Hike Leadership Metaphors Forward – Quarterback

Johnny Unitas

Back in my early childhood, Johnny Unitas and Bart Starr were my favorite quarterbacks in professional football, then I remember the scramblings of Fran Tarkenton, Broadway Joe Namath, and the consistent Roger Staubach. Terry Bradshaw and Joe Montana filled my TV screens on Sundays in early 80s and then there were the highlights of Dan Marion and John Elway in the 90s. The early 21st century brought Brett Favre, Drew Brees, Peyton Manning, and Kurt Warner to my list of great QBs. I don’t watch the NFL much anymore, but I still enjoy watching college ball – go Buckeyes!

That was a rather long first paragraph just to introduce the position of quarterback, but if the names brought memories to your mind, then not much more needs to be said about the importance of the QB to the success of a football team. He controls the tempo and the flow of the game. His actions (good or bad) have a huge impact on the outcome on the game. I think the quarterback is a powerful metaphor for the organizational leader. Let’s take four snaps of the ball to see if we can score with this analogy.

First Down – The quarterback directs the team in the huddle. Whether the play comes in from the sideline or the QB calls the play himself, the quarterback communicates the play to the team in the huddle before the team moves to the line of scrimmage. The team is confident that everyone on the team knows the play and that the quarterback will put the play into action enabling each team member to do his part as designed.

An effective leader knows the play, whether the board has provided the direction, or the leader has personally developed the strategy. The leader must then be articulate and clear as he/she communicates to every member of the team/organization. Every person in the company must be on the same page  before the day begins. With clear communication comes confidence (notice the 4 C’s or is that the Four Seas?) in the leader and the plan. Making sure that everyone knows the mission, the QB enables each person to use his/her talents and positions and authority to accomplish the goal. The quarterback leader is the communicator

Second Down – The quarterback needs to make quick decisions. He handles the ball every down and must decide to run, hand the ball off to a running back, or pass the ball to one of his receivers. On many designed plays, the quarterback must decide which option is the best one. One option is to keep the ball and carry the ball forward himself. Another option is to hand the ball off to a teammate and trust the running back to gain yardage while protecting the ball. Or the QB can pass the ball to one of several receivers. The quarterback must be able to see the whole field and quickly spot the open receiver with the best shot of catching the pass.

The organizational leader needs to run with the ball sometimes, hand it off to a trusted co-worker at other times, and on other occaisions throw the ball into the outstretched arms of a colleague. Initiative, trust, and delegation are all options for the leader. Discernment in decision making is critical for his/her success. There are somethings that are in the “Do It Yourself” category because of convenience or expectation or necessity. Other activities present opportunities to hand off to others in order to help the team member grow or to utilize the giftedness and talents of those within the organization. Passing responsibilities to others is sometimes imperative but the right receiver must be selected. The pass is a risk but the results can be significant.

Third Down – The quarterback must know when to change the play from the one called in the huddle. The QB must know how to read the defensive formation of the other team and decide if the planned play needs to be altered. If a change is needed, the QB calls an audible while the team is on the line of scrimmage. Through a series of symbolic words, the quarterback communicates to the entire team the change in the play before the ball is hiked. Every player must know the play and the count in order to start together. If one moves earlier than the others, it is a penalty. If someone begins late, the play is usually not effective as timing is often critical to the team’s strategy.

The quarterback leader must call audibles occasionally. As the leader sees the whole playing field and the details of a particular situation, he/she must quickly change the plans and direction of the day. The change must be communicated well and thoroughly to the entire organization. This communication might not be easy, but it is essential, if the change is to be effective.   

Fourth Down – The quarterback is not a coach on the sidelines, but a player in the midst of the game. He is not cheering from the bench, rather he is executing the play from the front line. The quarterback calls the signals to start the play. The quarterback both coordinates the play and participates in the action.  The actions of the quarterback impact every offensive play and dictates the responses of every other member of the team.

The quarterback leader might from time to time be a coach (mentor) and a cheerleader (filled with raise and encouragement), but when he/she is the quarterback, he/she is actively involved in the mission and workings of the organization. His/her sleaves are rolled up and his/her presence is front and center. He/she is visible as the wheels turn in the workings of the company. The leader must recognize the importance of his/her behaviors and should make the most of his/her positive impact on the other stakeholders in the organization.    

Touchdown!! I hope.

Photos: Johnny Unitas – (519) Pinterest; Football – Wilson TDS NFL Official Size 9 Rubber Cover American Sports Football Wtf1858 for sale online | eBay

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