Super Bowl Oscars and Inches


On my radio show last week we had a fun tussle over one of those age-old questions. I was asking guests and callers this either/or: If you could either pick a team of great talent but just good teamsmanship, or a team of good talent but great teamsmanship, which would you pick? In response, MSU football Coach Mark Dantonio said (paraphrasing here): there’s something to be said for a great quarterback, but he said that he constantly tells his team games are won and lost by inches, and that’s where the team comes in. Did you watch the Super Bowl last night? Touchdowns at the end of the first and second half were decided by less than inches.

If you’re an Oscars fan, then you’ll remember an extraordinary scene from The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, in which inches and seconds dictate all the meanings that matter.

What gets lost in the spectacular catches, tackles, and the super-slow motion of football or film, is that for that one frame of highlight film, there are thousands of frames of a guard and tackle working together, a coach spending extra minutes, a player lifting 10 pounds more 10 more times. In every film, there is a truth that could be told, a line that could be spoken, an act that could be taken that would avert tragedy or secure victory. And so much more so in life.

It makes me wonder in this spectacular recession – where we look to Obaman heroes and Madoffian villains – how a few inches can matter. There’s a magnificent mortgage crisis, but there are also thousands of lenders and millions of borrowers, each of whom could or can execute with purpose and with values. Great companies will survive, and not so great companies will perish. Leaders matter. But so do those million daily choices people make on the teams they’re on, as they pit: good enough vs. great, fully honest vs. mostly true, self-preserving vs. generous, win-win vs. win-lose or win-tie, faith-filled vs. cynical, merciful vs. vengeful, or trusting vs. doubting.

There’s a level of talent you can’t control a whole lot, but there are decisions of teamwork that you make hourly, every day, decisions that ask you, will you 

Lead with your best self?





  • Dan,

    Teamwork is the key! Working together is the key! If we could all pull together for just once. Looking at the entire picture we could progress so much more quickly.

    When teaching my students about Change. I always remind them that everyone is for it until the Change impacts CHANGING something that they are doing. Then they dig their heels in saying “Change the other guys stuff, not mine!” We are all going to have to give up something so that Change can occur.

    Then we will all be winners on the SAME TEAM!! PROGRESS!! A WNNING SUPERBOWL NATION!!

    ~The TIP Lady

  • Dan, now that football is finished for another year, basketball also provides us with some interesting leadership lessons. Basketball is an intricate, high-speed game filled with split-second, spontaneous decisions. But that spontaneity is possible only when everyone first engages in hours of highly repetitive and structured practice and agrees to play a carefully defined role on the court.

    Great basketball coaches, military commanders and business leaders know that practice of the rules of engagement coupled with split-second decisions in execution by their team can make the difference between winning and losing.

    Malcolm Gladwell, in his bestseller, “blink” (Little Brown), tells us that great leaders know that if you can create the right framework (by everyone knowing the rules and practicing them), when it comes time to perform, your players will engage in fluid, effortless, spur-of-the-moment dialogue and action.

    The leader provides the overall guidance and intent to the team, coaches them in mastering tools and general techniques through practice and then allows them to use their own initiative and be innovative as they move forward.

    Placing a lot of trust in your subordinates has an overwhelming advantage: Allowing people to operate without having to explain themselves within the rules of engagement, focuses their energy and opens the possibility for extraordinary leaps of insight and instinct in decision-making. When the team is “in the flow,” split-second decisions are unconscious flashes of insight that drive extraordinary performance on the basketball court, battlefield or shopfloor.

    It is the leader’s job to keep the momentum going; so as not to lose the flow. Insight is not a lightbulb that goes off inside our heads. It is a flickering candle that can easily be snuffed out by external means. Know that these kinds of fluid, intuitive, nonverbal experiences are vulnerable…and…your players can drop out of the “zone” or “flow” when you, as the leader, start to become reflective about this rapid cognition process.

  • These definitions found on line using Google:

    Definition of magnificent (adjective) splendid; majestic; superb; glorious; impressive.

    Definition of spectacular: dramatic: sensational in appearance or thrilling in effect; “a dramatic sunset”; “a dramatic pause”; “a spectacular display of northern lights …

    Somehow, I’m blown away with this. People at the top still don’t get it.

    • Mark,

      I expressed myself too tersely, and I appreciate your corrrection, which gives me an opportunity to clarify. You are right about the generally positive notions of the terms “magnificent” and “spectacular.” I didn’t mean it in that way.

      Another use of “spectacular” is a “spectacular car accident.” It is a “spectacle,” from the Latin spectare, “to see.” The point is that like a sunset, northern lights, or a spectacular catch by Santonio Holmes, or a magnificent run by James Harrison (who also committed a spectacularly offensive foul in the second half) – people get spellbound by “THE” leader, the superstar. And that’s deadly – whether we’re spellbound by their feats of greatness or feats of foolishness (e.g., Gov Blagojevich).

      Phil Jackson said that the Bulls got great when they quit watching and waiting for MJ and started doing it on their own. (And MJ became great when he learned to push the work back to his team.)

      So, my point is not that leaders are always great in the positive, moral sense of the world. They are great in the sense of larger than life. Those of us not “at the top,” as you put it suffer when we watch and wait for the leaders. That watching and waiting takes our focus off of the inches in the battles we need to win on the offensive lines of our lives.

      Thanks again for the helpful pushback.


  • Whoa Dan…’s deja vu for me. This time though, after attempting to digest the contrived term ‘Obaman heroes’… vision goes back to a certain ‘Mission Accomplished’ banner…..
    Time for Pelosi to get over the Democratic Party victory power play, and listen to real solutions. The “Stimulus” plan is so old ways, lobbyist led, special interests fed, PORK that it is enough to anger America at its core. Austere times require critical, fiscally conservative approach to this socialism era becoming so fashionable with the elite…….nowhere else is America rewarded for greed, collusion,, AND failure as in Wall St (TARP funds) and Washington, D.C. associates. You may want to listen to Bob Goodlatte, he has a sound fiscal approach for leadership. And maybe, even, take the rhetoric one step further than a lambasting of Wall St. for using TARP funds to pay out $20B in bonus pay……calling it shameful…..and require the funds be 1) accounted for, 2) utilized for the exact reason received, 3) forced to pay back the taxpayers dollars that were misspent……and jail time for outward thieves on Wall St. Look closely around you also, to Tom Daschle, and Eric Holder.

    Please tell me, Mr. President, where is the “CHANGE”??

  • To me, the most dramatic and memorable part of this superbowl is not the James Harrison run or the Santonio Holmes catch. It is that the Steelers gave Santonio Holmes another shot right after he missed a catch in the endzone. His team gave him a shot at redemption and his catch will be the legacy, not his miss. That is a lesson that has been in my head since I watched that play.

  • >