What a contrast. Last weekend during the AFC Playoffs the New England Patriots put on a seminar on team effectiveness. Arguably not the best Patriot team of recent years, Brady’s Bunch executed, executed and executed, like a machine to win their spot in the AFC Championship Game on Jan 24 (quite an admission for a Giants fan.) Everyone chipped in, even newly returned Julian Edleman, fresh off a broken foot rehab, sparked the team to a 27-20 win over the KC Chiefs. But the contrast is not with the Chiefs who fought valiantly, and if not for a couple of personal fouls, might have taken it down to the wire.
No, the contrast is with the self-imploding Cincinnati Bengals, a team (and we use the term loosely) whose collection of massive egos somehow got them to the Wild Card round to face the Pittsburgh Steelers. During the hard-fought game, cheap shots by the Bengals were evident to all and a reflection on either a coaching decision, players gone wild or both. Vontaze Burfict, who otherwise could have been the game’s MVP, and Adam Jones both contributed to Cincinnati’s epic collapse. Burfict had that bone-crushing blind-side hit of the helpless receiver Antonio Brown. Then Jones drew a dead-ball foul by grabbing a coach and a ref. The result was a 30 yard penalty (almost never heard of) and a chip shot field goal to win it for Pittsburgh.
But the fouls were just symptoms of a team-gone-wild and out of control of their head coach. Those of you who can remember the Oakland Raiders of the 70’s might think they bore many of the same traits. But that Oakland team bragged about their toughness and used it, legally, as a t-e-a-m. Free safety, Jack “The Assassin” Tatum, forever memorialized them in one play – “The Hit” on Darryl Stingley whom he paralyzed from the neck down. With Lyle Alzado, George Atkisson, Otis Sistrunk and more, owner Al Davis wanted a team of fired-up misfits to strike fear in the hearts of opposing players. But they worked within the rules and they acted as a team.
The 2015 Bengals, on the other hand, are a textbook case of dysfunction and childishness. And it all rests on coach Marvin Lewis’ head. If any member of a Fortune 500 top staff had acted like Burfict did (even earlier in the game when he intercepted and ran off the field) he or she would be history.
Former Chicago Bears linebacker, Matt Mayberry, who is now a motivational speaker and leadership coach, says it clearly. “No matter how important your position, you need your boss to lead, your colleagues to perform, and your teammates to collectively work day in and day out to achieve your goals.” Quite simply, ” the team is much bigger than you.” Mayberry believes that the players’ anarchy is a direct result of the “culture of the team.” In other words, this behavior and the team’s collapse is endemic and falls directly at the feet of the owner, Mike Brown. To quote a car commercial from the 70’s, “You asked for it. You got it.”
The team is much bigger than you.
Mayberry also credits mental toughness as the attribute that carried the day for the Steelers. Their leadership was tough and disciplined and that was imparted upon the players. They held their emotions in check, long enough to win the game. The winners, Belichick, Arians, Rivera and Kubiak, all instill a culture of winning and team-first that would never allow any of the arrogance we witnessed in the Bengals.
And all these lessons in just a football game. Guess I’ll have to go to leadership school again this Sunday.