Management Lessons from Super Bowl XXXVIII
by Michael A. Berman
Unlike the ever-present image of a menacing Donald Trump, New England's Bill Belichick and Carolina's John Fox allowed their teams to overcome adversity by the way they managed the game.
If New England Patriots' kicker Adam Vinatieri had been a contestant on The Apprentice his teammates would have openly turned against him early in the game, and at halftime Bill Belichick would have bellowed, "You're fired!" Fortunately, he plays for a real team, and although sports metaphors have been used in business to the point of trivialization, this year's Super Bowl provided some of the most profound lessons ever. There's No "I" in Team Super Bowl XXXVIII and the champions--from both teams--playing this exciting game remind us what it takes to be successful. In every sense of the word, New England and Carolina define team. Their wholes are greater than their sums. And the 20 and 30-something-year-old players not only understand their roles, they delight in playing them. Now, let's consider the 20 and 30-something-year-old players vying for attention each week on The Apprentice. Although it is called a team, the participants operate in silos of dysfunction that have become a plague in far too many businesses. Individual thoughts, opinions, styles, and preferences in these organizations command the day.
Triumph of Professionalism
Although exciting, this year's Super Bowl was dominated by some ugly play; lots of penalties, players slipping, miserable special teams play, huge breakdowns in both defenses, and inconsistent offense. Yet neither team ever showed any panic, and both executed their best plays right as the game looked bleakest.
Unlike the ever-present image of a menacing Donald Trump, New England's Bill Belichick and Carolina's John Fox allowed their teams to overcome adversity by the way they managed the game. An image not to be forgotten is John Fox, pounding his chest to open the 4th quarter, exhorting his defense to show heart. This unit had been manhandled most of the game, and they were about to give up yet another touchdown, yet their coach was appealing to their best instincts--not by pandering, but by reaching them on a level true profes- sionals understand. Their teams' profesionalism is a direct extension of theirs. Suc-cessful business leaders may have charisma, but their success is founded on substance.
Can you name New England's starting offensive line? This year's Super Bowl outcome was determined by this unit, playing in relative obscurity, but performing as the true game MVP. Certainly these five men understood the Patriots' game plan strategy, but more importantly they executed. As the game went on, as the stakes got higher, their performance only got better. It wasn't one single player or one heroic block that distinguished New England's offensive line as the game's star, it was their consistent level of play.
There is nothing more painful for me--a dyed-in-green-New York Jets fan--than to extol the virtues of the New England Patriots. A coaching staff of former Jet coaches, a roster with former Jet players has now won 2 of the last 3 Super Bowls, while my team hasn't made the game since 1969. So while this pains me, I also know that giving the devil his due is part of perfecting one's craft.
From the show's theme on down, The Apprentice treats humility as a quaint notion, reserved only for losers. Ego and being heard--emphasizing opinions over true ideas--are more prized than thought-ful analysis, planning, and achieving true success. In business, those who do not know enough to ask for help or to learn lessons from others are incapable of engineering or sustaining very much success.
Perhaps it's my Jets green showing here, but to me the best TV commercial of the night was Bill Parcells, Jerry Jones, and a host of players from teams not in this year's Super Bowl singing "Tomorrow." They understand that as of this very moment, every team has the same 0-0 record, and the quest for next year's Super Bowl championship begins.
Michael A. Berman is a partner at CPath Solutions LLC. He may be reached at 212.532.4800 or by e-mail at MBerman@cpathsolutions.com.