© Oleg Dudko | Dreamstime.com
Football 632cd16532946

Leadership Lessons from Auburn vs. Penn State Football

Sept. 22, 2022
A group of walk-ons with a lot of heart and strong leadership can complete their mission by working together.

IndustryWeek's elite panel of regular contributors.

There is a lot to be learned and applied from football to the game of business. The first is that sportsmanship is everything; the rest follows from there.

Last weekend, it was tough to be an Auburn Tigers football fan. Going into game day, Auburn fans were excited to host the Penn State Nittany Lions on their home turf in Alabama.

I have affection for both teams: My engineering degree is from Auburn University, so I am a Tigers fan. However, I sit on the Penn State Behrend board, so I enjoy cheering for the Nittany Lions, too.

Alas, for the Tigers, a victory was not to be. The Penn State fans would not experience Toomer’s Corner being rolled in toilet paper after an Auburn win. But the weekend was still a win for everyone in other ways.

Penn State fans had been wonderful to Auburn fans the year prior in State College, when Penn State played host. Auburn spectators were asked if we had found everything we needed, and at the end of the game were told, “Thanks for coming. We hope you had a good time.” It was a great display of grace and respect.

Everywhere I looked this weekend, Auburn and Penn State fans intermixed. The Penn State fans had done their research and were enjoying a lot of Auburn favorite traditions, like Toomer’s Lemonade and Guthrie’s fried chicken tenders. As game time neared, spectators stood side by side to wish Auburn’s team well during the traditional Tiger Walk, a route down the middle of the street from the athletic dorm to the stadium.

Inside the stadium, America was celebrated with pomp and circumstance. A golden eagle flew from the top of the stadium to midfield as Auburn supporters cried, “Waaaaaaaaaaar Eagle!” As the national anthem came to an end, two fighter jets flew over the stadium. Everyone had chill bumps in support of all our nation holds dear—freedom and football.

It got me thinking about other things business leaders can learn from football.

Good Coaches See the Big Picture

Coaches, managers and captains all play roles in moving a football team in the right direction. As leaders, you must model the behavior you want to see on the playing field and inspire others to complete the mission of winning the game together. Great coaching will help your team cross the goal line. As a leader, you have to see the changes that need to be made and quickly adapt. In addition, all the practice helps players gain the muscle memory to know how to complete the task in high-stress situations.

Teamwork Includes Everyone

Once you have the team assembled and working to complete the mission, everyone must play to their strengths and bring their “A” game each day. If the offensive line doesn’t do its job, the quarterback cannot make the plays. It takes all 11 players on the field performing at the highest level to make the touchdowns happen and wins possible.

… And So Do Celebrations

When the team scores, celebrate together! There is nothing like the roar of a stadium to help pump up the team. Consider how it might feel to the few who just made the big play happen if the entire company were cheering for them.

Contrary to popular belief, it does not take a team of top recruits and A players to be great. A group of walk-ons with a lot of heart and strong leadership can complete their mission by working together. And, along the way, make sure you develop those traditions worth celebrating.

As the Auburn Creed reads, “I believe that this is a practical world and that I can count only on what I earn. Therefore, I believe in work, hard work.”

Penn State’s coaches ensured their team had taken the necessary steps to be prepared to win. Yet it was still on the players to work together as a team, playing with all their heart and unique abilities combined to win the game. Penn State was victorious for the second year in a row!

This week the Auburn team will review the game film, talk about what went well and what did not go well. Then, they will prepare to meet the University of Missouri on the field Saturday, beginning a new chapter in the playbook.

Never give up! Play until the whistle blows.

How are you preparing your team for the game of business?

Ashleigh Walters is president of Onex and author of Leading with Grit and Grace.

Sponsored Recommendations

Voice your opinion!

To join the conversation, and become an exclusive member of IndustryWeek, create an account today!