Three strategies to get past your stats
Bored and surfing the internet, clickbait caught my eye. The “Top 25 Most Over-rated Quarterbacks” sucked me in. I’m only a casual football fan, but every year I start out with the same hope that the Cowboys have turned the corner. This will be the year.
As I clicked through the list, one car insurance ad at a time, one name caught my eye. Troy Aikman. What? Bernie Kosar, I get it. Vinny Testaverde, I see the point. Boomer Esiason, check. But Aikman? I read through the blurb. Sure, he had three Superbowl wins, but his numbers weren’t great. It was his team that carried him, and without that dream team, his mediocrity would have shown through.
Then I thought of Tony Romo, the Cowboys quarterback from 2003 to 2016. Thirteen seasons of disappointment. No Superbowl wins. Two playoff wins compared to Aikman’s eleven playoff wins. But damn he’s got great stats. His career quarterback rating of 97.1 puts him as 4th highest of all time. Aikman tied for 61st with a rating of 81.6.
So who’s numbers would you want, Aikman’s? Or Romo’s?
You don’t always see what good leaders do
As a unit commander in the Air Force, my senior-most enlisted squadron member, a Chief Master Sergeant, was widely respected and looked up to by everyone. I respected him and looked up to him. But I didn’t know why. I’d known and worked with him for years, but it wasn’t until we deployed to Iraq that I really understood what I’d been seeing.
I realized that when he was around, things simply ran smoother. He wasn’t taking on any huge projects and he wasn’t seeking any sort of recognition. In fact, sometimes I joked with him that I wasn’t sure what he did at all! Once I started to observe with intensity, his method became clear.
The Chief would, of course, participate in all of the discussions among the officer and enlisted leadership in the unit. He knew our priorities and our strategies but didn’t usually take on much direct work, though he always pitched in when someone needed help. Mostly, he walked around, talked to people, and used his influence to counsel, mentor, and give course corrections. He provided me sage advice and feedback.
In short, he focused on using his wisdom and experience to make the team better.
Lessons from the Aikman / Romo challenge
It’s hard, of course, to know the stories behind the stories, but as a proud ‘Murican who adores America’s Team when they are winning, here are a few observations:
1. Commit absolutely to the team’s success. Tony Romo didn’t come out of the gate hungry to win. For his first few years, it seemed like he was just enjoying the fame. Later on, as he approached the end of his career, he realized how much winning would mean to his teammates, but by then it was too late.
2. Inspire. This is easy to say but harder to figure out. By all accounts, Romo is a brilliant, savvy quarterback, a nice enough guy, and he’s blossomed into a fine broadcaster. But he never seemed to get the team fired up, maybe because he didn’t always connect on a personal level. Here’s an example data point from an interview with Jason Hatcher who played with Romo on the Cowboys:
“Romo didn’t have the it factor to make people around him better…he thought he was bigger than the team. It was like Romo and then the team…He was a great player and got all the numbers and stuff, but I’ll take Dak [Prescott] over Romo any day because Dak has the ability to make people around him better. You’ll run through a wall for Dak but Romo, hell no.”
3. Don’t screw things up. If you have a great team, sometimes the best thing you can do as a leader is to let your team win. If Aikman had focused on his passer rating, would he have won as many games? Or would he have avoided risks that won games? Is it luck that Aikman had such great teammates? Sure. Is it luck that he was able to play with them and balance the likes of Michael Irvin and Emmet Smith, jelling into an unstoppable threesome? No, it was greatness.
At the end of the day, leaders have a choice to make. What is more important, you or your team? If you focus on your team’s success, a shortsighted boss may overlook your contribution. Would you sacrifice some personal stats to make your team better? Do you let a more junior team member give the big presentation to the VP? Do you take responsibility when someone on your team makes a mistake? Do you spend time mentoring and explaining decisions?
Your team will see how you act and respond accordingly. A well-led team will break down those walls for you, and your team will be successful. Personally, I’d accept the moniker of ‘overrated’ manager if my team wins.
Brian E. Wish works as a quality engineer in the aerospace industry. He has spent 29 years active and reserve in the US Air Force, where he holds the rank of Colonel. He has a bachelor’s from the US Air Force Academy, a master’s from Bowie State, and a Ph.D. in Public and Urban Administration from UT Arlington. The opinions expressed here are his own. Learn more at brianewish.com.