I’ve been an Eagles fan as long as I can remember. I’ve been a Philly sports fan for just as long. I’ll never forget sitting in the garage with my father watching Joe Carter hit a homerun in game 6 of the 1993 World Series. I was sick, I cried. I was 7 years old. As a Philly sports fan, I always anticipated losing. Even when we were favorites to win, deep in my stomach, I was confident we’d find a way to lose. This infectious attitude can lead to a complex and an identity. I’m certain along the way, I’ve allowed that same persona to dictate some of my personal endeavors too.
Something was really different about this Eagles team though, something so different that they were able to do what no Philadelphia Eagle team has been able to do ever – WIN the Super Bowl! I’m really grateful my son Maverick will only know what it’s like to expect to win as he was born on 9/1/17 before the season started. And because this Eagles team has been so amazing and has displayed such great leadership qualities, it got me thinking about some areas I need to improve in as a leader. Here are 10 Leadership lessons THIS Philadelphia Eagles team has taught me (in no particular order):
1) Culture will elevate or disintegrate talent. Coach Doug Pederson has built an incredible culture of unity and belief in a short period of time. I have personally never seen a team with this much chemistry in all my sports watching days. It’s really obvious as you watch many of the injured stars that put aside their egos to help and cheer on the remaining squad. This is special and rare, especially in the NFL. Also, think about some of the players who were here during the Chip Kelly (the coach before) era who struggled, but are now thriving: Nelson Agholor had a remarkable year this past year, but was on the bubble previously and greatly lacked confidence. Mychal Kendricks, who fell out of favor under Kelly due to being “undersized” had by far the best season of his career. Nick Foles always had potential. We know this because he had a 27 TD season. But after a couple years of bad culture in Philly where he was traded for Sam Bradford (who still hasn’t played in the playoffs), a fail in St. Louis, and a limited opportunity in Kansas City, he came back to Philly at the perfect time. And in this contagious culture, he was the Super Bowl MVP. What am I saying? Culture is everything. What kind of culture are you building in your organization that elevates your people and gets the most out of them? This is a challenge for all of us. But as Malcolm Jenkins said to his teammates in the locker room after the Super Bowl, “And we had more fun doin’ it than anybody in this f****ng league.”
2) Leverage your crisis to build momentum. INJURED: The Eagles lost their stud Special Teams player (Chris Maragos), their hall-of-fame LT (Jason Peters), starting LB (Jordan Hicks), their big-play RB (Darren Sproles), their starting kicker (Caleb Sturgis), and the most important position in sports, their 1st round pick and MVP candidate QB (Carson Wentz). For anyone else, these blows would be season ending and catastrophic. To the Eagles, it was an opportunity to wear dog masks and find fuel to keep winning. Rham Emmanuel once said, “you never want a serious crisis to go to waste, because it’s an opportunity to do things you didn’t think you could do before.” Great leaders, great teams, and great organizations see crises as opportunities to do what’s never been done. They use it as motivation, see it as an opportunity for innovation, and leverage these moments as inspiration to those who will be watching how they respond. Your crisis might just be the catalyst you needed to experience all you’ve been fighting for.
3) Soft Heart, Tough Skin, Dream Big. The football season is long. 4 preseason games. 16 regular season games. 2 or 3 playoff games. And a Super Bowl. That’s the potential of 96 quarters or 1,440 minutes of football. Someone is going to get hurt, you’re probably going to lose some games, you might make some mistakes, and people aren’t going to celebrate you every single week. When Carson Wentz went down, almost everyone determined the Eagles season was over and even though the Eagles were the number one seed in the NFC, they were still deemed as underdogs. If you live your life or lead your organization based on what everyone else thinks and says, you’re going to miss your greatest opportunities. If Coach Pederson or the players decided to sulk and throw in the towel based on what everyone else said, they would have done what everyone else determined they would do – lose and be satisfied that they made the playoffs. Yet, even as they beat Minnesota, the overwhelming theme was that they weren’t finished yet. One more to go! “We all we got, we all we need.” Shut out the noise, keep your head down, and keep your eyes on the prize ahead. There’s always going to be haters, talking heads, people with opinions, and those who wish they had what you had or were where you are. Don’t surrender to the death of their speech, press on to your potential and the dreams in your heart.
4) Go for it. According to the Boston Globe, “They’re (the Eagles) the most aggressive team in the league on fourth down, and it’s a combination of trust and risk-taking that’s made them so successful … The Eagles went for it on fourth down 26 times in the regular season, the second-most attempts in the NFL, and converted a league-high 17.” Why is this so important? Because life is too short not to go for it! If all we ever do is play not to lose, we’ve already lost. Playing to win means going for it – taking risks, raising the money, hiring the staff member, starting the location, adding the service, starting the business, launching the church and the list goes on and on. Where in life do you need to go for it?
5) Always have something up your sleeve for a crucial moment. “The Philly Special” was an unforgettable play and it was executed in an absolutely critical moment in the game. If you’re not familiar, it’s the play that Nick Foles (the QB) catches a pass from the 3rd string tight end to stay in front of the Patriots before half time. I think why this is so important for leaders is because we are constantly faced with opportunity, adversity, surprises, and unexpected scenarios. Whether you’re a church planter and you’ve gotten your electronics stolen or you’re a business owner and someone has embezzled money from you, there’s never not a need for leadership. I believe the greatest leaders are ready in any season to deliver what is needed, especially when nothing seems possible. I’ve heard it said, “sweat in preparation so that you don’t bleed in battle.” Our ability to have something up our sleeve has nothing to do with being quick on your feet and has everything to do with doing the hard work when no one is watching. Does your business have money in savings? Do you have a sermon ready if called on? Do know what you’d say if you’re asked? Do you know the right moment to approach your boss? Do you know the right moment to make the big ask? Point is, always be ready, because today might be the day you need to call your own, “special” play.
6) Collaborate and let your leaders lead – Doug Pederson is a player’s coach. And while he definitely has standards and conditions, it is obvious the stark difference between he and his predecessor. Doug is a collaborative leader, which in my experience leading a majority millennial church is one of the best ways to engage millenials and get the most out of them (I am one by the way). Doug clearly gets it, considering most of the players in the NFL are millenials themselves. He let Nick Foles (29 years old) call the most critical play in the game, “The Philly Special.” In this day and age, the best teams are full of organic leaders who are completely bought into the vision and can be trusted to lead themselves. This stems from a culture of collaboration, honor, and trust. How are you doing with this?
7) Confidence will carry you. The Eagles were incredibly confident, particularly in the Super Bowl. They played to their strengths; game planned accordingly, and got in a shootout with the greatest QB of all time in Tom Brady … and still won! Confidence is a wave that can carry you to heights further than your ability can take you. Confidence isn’t something you wake up with and it’s not something you can wish for. It’s built over time, it’s built through learning from failure, and it’s built from rehearsing the right things over and over. Nick Foles said, “Failure is a part of life, that’s a part of building character and growing. I wouldn’t be up here if I hadn’t fallen a thousand times and made mistakes. I‘m not perfect, I’m not superman. I might be in the NFL and we might have just won the Super Bowl, but I still have daily struggles. If something’s going on in your life and you’re struggling, embrace it, because it means you’re growing.” A confident person is not a person full of cockiness, that’s insecurity. Confidence is earned in the struggle and it’s found in those who know themselves, are comfortable in their own skin, celebrate others, and consistently focus on doing what only they can do.
8) Its just football. Another endearing characteristic of this Eagles team was how free they played football. They didn’t seem to play with a great fear of making mistakes or being perfect. They focused, they practiced, they worked hard, but they had fun. If you watched their social media and read some of the articles about them, you can tell that a lot of this team really enjoyed doing life together. I realize that what I do as a pastor has eternal implications. Every sermon must be met with prayer and study and every time I counsel must be met with sincerity. However, there are also things I do as a leader that don’t have eternal implications necessarily. There are people I lead that are doing all they can to make our organization the best it can be and it’s my job to facilitate a culture of joy, ease, celebration, and freedom. No question, some things must be met with great intensity and even pressure. However, a lot of things can be met with peace, patience, and gentleness. Truth be told, I’m not the best at this, and at times, I often lead my team into fear rather than into a creative and empowering environment. The longer I lead, the more I realize that there are just some things that don’t need all my attention, there are some mistakes I can actually let go of, and there are some situations I can laugh at instead of correct. As leaders, we have to know the balance and realize that sometimes its just football; it’s not the end of the world.
9) The mission is more important than the position. Team first. Mission first. Preference second. This resounding theme is why the Philadelphia Eagles won the Super Bowl. There are plenty of teams with incredibly talented rosters, including the Eagles. But there are few teams that value mission over position. On this roster, there seemed to be no position or pay grade that wasn’t treated with respect and had high expectations on it. On a team, you fill a position that is meant to fulfill a mission. Egos exist, but they are tamed. Different salaries exist, but they aren’t the focal point. On a great team and in a great organization, anyone can contribute to winning – whether you’re a rookie RB like Clement or a janitor of a building. You know you’re a part of a great organization when value is placed on every role.
10) Overlooked doesn’t mean you can’t overcome. When Doug Pederson played QB in Philadelphia, he was hated, spit on, had beer thrown at him, and possibly received a battery to his back as well. He was NOT the fans pick to bridge the transition between he and Donovan McNabb and he was NOT the fans pick to clean up the mess of the Chip Kelly era. He is however, the first Eagles coach to WIN the Super Bowl. Nick Foles, the Super Bowl MVP was a third round pick and the backup on this team. The point is, these guys weren’t a first pick, a first choice, or a first thought. Yet, they finished in first place. Just because you are overlooked does not mean you can’t overcome! Your organization, your life, your business, your ministry, your future, your _________ (insert your own) … you might be overlooked, under resourced, forgotten about, and not wanted. But it doesn’t mean you can’t beat all the odds and end up the winner. The best stories in life are often about the ones who overcame great odds to shock the world and be victorious. This could be you, but you’ve got to get the chip off your shoulder, put your head down, and find a way. It simply does not matter what people say about you or what they think about you, all that matters is what you do with the amount of sheer talent you’ve been given. All of us have something, but we’ve got to work it and stretch it to make it go further than we could have ever imagined. Because there’s way more in you than you think.
Fly Eagles Fly!