Between the parallels of hard work, strategy and working together as a team, sports always present solid analogies for business. But this past year’s NFL season brought its own set of unique insights for entrepreneurs (that you haven’t heard a hundred times).
The season began with the drama of Deflategate still lingering and ended with an unexpected team making it to the Super Bowl. Looking back on all of this season’s events, three lessons stand out as being the most valuable:
1. When you’re a winner, everyone’s a fan.
Football and entrepreneurship both have extreme ups and downs that are magnified by your audience. When you win, everyone celebrates with you. Multiple wins cause higher expectations and increased pressure to succeed.
At the beginning of this NFL season, no one was talking about the Carolina Panthers, but the team somehow managed to win week after week, on through the playoffs. As the season progressed, so did expectations. The Panthers earned respect as well as favorable odds to win the championship, and their fan base has multiplied.
Now, on the flip side following their Super Bowl loss to the Denver Bronco, don't be suprised when everyone becomes a critic. When losses occur, everyone lines up to shout their opinions and the reasons for failure. In football, a losing record can cost people their jobs. In business, similar failures mean losing customers to competitors -- a dangerous drop in revenue is even worse.
In either circumstance, winners must have thick skin and selective hearing. The key is to filter through the noise and determine what’s true. When you find the truth, be brutally honest with yourself and those around you, and act accordingly.
2. Business and family rarely mix well.
Former NFL head coach Lovie Smith was recently fired by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, despite turning around a team with a losing record. Rumors circulated that Smith had a relative on his defensive coaching staff that he refused to let go, even though the Bucs defense struggled much of the season.
While 22 percent of working men end up working for their fathers’ companies, it isn’t always the best move. Wanting to help family members or very close friends by hiring them is admirable, but think carefully about how it would play out if you end up having to fire them. That isn’t to say no one should ever work with family. But, like Smith’s case, the majority of these well-intended stories don’t end well.
3. Winners know who’s in charge.
One reason the Panthers have had success is clear, effective coaching and leadership. Your team needs the same for success, especially early on when roles and expectations are being defined.
Also, team members who don’t respect their leaders’ authority can disrupt the work environment. The Dallas Cowboys is a team that loves those high-profile athletes other franchises won’t touch. For the rest of the NFL, the risks of locker room issues, off-the-field distractions or simple drama outweigh talent. There are valid reasons no other teams are willing to take risks with these talented players. The best in each “player” can be harvested in the right environment. However, that may not mean the right environment is the one you provide.
If some of your team members have “I’m untouchable” mentalities because of their talent levels, rethink whether their talents are worth the attitude. No one wants to work with the “diva,” and having him or her on your staff can ruin company cultures and reputations. In turn, potential future gold-standard hires may be turned off by the idea of joining your company.
One of the best things you can do to assert yourself as a positive leader is to literally coach your team. There’s a reason business coaching was close to a $9 billion industry in 2014. Coaching requires consistent involvement with the team as a whole and individually to reach goals. Give regular feedback (both positive and negative, but in a way that encourages growth), and communicate how each team player contributes to the big game.
One of life’s most beautiful moments is showing the world what you can do if given the chance. Your startup is your chance. Focus on team goals and match determination with talent. In the end, you’ll be the coach of a winning team.
Related: Coaching Makes All the Difference