The Super Bowl isn’t just a showcase of athletic talent (and an excuse to eat copious amounts of food) — it’s a testament to the emotionally intelligent aspect of sports. Beyond the highlight reel plays, Monday morning quarterbacks, and celebrity relationship buzz, the Super Bowl can provide valuable insights for business leaders from the best players and coaches in the world. In particular, there were some great examples of emotional intelligence and how it can impact an entire organization.
On the field, players and coaches navigate game-changing plays, the frustration of critical mistakes, the cheering or booing of the crowd, and sometimes all at once! In the midst of this emotional whirlwind, keeping a cool head, and understanding the emotions of teammates and opponents is integral for making the right call in the biggest of all moments. Misreading a situation or misdiagnosing emotional cues can lead to bad decision making, a failed drive, and even losing the game.
So, let’s kick it off and look at four examples from this year’s Super Bowl where emotional intelligence (or a lack thereof) was on full display.
Lesson #1: Keep your composure, no matter what.
In case it wasn’t unanimous before, it is now. When it matters most, Patrick Mahomes is definitively the most calm and collected quarterback in the game. Not only did he manage the pressure of tying the game with less than two minutes to go, he then put together a perfect drive in overtime to lead Kansas City to victory… yet again!
Unless you’re an ER doctor, a fighter pilot, or a firefighter, few of us have job descriptions where split-second decisions are critical. Mahomes’ calm and collected decision-making stands as an instructive example for how we should act, especially in times of pressure. He plays with urgency, because he knows there’s not much time left, but he works with a level of composure that even other NFL players marvel at.
While most of us may not ever face such intense pressure as the Super Bowl, the significance of avoiding knee-jerk reactions is applicable to emotionally intelligent decision making. Taking a deliberate step back to survey the entirety of the situation, recognizing the time you have available, and adopting a strategic mindset are fundamental elements for maintaining composure and making the right choice for your business and your team.
Lesson #2: Find the teaching moment.
We’ve all encountered the buffoon of a manager who brings down the hammer on their employees for making small mistakes — berating them in front of peers without any sense of how they appear to others. On the opposite end of the spectrum is the manager who uses each misstep as an opportunity to teach, fostering an environment where overcoming challenges becomes a shared achievement.
Kansas City Chiefs coach Andy Reid and 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan are both celebrated for their leadership. While undeniably exceptional strategists, their true strength lies in recognizing the value of a teachable moment. This approach strengthens the team and is an emotionally intelligent leadership quality that transcends football. Teams and organizations thrive when managers and coaches are on the same page as their players and everyone is working together to find a way to win.
At the beginning of overtime, the 49ers won the coin toss and chose to receive the ball first, to the surprise of many who thought it was a strange decision. The coach’s decision is beside the point, as there were new rules and many variables that can go into making such a call. However, this will undoubtedly be a teaching moment, not only for Kyle Shanahan, but for every team around the league. In hindsight, many will say that this decision cost them the game — who knows. What we do know is that every organization around the country will study this moment, dissect it into a hundred permutations, all in the hopes of avoiding the same fate as the 49ers.
Lesson #3: Use your timeouts wisely.
At Flynn Barrett we emphasize the importance of “practicing the pause.” In the world of football, nothing embodies this concept more literally than a timeout. Effective leadership on the field or in the office hinges on using timeouts and pauses wisely.
When the game plan unravels and it feels like you or your team are struggling to keep up, it’s time to call a timeout. A strategic pause allows you to step back and assess the broader landscape. Where exactly are you on the field? Has your team lost sight of the immediate goals? Taking a moment to regroup enables you to formulate a plan, select the optimal play, and ensure everyone is on the same page.
This is exactly what happened in overtime for the Chiefs. Down by 3 points, KC got the ball and failed to get a first down on their first three attempts. Now 4th down, the Chiefs were staring defeat squarely in the face. If they don’t get the first down on the next play, they lose the game. Coach Reid wisely calls a timeout, allowing his team to collect their thoughts, draw up a play, and get everyone on the same page. They got the first down, and went on to score the game winning touchdown.
Lesson #4: Play to your strengths.
In the world of football, physical strength and agility takes center stage. But the art of leveraging and maximizing a player’s talents—be it speed, strength, or sheer size—is what distinguishes the talented from the truly exceptional. A coach’s primary role is to understand each player’s capabilities and strategically position them for success.
Assembling a cohesive team with diverse talents, and ensuring that everyone operates in their prime positions, is the hallmark of a Super Bowl champion.
The Kansas City Chiefs exemplified this to perfection in the Super Bowl. While it wasn’t a flawless game by any means, their biggest strength as a team is the diversity of their talents. Both on offense and defense, the Chiefs are widely considered to be one of the most well-rounded teams in the league. As an example, eight different players caught the ball for KC during the game (much more than most teams usually have). It makes it very hard on the opponent when they don’t know who’s going to get the ball next. That’s a key piece of Kansas City’s strength, and they took advantage of it in the biggest game of the year.
Emotionally intelligent business leaders can draw a parallel. Spending time to recognize and capitalize on individual strengths of a team ensures the entire organization can operate at a higher level.
Putting together an emotionally intelligent team.
Football is a great metaphor for how we can use emotional intelligence as a tool to improve ourselves, our employees, and our organizations as a whole. While some people are natural leaders, most leaders learn and grow over time.
Granted, there’s a lot that goes into becoming a leader of Super Bowl Champions. However, a key component is about developing those crucial emotional intelligence skills and practicing them in real situations.
How do you become more emotionally intelligent?
Every successful leader has a mentor. In fact, this year’s Super Bowl coaches, Andy Reid and Kyle Shanahan, are widely regarded as being part of the two most successful coaching trees in the modern NFL. Both coaches learned from the best and have carried on the tradition of teaching those beneath them.
Calling in a great coach to help your people realize their full potential is a hallmark of successful leadership. If your team has untapped potential, give Flynn Barrett Consulting a call. Let’s start moving the chains together.