Thursday, April 18, 2013

Leadership lessons from a football star

What made Steve Largent successful was his tremendous focus, his knowledge of his opponent, and his ability to bring his team together through his humble nature.

By Mike Mason, CSP
As I think about leadership, a slow, undersized champion comes to mind. Number 80, Steve Largent. Mr. Largent was drafted by the Houston Oilers in 1976 and traded to the Seattle Seahawks after 4 pre-season games because he was “too small and slow to make it in pro football.” Although all 6 of his records have been broken, he was the NFL’s all-time leading receiver when he retired in 1989. In 1995, he was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. After football, Steve served in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1994-2002 and also ran for governor of Oklahoma in 2002. In 2003, he became President and CEO of CTIA-The Wireless Association, a non-profit association that represents the wireless communications industry.  

Steve wasn’t the biggest, strongest and definitely not the fastest guy on the field, but he did have an amazing ability to catch a football. As most know that doesn’t necessarily translate into success for a wide receiver, especially at that level. What made Steve successful was his tremendous focus, his knowledge of his opponent, and his ability to bring his team together through his humble nature.  

One of the great things about football is that it takes 11 guys all working together in a unified manner to be successful. This is true for any organization. As a CEO, there are a million different ways to lead a team, but focus and knowledge of your competition or environment must be present. In Steve Largent’s case, a portion of his success came from his uncanny ability to focus on the ball no matter what was going on around him, whether it was a 250 linebacker about to unleash a bone jarring blow, or a defensive back bumping him as he ran down the sidelines. He was able to singularly focus on the ball and make the catches that most couldn’t. The goal for Steve was to catch the ball and get to the end zone and he could do that better anyone.  

As a CEO in an organization the goal is going to vary, but the focus on achieving that goal must be paramount. The other factor that contributed to Steve’s success was his knowledge of his opponent. He studied like nobody else. In football, as in most sports, you watch a lot of video of your opponents. As any coach will tell you this is done to determine the strengths and weaknesses of your opponent and how to exploit them. Largent was a master at this. According to his teammate Paul Jones, “The biggest thing with Largent was in the film room. He studied his opponent just like they studied him - but in even greater detail. He knew the defensive back’s weaknesses. He knew how deep he needed to take a route before they would turn their shoulders to run with him.  So he knew how to set guys up.” This knowledge allowed him to take advantage of the guy attempting to cover him and beat him. 

When leading an organization, a CEO must have a true understanding of the forces working against the organization, whether they are internal or external. Understanding these forces in a way that nobody else does allows a CEO to lead in a way that no one else can.  

SIMA’s CEO of the Year award was created to recognize leaders with many of these leadership traits, and how they reflect on the values and culture of professional snow and ice management companies. If you work with or know of someone who would be a great candidate to receive the CEO of the Year Award in 2013, please nominate them at

Mike Mason, CSP is the Chair of the SIMA Board of Directors, and the Vice President and COO of The Lawn Pro in Louisville, KY.

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