Lessons on Leadership from Fantasy Football

Guest post by Scott Edinger News, Stories

Football season is upon us, and while the link between these two may not be obvious at first blush, stay with me for a moment. Before I detail the similarities between these two seemingly disparate topics, it makes sense to highlight my qualifications to do so. I have been playing fantasy football in the same league since 1995, and in the last four years have won more games than anyone in my league, including two super bowl appearances and a championship in which I vanquished my arch-rival. Take that Eric! As a leader, I have been an SVP and EVP of Sales for two different companies, both of which grew steadily through recessions and achieved record levels of revenue and profit. So I know a little bit about both of these topics.

There are many connections between leadership and fantasy football and in both disciplines (it is fun to refer to fantasy football as a discipline), strategy is of the utmost importance. These are the key strategies that are the same for both:

  • It’s all about results. As a leader, you are responsible for getting results and in both fantasy football and in business, it’s results or bust. In business, it may be increased profit, launching new products, improving processes, and so forth. In fantasy football, it is winning week in and week out.
  • Get your players in the right positions. Leading teams is all about putting people in the position to use their knowledge, skills, and talents for the overall benefit of the organization. That may include cultivating talent and developing skills that are needed. In organizations, for instance, that means making sure that your team members with great customer-facing skills are spending their time in the field, on activities related to client service or new business acquisition. Leaders need to ensure that they are clear on the skills needed in all positions, and that they are staffed with people who have the ability to succeed in their given role. In fantasy football, you need to ensure that your roster is complete with the right players to fill each position from Quarterback to Kicker.
  • Make win-win trades. In fantasy football, nobody wants to make a trade that seems lopsided. Similarly, nobody wants to work with people who are not good collaborators. Improving your ability to work cross-functionally with colleagues enables you to get things done in an organization. Most projects today involve multiple constituencies and multiple stakeholders and your ability to influence them by appealing to their rational self-interest is your best chance for success. Teamwork and collaboration are increasingly valued skills because of the complexity of work in organizations today. And in fantasy football, if you want to make a trade, you better offer fair deals or nobody will trade with you.
  • Know when it is time to cut your losses. In the last decade I have been in scores of discussions about whether or not someone should be let go. When the person was eventually let go, I have never heard a leader say, “I did that too fast.” Most of the time, we suffer incompetence for too long. I am not suggesting terminating someone’s employment at the first mistake, but when performance problems are persistent, we need to recognize that both the organization and the individual would be better off elsewhere. But sometimes leaders get emotionally involved in making someone a success, or don’t feel like dealing with an issue, and provide much more time than is warranted to improve. Similarly, fantasy football GMs get emotionally attached to a player because they play for a favorite team, or think “just one more week and they will break out of their slump.” In both cases, those in charge need to take swift action for the benefit of their respective teams.
  • You can’t win ‘em all. Even the best players have a clunker of a game now and then. Your best seller may lose an account or your six sigma expert may get a process messed up. It happens, and you need to be able to take it in stride and stick with your strategy. When you do suffer a setback, take some time to understand why it happened and how it may be prevented in the future. Do what you can to learn from it. Maybe there is a lesson to be gleaned that helps you get better. But above all you then need to shake it off, because there are still objectives to be achieved, deadlines to be met, and a job to be done. Just because one project didn’t go well doesn’t mean that everything else in the organization stops, so take your lumps and move ahead. In fantasy football, there is always next week or next season.