The default assumption in professional football is that the starting quarterback is more than just the best passer on the field; he is expected to be the team leader. I previously wrote an article (available here) on three psychological principles that underlie the success of NFL starting quarterbacks: self-efficacy, preparation, and patience.
Starting quarterbacks serve a role on their teams much the same as business leaders do their companies. To that end, business leaders would significantly benefit by incorporating the practices that are founded upon these three psychological principles.
Self-efficacy, preparation, and patience
Albert Bandura, psychologist and Stanford professor, led the early development of self-efficacy research. Self-efficacy is an individual’s belief in their own ability to execute certain behaviors necessary to achieve specific performances. Two of the primary sources of self-efficacy include mastery experiences and vicarious experiences. “Master experiences provide information about one’s successes, but also failures. Generally, successful experiences increase self-efficacy beliefs, while experiences of failure lower them.” “Vicarious experiences provide information about modeled attainments of others, which influence one’s self-efficacy beliefs by demonstrating and transferring competencies (model learning) and by providing a point of reference for social comparison.” Self-efficacy “influence[s] all manner of human experience, including the goals for which people strive, the amount of energy expended toward goal achievement, and likelihood of attaining particular levels of behavioral performance.”
In cognitive psychology, preparation is “the process of increasing readiness for an activity.” Patience is “the ability to stay calm while you’re waiting for an outcome that you need or want.” Psychiatrist, Dr. Judith Orloff explains, “[p]atience doesn’t mean passivity or resignation, but power. It’s an emotionally freeing practice of waiting, watching, and knowing when to act.”
On display in Super Bowl LVII
These principles are exemplified by the two quarterbacks starting in Super Bowl LVII this weekend between the Kansas City Chiefs and Philadelphia Eagles, Patrick Mahomes and Jalen Hurts.
For example, in terms of self-efficacy, Mahomes spent his rookie season in the NFL as the understudy to a vicarious influence, a seasoned veteran NFL quarterback, Alex Smith. Mahomes previously explained the importance of learning from Smith, saying that he “learned how to be a pro quarterback” from Smith. Andy Reid, the head coach for the Kansas City Chiefs, and Mahomes’ father each echoed the impact that sitting behind Alex Smith and learning behind the veteran had on Mahomes. Reid said that “[w]hat [Smith] did for [Mahomes] you can’t pay back with money. . . He helped him with things in ways that a coach simply can’t do.” Mahomes’ father similarly expressed that “my son can never repay Alex Smith for everything that he did for him.”
Both Mahomes and Hurts stress the importance of preparation to success. Mahomes unequivocally said “[t]he most important thing for me is to be prepared.” He continued, “prepare for different scenarios and act them out. . . push the margins. In this game, just like in any sport, they are so fine; so know your game, your team’s playbook and the opposition’s methods. Give yourself that edge in the important moments of games.”
Likewise, Hurts emphasizes preparation as key to his success. “It’s about staying the course, understanding that you are going to have ups and downs. How are you going to handle those moments? That’s what I tell my teammates. That’s what I tell kids when I speak to them. We can’t win every time we’re out there, but we can prepare to win every time. If you conduct yourself that way, you will be able to handle the times when things don’t go your way. I truly believe that success is achieved first by how we mentally handle each moment.”
“It’s about staying the course, understanding that you are going to have ups and downs. How are you going to handle those moments?” -Jalen HurtsTweet
Hurts also learned the importance of patience. The young star quarterback became the starting quarterback for the Alabama Crimson Tide as a true freshman and led his team to the 2017 College Football Playoff National Championship. As a sophomore, he again led his team to the national championship game, but this time was benched at halftime in favor of Tua Tagovailoa. He spent his junior season as the backup quarterback for Alabama. He ensured that he would earn his degree that year, making him eligible to be a graduate transfer in his final year of NCAA eligibility. Hurts transferred to the Oklahoma Sooners, leading the 2019 Sooners to a Big 12 championship and again taking his team to the College Football Playoff. Hurts was drafted in the second round of 2020 NFL Draft and spent most of his rookie season as the backup quarterback on the Philadelphia Eagles. Facing ups and downs early in his career, Hurts reminded himself of bible verse John 13:7. According to ESPN, Hurts said “[m]y first year here [people] probably didn’t even want [me drafted] here. It was probably one of those things. But it always handles itself . . . It was a big surprise to many. My favorite [Bible] verse, I went through a lot of stuff in college and it kind of stuck with me, John 13:7: ‘You may not know now but later you’ll understand.’ Hopefully people understand.”
Just as these principles are critical to the success of NFL quarterbacks, they are also critical to the success of business leaders.
Business leaders and QBs share the same successful qualities
In the same way that quarterbacks become and remain their team’s leader through preparation, business leaders similarly need to be methodical in their preparation and rely on that preparation when making decisions. Further, both need to commit to excellence, hold themselves accountable, take challenges head-on, and have a positive impact on the people around them.
Scott Sellers, who was the quarterback for the Princeton Tigers, felt that the same leadership qualities he needed to succeed as a quarterback were also crucial to his success in business. Sellers explained that “in the end” in football and in life, “it comes down to execution.” He continued “[i]n the world of business, you are judged on the ability to produce consistent, bottom-line results. Your investors, your board and your employees with families to support are looking to you for that quintessential leadership quality.” Sellers emphasized the qualities that he relied on to succeed, which qualities have the underlying principles of patience and preparation, “[b]eing under pressure as a collegiate football player allowed me to develop critical skills I use in business every day, such as the ability to focus, see the big picture and develop and execute a sound game plan. It’s been a winning formula for me.”
The three psychological principles also underlie the success of business leaders
Business leaders need high self-efficacy in order to overcome adversity in their space and can take a queue from successful quarterbacks as to the effectiveness of this principle. According to Tarek Statico, “[w]hen it comes to business, self-efficacy may show up as not only self-confidence but also a willingness to take risks and to get back up after failure.” On the other hand, business professionals with low self-efficacy “run the risk of performing tasks below [their] actual ability level because [they] believe[ ] [they] can only perform to that level, and [they] may not recognize [their] aptitude to do the work.” Studies have found a high, positive correlation between self-efficacy and job performance. Accordingly, the findings of such studies indicate that “boosts to self-efficacy increased performance by 28%.”
Like their on-field counterparts, leaders in business need to prepare for success. Switzer Associates – Leadership Solutions explains that the preparedness of business leaders (preparedness in the form of refining and upgrading skills, or anticipating and taking proactive actions for shifts in the industry) is key for their business to avoid pitfalls and achieve success. Similarly, an article in Small Business Bonfire reiterates that “[p]roper preparation is the key to success in any venture. . . By taking the time to plan and organize, individuals and businesses can lay the foundation for a successful outcome.” Carole Spiers, the author and public speaker well-known for her work on corporate stress and employee wellbeing, has emphasized that preparation is a necessary component to success for all business professionals. Her three key takeaways on preparation are: (1) “preparation is essential, not optional”; (2) “being prepared saves time and money”; and (3) “failing to anticipate puts you at a competitive disadvantage.”
The old adage that patience is a virtue holds true for the success of business leaders, just as it does for NFL quarterbacks. Impellus, a UK-wide provider of management, leadership, and core commercial skills training found that patience is “the ability to stay calm in the face of disappointment, adversity or distress” and is “essential” to “true leadership.” Similarly, organizational behavior professor Davis Sluss explained that “effective leadership behaviors are enhanced by a show of patience.” In Self-Help, 19th century British author, Samuel Smiles, famously wrote that:
Progress, however, of the best kind, is comparatively slow. Great results cannot be achieved at once; and we must be satisfied to advance in life as we walk, step by step. [Philosopher Joseph de Maistre] says that “to know how to wait is the great secret of success.” We must sow before we can reap, and often have to wait long, content meanwhile to look patiently forward in hope; the fruit best worth waiting for often ripening the slowest. But “time and patience,” says the Eastern proverb, “change the mulberry leaf to satin.”
The importance of patience to business leaders and to their businesses can be summarized by a quote from former American entertainer and author Eddie Cantor, “it takes twenty years to become an overnight success.”
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Whether quarterback or businessperson, the same three principles underlie success. First, leaders need to have high self-efficacy. Second, leaders need to prepare to succeed. Third, leaders need to be patient, focusing on the process of obtaining future success and not deterred by waiting for some, often unknown, future date.
David Gardy Ermann is a Manhattan-based attorney. David earned his J.D. from the University of Pennsylvania Law School and his B.A., summa cum laude, from Ramapo College of New Jersey.