A Super Bowl Servant Leader

Posted 02.07.2011

Steelers-coach It’s Monday morning and time to break down the Super Bowl.  My main goal in this post is to share some Steelers coach Mike Tomlin-inspired thoughts on servant leadership.  Have to spend a little time first, though, on a few observations about this national holiday. (After all, is there anything else in America that draws 106 million viewers?)

First, congrats to the Packers.  Lots of great stories there.  The one I’m happiest about is summed up in the Tweet I sent as the seconds ticked down on a Packers victory, “Our long Favre nightmare is over. Thank you Packers.”   The leadership lessons from Favre about how to not leave gracefully are endless.

Next, there was the halftime show with the Black Eyed Peas.  I’ll say right now that I know less than nothing about hip-hop.  Loved their show though.  An enormous amount of energy and amazing production values.  My post show Tweet sums up my critique, “Man, Black Eyed Peas Super Bowl Halftime show rivaled opening ceremonies of Beijing Olympics. USA is back baby! Best HT show in memory.”

Then there were the commercials.  Thought they were generally underwhelming.  My favorite by a mile was the VW ad where a pint sized Darth Vader is surprised by his Force.  Funny and heartwarming.  Here’s the link.

Of course, since the game was in Dallas, there had to be a Jerry Jones angle.  In an effort to set a Super Bowl attendance record, the Cowboys owner had temporary seats installed in his brand new stadium.  As the New York Times reports, the only problem was the fire marshal deemed them not safe to sit in.  So, about a 1,000 fans found out 30 minutes before game time that they had no place to sit.  Nice.

And the ego displayed by Jones in the seating fiasco sets us up nicely for a lesson on servant leadership from Steelers coach Mike Tomlin.  At 37 years old and only four seasons as a head coach, Tomlin’s team has already won one Super Bowl and came very close to a second last night.  Standing outside the Steelers locker room after the loss, Chris Myers of Fox told Tomlin he was impressed by how he stood at the door as the players entered after the game and shook hands and thanked each of them individually for their effort.  Tomlin replied that it wasn’t really a big deal;  he does that after every game.  In a column for the New York Times earlier in the weekend, William C. Rhoden asked Tomlin about the impact another African American Super Bowl winning coach, Tony Dungy,  has had on his life.  Tomlin replied:

“I can give a really pointed answer because I am very conscious of Coach Dungy’s influence in terms of how I do my job.  He tries to lead through service, and I do the same. I learned that from him in providing the men what they need to be great. Every day when I go to work, I don’t think about things I have to do, I think about the things I can do to make my men successful. So I have a servant’s mentality in terms of how I approach my job, and I get that from Coach Dungy.” 

“I don’t think about the things I have to do, I think about the things I can do to make my men successful.”  There’s a lot of other things that one could say about servant leadership, but if you’re looking for a brief definition of how it works, I don’t think you can do much better than what Tomlin said.  Does servant leadership guarantee you win every game?  No, of course not.  Does it make a positive difference?  I think it does.

What do you think?  What’s the best example of servant leadership you’ve ever seen or experienced?  What difference did it make?