It’s 9:45 p.m. on Sunday night. Somewhere in the Metroplex my buddies are gathered around a big-screen watching the Dolphins and Jets, and I’m not with them. Instead of watching football I’m analyzing a case on teamwork and management, writing about what happens when a team can’t communicate. I can’t help but remember coaching club football as an undergrad. Sometimes the talent just can’t overcome the egos; sometimes all the speed and athleticism just can’t make it right.
As a coach I made plenty of mistakes, the biggest of which was failing to effectively communicate with my players. It’s hard enough to coach a bunch of 10-year-olds – coaching your peers, guys your age who have played football for longer and at higher levels, can sometimes seem impossible. I learned a lot of lessons in management and leadership at UT-Arlington, lessons that have stuck with me and served me well in my professional life.
Now I’m coaching my peers again, this time the first-year MBA flag football team. Yet again I’ve been blessed with talented players with lots of football experience, and yet again I’m trying to lead a group of guys who know more than me, have been through more than me, and flat out know the game better than I do. The only difference is, this time I know what I’m in for. This time I know how and what to communicate. At Neeley I’m learning how to be a leader, in more ways than one.
It doesn’t take much to imagine that leading your peers on the gridiron can be a lot like leading a team at work. It doesn’t matter that I’m younger (or older), or even that I know the most about the subject. In fact, sometimes being the subject matter expert can make leading harder. It’s really easy to want to do everything yourself when you know how to do everything. Leadership is about understanding skill sets and being able to get the best from people. It’s about progress, not perfection, and always communicating.
I think the first step is to get everyone on the same page, to point everybody to a common goal that we all agree on. At work its growth, promotions, pay – but on the gridiron, it’s a lot simpler. It’s pure. In the words of Al Davis, “Just win, baby.”
Who knows how the football team will do. For that matter, who knows if I’ll get my focus back in time to finish this case analysis. What I do know is this – the Neeley School is getting me prepared for life as a leader. I’m not just learning what it takes to lead. I’m getting real opportunities in business and in life.
— J.R. Honeycutt