First and Goal to Go: 3 Leadership Lessons from the Super Bowl

In business, we experience big moments too. And if we’re not careful, those moments can become intimidating. How will you stay grounded when the going gets tough?


Get your playbook out (not the ServiceNow one!)— the Super Bowl is upon us! You might be an American football fan ready to dissect every play on the field, or on the opposite end of the spectrum and only watching the game because it’s all about the pre-game and half-time show.  

No matter your level of investment, the NFL’s premier event offers valuable insights for leading a successful team with a strategic focus. Here are three of its biggest lessons.  

Don’t let big moments overwhelm you

The Super Bowl is the most watched event in the United States. Last year’s matchup reached an estimated 167 million viewers, and the two weeks before kickoff are full of excitement, too. Several brands will release ads in the days leading up to the game, generating buzz even if they’re not an official sponsor.

With that many people watching — on live TV, streaming platforms, and in the stadium — players could easily let the moment overtake them. So, many athletes participate in activities throughout the season, such as yoga, meditation, and Pilates, to calm their nerves.

In business, we experience big moments too. And if we’re not careful, those moments can become intimidating. How will you stay grounded when the going gets tough? You might need to warm up before a major presentation or shift your mindset to take some pressure off.  

The key is remembering you have the knowledge and experience to ace these big moments. And if things don’t go smoothly, just focus on what to adjust in the future.

Learn from your failures

One of the keys to athlete success is having a short memory, as opposed to dwelling on the point of failure. A soccer player who misses a kick or blows a coverage assignment has to get back into the game quickly. A baseball player with a .300 average is considered a good hitter — meaning they fail in seven out of 10 tries.  

And in American football, a strategic sport, a team that makes a mistake must bounce back quickly. Players only have a few seconds after one play ends and the next begins.

During Super Bowl LVI last year, the Los Angeles Rams gave up 17 unanswered points to the Cincinnati Bengals, turning a 10-point lead into a seven-point deficit. That span included a botched extra point attempt and two interceptions from Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford, all of which took away scoring opportunities.

But the Rams didn’t panic. Instead, they reviewed their mistakes offensively, tightened up defensively, scored the game’s final 10 points — and took home the championship.  

Another example (my oldest son’s favorite example and favorite QB): Peyton Manning, one of the all-time greats, was the losing quarterback in one of the most lopsided defeats in NFL history. Despite setting several offensive records during the year, his Denver Broncos lost 43-8 during Super Bowl XLVIII, the third-worst blowout the Super Bowl has ever seen.

Manning and the Broncos didn’t let the national embarrassment get them down. They retooled, looked at what worked and didn’t throughout the season, and won the Super Bowl two years later. It was Manning’s second championship and proved to be his final game, as he retired the following month.

None of us will be perfect at our jobs 100% of the time. The strongest leaders create an environment where people are encouraged to make mistakes. Rather than wallowing in those mistakes, employees can learn from them and then help others who might experience similar challenges.

I call it fail forward. I encourage my team to reflect on lessons learned and support them by applying their focus on results, not effort.  We aim to celebrate mistakes within NewRocket since that offers a learning opportunity for employees. Our teams embrace getting out of their comfort zones and trying new projects. Making mistakes is a part of professional development and self-mastery — without them, it’s hard to grow successfully.  

Seek other perspectives as you plan your strategy

Typically, an NFL team plays one game every week. But the Super Bowl gives us two weeks between the conference championships and the battle for the league title. That means twice as much time to prepare.

During that time, a team examines every facet of itself and its opponent. Inspiration can come from anyone — a quarterback’s coach, a lineman or even fans sharing unique stories of how much it means their team made it to the big game.

People in your organization have their areas of expertise, too, so don’t be afraid to lean on them. They see things in their daily activities that might not be visible but can offer unique insight into how to help the company.

At NewRocket, we have coffee chats, 1-on-1 meetings, and rockstar recognition programs to highlight people doing good work. I’ve personally started the SHEngineers Employee Resource Group and offer team boosts where I share announcements and program updates. During that time, employees can tell me about unique solutions they’ve built or offer the latest on a go-live update.    

Check in with your teams regularly. Consider ongoing events like office hours or town halls, where people can share what’s on their minds in a low-pressure, welcoming environment.  

After the clock hits zero and confetti rains down from the sky, we’ll all have learned lessons we can take back to our organizations. I can’t wait for kickoff!

Teresa is a purpose-driven servant leader with over 20 years of experience transforming organizations, projects, and teams. Follow her on LinkedIn.

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