As I’ve looked back on my time being on a world-championship football team, I’ve discovered that a Champion Leader is a person who listens empathetically, learns relentlessly, uses language effectively, and loves and values others deeply. These principles ensured that all eleven minds on the Indianapolis Colts team were thinking together as one on the field. Leaders who embody these disciplines and consistently perform them are able to change the culture of their team.
Championship Culture is an environment that inspires, challenges, values, and equips teams and individuals, resulting in maximum unity and engagement. The huddle is the bedrock of every single play and it is oftentimes the part of the game most fans take for granted. We drilled it in the first period of every practice throughout the season because it was a crucial component of the Colts’ offense. When Peyton Manning stepped into the huddle, each person was required to stop (put others first), look (pursue information), and care (choose empathy). The play’s success was completely dependent on our ability to listen.
Our coaches and team captains set a standard of culture to which all players were called to commit in order to be a part of the team. Leaders can begin to manage a team member’s skills within the existing culture or environment of the company once a team member chooses to be “all in”. During my experiences, this was done through accountability and discipleship strategies. The franchise business model is one way to look at managing culture. It is designed around the replication of a philosophy, products, and services. Total commitment is required in order to replicate a belief system. Culture will naturally demand unity and engagement from the entire system if leaders are all in. The culture will then begin to replicate itself. The most effective leaders not only know how to manage the talents of their people but inspire them to believe in a philosophy that will create unity and engagement.
One critical aspect to our culture was accountability. The Colts’ culture demanded that we deeply valued and respected each other. Coach Dungy had the ability to consistently “practice what he preached.” This was one of the things I admired most about him. Our leader created an environment built on love and respect. Each player wanted to always perform at their best because we had a deep reverence for our coaches, leaders, and fellow teammates. While disciplinary action was needed for failures in order to meet expectations, there was also a natural conviction that grew out of our mutual respect for our leaders and the culture of the team. We didn’t want to let anyone on the team down. This was possible because our culture was clearly defined and implemented consistently from the beginning.
During my culture speaking program, I take my audience through “The 4 Ls,” Listening, Learning, Language, and Love. I bring them inside the NFL Huddle, give them a glimpse into the daily schedule of a Super Bowl contender, describe the championship language we used, and help them discover that practicing a championship culture of love and respect can propel you to new heights of success.
I wanted to close with one of my most memorable plays from the Super Bowl to give you an example of the Colts’ culture in action.
It was 3rd and 8 in the 3rd quarter, one of the most important first downs of the game. Three seconds before the ball was snapped, Peyton leaned over to me as I was in a halfback position to his left. He said, “Tech (his nickname for me), the ball’s coming to you. Get open.” Talk about pressure! Brian Urlacher, the Chicago Bears’ all-pro middle linebacker, was showing a blitz, which Peyton said he was faking. The ball was snapped, and sure enough, Peyton was right. The Bears’ linebackers dropped into zone coverage, which allowed me to release freely into my route. As I turned to look for the ball, Peyton had already executed his throw. I swear, to this day, I can still see the drops of water jumping off the spiral of the ball. The ball landed perfectly in my hands as I turned to see the 6’5″ 265-lb Brian Urlacher standing on the first down line. I knew in that moment there was only one thing I could do, and that it would hurt. A lot. I lowered my shoulder and ran through him as hard as I possibly could. I’m happy to say I won that battle and got the first down, which enabled us to put points on the board, and the rest of the game was history as we defeated the Chicago Bears with a score of 29-17.
PHOTO CREDIT: MATT KRYGER/INDYSTAR