead of the cause of that problem. For example, in the book Miller uses the situation of a customer unhappy that they hadn’t received their order as they had been promised. The leader’s reaction was to expedite their order and ship it overnight so they would have it as promised. That is playing checkers. Chess looks into the background to figure out why they didn’t receive the order, who should have known about it, who should have really taken care of it before it reached the senior leader, why it wasn’t taken care of, etc.

Leaders can so often get into the habit of playing checkers because there are so many problems to deal with, so many fires to put out, and so many tasks to get completed. However, we have to take a hard look at our jobs and make the executive decision about what is within our realm of responsibility, what we must take action on personally, and what should be delegated and owned by a different member of the team. It is hard to relinquish control as a leader, and yet it is one of the most effective things we can do.

This book gets us thinking about not just how we lead, but who we are leading. Are we building into the leaders we have now, our starters? Are we building into and preparing the leaders who are up and coming, our bench? Are we unified as a team of leaders in this organization? Are we winning the hearts of those we lead and those who engage with our business/organization? Are we executing our game plan well?

These are all valid questions, and are dealt with in more detail in the book. I would encourage anyone who is either a current leader, a new leader, an old leader, or about to become a leader to read this book. It will really help you think clearly, see with a broader perspective, and elevate your leadership game.

A great thanks to Mark Miller and his team for allowing me to get an advance copy of the book to read, and my apologies it took so long to write a review for! It is my pleasure to be able to read and review this book, and really I have been blessed through reading this book and look forward to wrestling with how to implement the strategy of how to play chess instead of playing checkers!

You can check out more books by Mark Miller by clicking here.