What I learned about business from Sean Payton

First, you need to know, I am a huge football fan.  It all goes back to watching football with my father as a little girl; it was something that bonded us. He decided even if I was a girl, he could still teach me the technical aspects of the game. Actually, this knowledge became somewhat of an “equalizer” for me in the workplace with many of my male colleagues who were surprised and shocked by my knowledge of the game.

My dad coached Pee Wee Football for years and was a huge Washington Redskins fan since Virginia did not have an NFL team, per se.  So, fast forward to Charlotte, North Carolina and I am literally living in the Carolina Panthers’ backyard. What happens? Well, you adopt the home team and so many years ago, I joined “Panther Nation”.  I still get goosebumps when I hear Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline” being belted out after a win by those of us left in the stadium, singing along in our triumphant, off-key shouts of glee.

So, with this perspective, you now understand why I was watching the NFL Playoff Game between the New Orleans Saints and the Los Angeles Rams a few weeks ago.  While I am definitely not part of “Who Dat” Nation during the regular season – we are division rivals – I did cast my allegiance to the NFC South team in the Playoffs. So there I was, on the couch cheering on Brees and feeling good about their performance, when late in the 4th quarter, the unthinkable happened. No, not an interception or fumble.  It was a blatant, and I mean blatant, missed personal foul that would have most likely sealed the game for the Saints and their quest for the Super Bowl.

There was no yellow flag thrown, and the coach of New Orleans, Sean Payton, immediately went on a rant that quickly escalated into the mother of all emotional outbursts on the sideline.  He was pointing at the stadium jumbotrons and yelling at the referees – he was showing them the obvious. The fans were in disbelief and screaming for justice. However, in football, this was an unreviewable event.

How many times in business have you wanted to cry foul?  How many times have you known something wasn’t fair or right but no one would call it out?  How many times have you gone home ranting and raving about how unbelievable it was that no one could see what was going on or the impact it was having on the team? We have all been there.

I sat on my couch and watched Payton walk up and down the sideline. I saw questionable play calling, followed by the team delivering a lackluster performance after that non-call. I watched it literally cost them the game, yet it was a huge “aha” moment for me.

You see, Payton could not get back in the game and tell his players to shake it off and win.  He is their leader, and they were looking for his reassurance. He was so stuck on being wronged that he completely missed his opportunity to step up, get the team focused, and get the job done.

It made me think about my own Sean Payton moments when I have been so blinded by being right in my own mind, that I became paralyzed and was not performing nor leading at my best.

I’ve played this over and over in my head the past few weeks. I watched everyone agree that the Saints were robbed, and yes, Sean Payton was right, and yes, the NFL admitted they got it wrong, and the refs said they completely missed it.

None of that changed the outcome, nor the score, at the end of the game: Rams 26, Saints 23.

The Saints may not have won, and this loss will sting for years to come. However, I personally want to thank Sean Payton for opening my eyes and for giving me a ringside seat to what happens when we allow our emotions to take over, causing our judgment and leadership to suffer.

Business isn’t fair, and not every play will be called. At the end of the day, you are the CEO of your career and your life. Keep your eye on the prize, and don’t let raw emotion derail your aspirations or the team’s goals. Thank you Sean Payton – I can see much clearer now.

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