Russell Wilson on Leadership: What I Learned About Preparation, Following a Routine, and Developing Talent

(As originally posted on

Russell Wilson visited the Amazon campus in early May to host a Q&A session, where he spoke about his leadership style, preparation, and how he works to develop the talent of those around him. Call me a homer (I do have Russell Wilson’s Leadership Traits hanging at my desk), but it was a cool experience to listen to a young, influential, and high-performing role model in person. I want to share some of what I learned from Russell Wilson on leadership and how I think it translates to the business and/or personal world.

Leadership — Leading is second nature to Wilson — it’s in his blood to lead teams and organizations. He preached the importance of four different things.

  1. Listen — Leading isn’t about talking and pushing your views, agenda, or beliefs. It’s about taking in all of the information that your team is willing to provide. Not only will this make your team feel heard, but it will make you a more informed leader — one who knows how his/her team thinks — capable of making better decisions.
  2. Motivate, and lead by example — There are times to motivate with words, but more often, motivation is displayed by the work you do. Teams follow good track records and results. Become someone who delivers results, and you’ll gain the ability to influence a team.
  3. Respect yourself, your team, and the process of learning — Wilson is a student of the game, and it shows. His appreciation of the process of learning, studying, and applying is inspiring. He treats everybody well, takes notes, and puts in the required reputations to be great. Continue to study and practice your craft, respect the process, and put in the necessary work to do extraordinary things.
  4. Bring the team along — Leaders get the spotlight in good times and bad. When times are good, defer praise to teammates and highlight the great work they do. When things aren’t going your way, take responsibility for the group and protect them. Both are great ways to build respect with your team and showcase your humility.

Preparation/Building a Routine — Wilson is well-known for his go-to phrase “The separation is in the preparation,” and he lives it with another philosophy: “There’s no time to sleep.” During game week, Wilson sleeps five to six hours each night but will let himself sleep upwards of twelve hours the night before a game. This is a routine that Wilson has worked on for years, as he utilized a similar plan during his time at North Carolina State and the University of Wisconsin. It allows him to accomplish everything that he needs to get done: post-mortem of the game from last week, healing the body, planning for the game to come, strength and conditioning, visiting the children’s hospital, etc. The night before the game, his routine allows him to get as much sleep as his body needs to perform at its highest level. This doesn’t mean that five hours of sleep is right for you, but it does show the power and value of a routine. Build consistency for your body and mind, so that you can focus your energy on driving greater gains in your life.

Develop Talent — Wilson was named a team captain of the University of Wisconsin less than two months after stepping on to campus. (Typically, an honor like that is earned by players who put in a few dozen months of hard work on the field, in the weightroom, and in team meetings.) The incredible feat may only be topped by Wilson, when he earned the starting job during the pre-season of his rookie year after the Seahawks had just signed another quarterback for $26 Million. Wilson has an incredible ability to come in, work hard, become a leader, and make the guys around him better. He spoke about motivation, treating everyone in the building well, and onboarding the rookies and getting them up to speed as quickly as possible. Sometimes, we can be so focused on what’s in front of us that we forget who’s behind and beside us, helping to push forward. Develop those around you and make them feel like an integral part of the team.

Wilson is an incredible athlete, who is a great example of leadership. A lot of what Wilson demonstrates on, and off, the field can be directly applied to whatever your job, career, and/or passion. Remember, the separation is in the preparation.

In your opinion, what is the most important aspect of leadership?