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Leadership Lessons Learned from NFL Free Agency

NFL free agency opened last week and boy oh boy have we seen a flurry of activity. Big names changing teams, some for more than they are worth (DeMarcus Ware), and teams completely rebuilding their squad with just a few strategic moves (New England). The first week has been exciting to say the least. I can’t wait for the NFL draft to see what comes next. In the words of Terrell Owens, “get your popcorn ready”.  

This is an great time to be an NFL fan but as an HR professional, I am also very intrigued as there is so much to learn. One topic near and dear to my heart is leadership. In the midst of all the trade talk and roster moves, I took a moment to reflect on the Leadership lessons from NFL free agency. Below are a few of my key takeaways: 


·     The best want to play for a winning brand. No player wants to be in second place (shout out to the 90-94’ Buffalo Bills) and it is why free agents sacrifice at contract time to play for Manning (player/coach), Belichick, Carroll, the Harbaugh’s, or THE Chip Kelly. All have created a winning brand and players have responded. It is an important reminder that we must actively manage our brand and never lose focus.

·     The #1 competitive differentiator is and will always be talent and the war on talent is alive and well! The NFL knows this better than anyone. Look at the number of signings in week 1 of free agency and the number of coaching changes. The best talent is gone before you can blink. Organizations must compete harder than ever before to bring in the best talent on and off the field. If you do not compete effectively, you become the Dallas Cowboys. Do not let that happen. You are better than that!

·     Millennials want to test the market! Every NFL team has an average age below 27, which means the majority of NFL players today are considered millennials. I do not believe millennials are any less loyal than their predecessors, but you cannot ignore the fact that the longest NFL free agent contract signed this year was 6 years, with an opt out clause after year 5. Coincidence or planned? I believe it is the latter. Today’s and nextgen players do not dream of playing for a new team every 3-4 years, but they do want the option to test the market and you can guarantee they will. Organizations have the responsibility to ensure their players choose to stay, when the time comes for free agency. Keep in mind that players do not leave organizations. They leave managers. It starts with Leadership!    

·     The amount of coverage on the NFL has been incredible. By the way, it is March! Fans want to be closer to the game than ever before. The San Francisco 49ers know this well and it is why they are investing in SAP to help them be a best run business. With today’s technology, organizations need to ensure their people are connected in and can quickly leverage information to achieve their desired outcome. Organizations who manage their “knowledge” the best, will create a winning experience for their fans (customers) and players (employees).  

These are few of my observations. What have I missed? I am sure there are other lessons to be learned. I welcome your feedback.   

Game on! 


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