3 Leadership Lessons Learned from Super Bowl LI

More than 111 million people gathered around tv sets in restaurants, bars, and homes and at the stadium to watch the New England Patriots and the Atlanta Falcons battle it out in Super Bowl LI.  New NFL records were set as the Patriots came back from the biggest deficit in Super Bowl history to beat the Falcons in overtime.  Even though my team didn’t make it past the championship round, I found this year’s Super Bowl to be one of the most exciting games I’ve watched in recent history.

As I reflected on the game I could not help but see the leadership lessons that were emerging from how the two teams played.  So, here are a few Leadership Lessons Learned from Super Bowl LI:

Are you playing to win, or playing not to lose?  There is a big difference in the outcome based upon which approach you take.  For the entire first half of the game, the Falcons dominated the Patriots.  They were playing to win the game.  The Patriots, although playing to win, were being overpowered by the Falcons offense, while being stopped by the defense.  It appeared by half time that the game was over.

The second half of the game told a much different story.  The Falcons began playing to hold their lead (playing not to lose), instead of coming out of the locker room with the same intensity that they showed in the first half.  You could see it in their faces and in how they related to each other on the field.  By the middle of the fourth quarter, the Falcons defense was frustrated and scrambling to regain their ferocity with which they played the first half, but it was too late.  The Patriots, on the other hand, played the second half to win.  They had nothing to lose and everything to gain.  And, win they did – setting Super Bowl records along the way.

How are you positioning yourself or your organization on the playing field of your business?  Are you making every decision, every day, from the perspective of playing to win?  Or, are you playing not to lose, to just stay ahead of the competition?  If you play not to lose, you might just wake up one day and find the competition has edged you out at the last minute and you’ve lost the game.

Don’t wait until half time to make adjustments.  The Patriots comeback actually began late in the second quarter.  Coach Belichick was taking notes all throughout the first half.  He began making adjustments to the offense and defense as needed until he finally found the right combination by the middle of the third quarter.  From that point on, he worked the plan and the rest is history.

Too often we go through life just following the same game plan that has worked in the past.  Our profit margins decline, we’re not as effective as we used to be, or our marketing and sales departments aren’t as productive as they used to be.  So, we continue working the same plan over and over with the same results.  At some point, we need to evaluate our systems to see if they are still valid in a changing economy.  Those who evaluate and make adjustments early, are the ones who are most successful in life.  Those who delay, or worse, don’t see that any change is needed, find that they are so far behind they can never catch up.

No matter how bad things look, don’t ever, ever, ever give up!  During the second quarter, with the Patriots down 25 points, the cameras zoomed in on the face of Tom Brady.  What the viewers saw was a man who was discouraged and without hope.  I even texted a friend after that camera shot and said “the game’s over – Brady is defeated.”  I was wrong!

The Tom Brady who came out of the locker room to start the second half had a stern look of determination.  The game wasn’t over, the score wasn’t decided, and not matter the outcome, he wasn’t giving up.  His determination ultimately led his team  to victory.

What was the difference?  Tom Brady never gave up – no matter how bad it looked.  Brady may be one of the greatest NFL quarterbacks of all time, but he also showed a great leadership ability as he led his team to victory.  His determination reminds us that no matter how bad things may look in our lives or in our businesses, we should never, never, never give up!  The game isn’t over and the final score isn’t in.

As you look at your personal life and your business, remember these three leadership lessons from Super Bowl LI:

  • Play to win – never play not to lose!
  • Constantly seek to improve yourself or your organization – don’t wait until half time to make adjustments!
  • Don’t ever give up – no matter how bad things look, the final score isn’t in, yet!


All of life is an opportunity to learn.  There are leadership lessons all around you every day.  Don’t just go through life – take a moment to reflect on your experiences and you might just learn how to be a better leader!

Principle #1: Constantly Improve Your Position

While in college at Mount Vernon Nazarene University, I read a book by author Jeremy Rifkin called Entropy:  A New World View.  While I cannot remember anything the book said, I do remember the principle that he was sharing.  Entropy is the tendency to gradually decline into disorder.  This is true in our lives, at our workplaces, and in our churches.  Entropy tells us that our churches, if left alone, will gradually decline into disorder.  This has been stated in other ways, as well.  Proverbs 29:18 reminds us that if there is no vision, the people will perish.  We’ve also been told that if the pastor doesn’t lead, someone will.  The truth is that if there is no sense of vision or direction, entropy will begin to take hold in the church.  Usually, in the church community, entropy is seen in one of two ways: (1) through defaulting back to an inward focus on fellowship (just being together); or (2) division and fighting for control and power.

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