More so than in any other team sport, having elite core leadership is paramount to long-term success in the game of football. There are plenty of clichés out there insinuating the general importance of leadership in football based on the game’s inherent militaristic nature. I wont sit here and bore you with fox-hole paradigms and wax-poetic about why it’s beneficial to have solid leadership in a physically taxing game in times of adversity. These avenues have already been explored ad nauseam. What I will examine, however, is the simple math behind the importance of leadership in football.
I’m not sure what Merriam Webster has to say, but in my mind, leadership, at least within the context of football, can be defined as one’s level of influence upon the other members of the team. Working hard in the weight room, studying the playbook, giving great effort, etc.- these are all well and good, and examples of standard expectations for a professional athlete. Checking off these boxes without positively influencing your teammates makes you a leader by example, or as I like to call it, a non-leader. Leading by example is incredibly inefficient because it puts the onus on others to make the conscious choice to imitate rather than using direct, purposeful communication to achieve work ethic/accountability and attitude/mindset reciprocity. Leading by example does not work, period. Successful leaders make those around them better. They take everyone with them to the party. A player’s value is much greater to a team if he can help others maximize their potential rather than solely focusing on reaching his own.
For the purposes of this article, let’s consider basketball, hockey, baseball and football to be the main professional team-sports in the US. All team-sports have roster restrictions regarding those eligible for participation on game day. The NBA allows 13 active players, the NHL 20 and the MLB 25. Individual talent has a better chance at translating into team success in these sports compared to football, where 46 players are active on game day. This is not to say leadership is unimportant in the other team-sports, it’s just the ratio of ‘individual-skill to impact on team success’ is greater in those games than in football. As much as you maximize your 1/46th, you will always have a greater impact if you positively influence the other 45/46ths. This said, I understand all positions are not created equal. In a perfect world, your best leaders will be at your most critical and influential positions
Now more than ever, with standout leadership becoming an increasingly rare commodity, general managers and owners in the modern day National Football League should chiefly be concerned with building an impenetrable leadership infrastructure within their organizations. It’s admittedly idealistic to think you can have 46 high-level leaders take the field on game day. The closer you can get to this number, however, the more short-term chances you can take on guys who don’t necessarily meet this criterion. With an elite culture already in place, players with minimal or even poor leadership qualities won’t threaten to contaminate the bunch. Hey, maybe they are on to something in New England after all.