It was the best of times; it was the worst of times… —A Tale of Two Cities, Charles Dickens
The opening lines to Charles Dickens classic, A Tale of Two Cities could not have expressed any better, my eleven year old son’s feelings about his favorite football team, the Indianapolis Colts, one year ago at this time. The Colts had gone from perennial Super Bowl contenders each year for the past decade, led by a future Hall of Fame quarterback, Peyton Manning. It was the best of times for Colts fans.
But that all went away when Manning had to go through a series of operations on his neck that left him sidelined for the entire 2011 season, and his professional football career in doubt. The Colts could only muster two wins out of sixteen games under the leadership of a variety of quarterbacks that couldn’t elevate the team to even a respectable showing. The Colts missed the playoff for the first time in a decade, the head coach was fired, and the end of an era for Manning in Indianapolis was coming to an end. It was the worst of times for Colts fans.
However, the worst of times was short lived. In one of the most ironic twists of fate in modern sports history, the Colts became the luckiest team in the league. As a result of the worst record 2011, they were aligned to have the number one overall pick in the 2012 NFL draft. And in a controversial move, they dropped their Hall of Fame quarterback, uncertain if he would be able to play again, and choose the All American quarterback out of Stanford, Andrew Luck, to replace the legend at the helm of the Colts offense.
Since then, the rookie quarterback of the Indianapolis Colts has resurrected an organization from the ashes of the National Football League, not only by his decision making abilities and skill sets on the field, but his attitude and inspiration off the field of play. Nine games into the season, the young quarterback has led his team to a 6-3 record mid-way through the season, tripling their win total over last year and positioning them for an improbable shot at the playoffs.
A great quarterback is like a great leader in the workplace. It doesn’t take long to be in the workforce before you realize that there are good leaders (managers, bosses, supervisors) and there are bad leaders. We’ve all probably had at least one awful leader that we’ve had to work for. And of course, there are the disengaged managers who are neither good nor bad—they are just there to make sure that the organizational chart is up to date and protocol is followed.
There is an obvious difference between a great leader and a terrible leader. But there is also a significant difference between a great leader and an average leader. The difference between a great leader and an average leader isn’t about how much smarter they are or even the quality of the decisions they make day in and day out. The difference between a great leader and an average leader is what they do to make the people they work with better!
Andrew Luck is often only credited for the way he runs the Colts complicated offense, and his knowledge of the game that are far beyond the years he has been in the league. But there is so much more Luck does for his team that goes beyond the offense. The longer he sustains a drive, coming up with key third down conversions, and eating up time on the clock, the more the Colts defense gets to rest on the sideline.
Andrew Luck’s character goes beyond his skill sets. When the Colts head coach, Chuck Pagano, was diagnosed with leukemia only a few games into the season, Luck took the lead in support for his coach by shaving his head—a show of solidarity for the coach who would loose his hair due to the chemotherapy treatments. Most of the team followed the young quarterbacks lead and the team has rallied around their ailing coach to rattle off four wins in a row—one of the most inspirational stories in recent years.
For whatever reason, many individuals are content with the status quo. They come to work; they put in their time at work, pull their paycheck, and are satisfied with a job that’s good enough. They may have run into roadblocks or constraints in their career that keep them from taking risks or thinking of ways they could do their job better—the multitude of individual contributors who have settled for average. This doesn’t mean that they are bad people, they’ve just settled into a lifestyle of mediocrity and aren’t really pushed to be better.
Great leaders inspire those individual contributors on the front line of organizations to rise above the temptation to settle for average. They inspire the people they are leading to find, cultivate, and develop the personal desire for excellence within. Great leaders take average contributors and make them good contributors, and they take good contributors and make them great. The entire organization benefits from this type of leadership.
That is exactly what Andrew Luck does. He has taken made his teammates better as a young leader of a proud franchise that has a rich history of success. He has diverted a long winter of discontent for that organization and has inspired Colt’s players and fans alike to hope for the best of times again. Leadership isn’t just about knowledge and skills, sometimes it is Luck.
Jason Diamond Arnold is a Leadership Consulting Associate at The Ken Blanchard Companies and is Co-Author of Situational Self Leadership in Action, a virtual learning program designed to develop personal and professional excellence.