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CEOs need to operate like elite quarterbacks

Leadership & Inspiration

Joshua Davidson wrote this article


It is remarkable to see how similar running a business is when comparing it to a team in a competitive sport. In fact, it is almost uncanny when you break it down to a micro level.

For example, let’s look at the NFL, otherwise known as the National Football League.

In order to be a serious contender with a chance of winning the Super Bowl, you depend on a few things. First, you need a well-rounded team. You need a solid defense, a great offense, and reliable special teams. You need to capitalize on your opponents’ mistakes and limit your own.

Second, you need great management running the team. You need a solid front office, a great coach and coaching staff. You depend on everyone being able to execute their jobs and be a top performing employee in their respective positions.

Third and in some ways, the most important aspect of it all, you need an elite quarterback.

You see, you can be a fantastic team, but if you have a lackluster quarterback in the NFL, you will get crushed. Look at how much a fantastic quarterback can make or break a team. Need an example? In 2011, the Indianapolis Colts lost their starting quarterback for the year and went from a team averaging 11-12 wins per season, to 2 wins. That’s it. Two whole wins!

Meanwhile, let’s look at my hometown team, the Philadelphia Eagles. After two years in a row of averaging 4-to-8 wins, the team stumbled upon Nick Foles, whose recording breaking season in 2013 brought them 10 wins and a playoff appearance. That wasn’t just a coincidence. The majority of the team roster was the same except for the key position, the quarterback. (Of course, Nick’s elite status of play couldn’t hold up for longer than a single season…)

Point being, a great quarterback, an elite quarterback, is what separates the good teams from the great. In a league where talent is everything, where competition is always high, every win matters. Only a select few in the league can truly compete at such a high level. When they do, you end up seeing total domination like with the New England Patriots and the Green Bay Packers, perennial favorites every single year. There is a reason for this.

Here is the thing.

The quarterback position exists here in business too, yet most individuals in the business world fail to recognize it.

This is the CEO, the Chief Executive Officer, the individual who runs the ship.

How many times have you seen a new CEO steer the ship of a failing/lackluster company into a success? Perhaps one example that immediately comes to mind is Steve Jobs at Apple. Another example could be Bob Iger at the Walt Disney Company.

At the same time, how many examples can you find of CEOs single-handedly destroying their own companies? Think about the CEOs who didn’t adapt to market change, who let their competitors innovate beyond what their existing companies were doing. Those who decide to stand-still vs. being proactive and trying to continually grow their companies?

Great example: Steve Ballmer. Remember when he laughed at the iPhone after it was announced? Microsoft ended up losing out on the entire mobile revolution, and therefore, lost a substantial amount of market cap and branding valuation at their own suspense.

Just like the quarterback position in football, the cream always rises to the top, and the buck always stops with the CEO. If the quarterback doesn’t execute, their team will lose. Simultaneously, if a CEO doesn’t execute, their company will fail. Both positions depend on one individual that can critically think, manage their teams, and continue to push the ball forward to not let their competitors catch up and/or win. Of course, both positions depend on a strong, well-rounded team too… but the CEO can make or break the team.

So what’s the point of this example? It’s simple really.

For all of the CEOs reading this article, start looking at your role more seriously. Understand that you are the individual that dictates where your company is going, where the ball is moving, how your competitors will react. As an individual, everyone in your operation, on your team, in your network, depend on you. You can complain about lackluster teams, or you can act and solve such problems. You can motivate your teams to move. You can lead by example or simply be a boss. Point-being, figure out what it takes to bring your CEO game from good to great, to go from just okay to being elite.

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