Leadership Lessons from the Vikings

The Vikings should not be in the playoffs. No way. No one expected it. Even through most of the season, people hardly mentioned them, except perhaps for noting that head coach Mike Zimmer (for most of his career a defensive coordinator) put together a really good defense.

Why shouldn’t they be in the playoffs? Last year’s record was mediocre (8-8), and you don’t often improve that much in one year, particularly when your starting quarterback (Teddy Bridgewater) isn’t expected to play much and you trade away your franchise running back (Adrian Peterson). Moreover, even when they got off to a decent start, the QB brought in to replace Bridgewater (Sam Bradford, who was playing really well, btw) gets injured, and then your promising (as in highest 2017 draft pick) running back (Dalvin Cook, who was matching or besting AP’s rookie year numbers) gets a season-ending injury.

No, the Vikings should not be in the playoffs, let alone as the #2 seed of the NFC. But they are. Why? Three reasons, I think, and from which all of us can learn.

1) Each player matters. Absent any superstars, they have each brought up their game. Case Keenum (journeyman quarterback). Adam Thielen (undrafted). The list goes on. Essentially, everyone on the team knows that he has a critical role to play. Absent any superstars, each person has to be a star, or at least give it their ultimate. (This is what Benjamin and Rosamund Zander refer to as “leading from any chair” in their phenomenal book, The Art of Possibility.)

2). Selfless play. Again, perhaps that’s linked to not depending on any one superstar player. But I think, even more, that it’s a whole-hearted commitment to the team. You play your best and sometimes you’ll get to make great plays, and many other times others will. It doesn’t matter. As long as you’re in it together. When each person trusts and plays for the rest of the team, greatness is far more possible.

3) One game at a time. Each game is its own challenge. No need to worry about the post-season until you’re there. Sometimes, low (or at least modest) expectations are helpful. But even if it’s nice flying under the radar for a while (and, frankly, if you pay attention to the air time sports commentators are giving them, the Vikings are still under-rated), once you start enjoying success, the key remains to focus on the challenge in front of you, live and work in the present, and let the future take of itself.

Everyone leads. Put the team first and trust your colleagues. Keep your head in the present and let “the day’s worries be sufficient for the day.” It’s worked for the Vikings thus far and will, I both predict and hope(!), keep them in their unexpected playoff run through Feb. 4. And it will work for your team – whether defined as your family, company, church, or class – as well. Skol!