🎄I want to wish you all a Merry Christmas and a happy holiday season. 🎄
If you enjoy this weekly newsletter, I’d love to hear what stands out, and please do me the kindness of sharing with others.
In a profession where your eventual firing is inevitable, Baltimore Ravens coach John Harbaugh stands out for his leadership and longevity during a week where his team lost 31-30 to the Green Bay Packers.
The Ravens rallied from 14 points down getting the potential tying score with 42 seconds remaining.
Rather than taking the easy point to tie the game and hope for an opportunity in overtime, Harbaugh opted for the win with a two-point conversion. The attempt was unsuccessful, the second time in three weeks his team has lost on a failed two-point conversion.
While the results were not there this week, Harbaugh has had one losing season out of 13 in a league known for parity. He is the fourth-longest tenured coach in the NFL, a league where as many as a third of the coaches have been with their team no more than a single season.
The reason for his long-term success is that Harbaugh is playing the infinite game.
Simon Sinek defines an infinite game where the objective is to stay in the game as long as possible. It's not about wins or losses, but it does require continuous progress.
Leaders in the infinite game place people first, pursue better over best, and embrace uncertainty. It's about having a vision and tireless pursuit to improve.
Harbaugh trusts his players and puts them first.
good leaders sometimes suffer mission failure and bad leaders sometimes enjoy mission success. The ability to succeed is not what makes someone a leader. Exhibiting the qualities of leadership is what makes someone an effective leader.
One of those qualities is acknowledging that a leader is responsible for the people who are responsible for the results but cannot control the results themselves.
The play the coaches called for the two-point attempt put the players into a position to be successful. There was an open receiver, but the backup quarterback did not see him. Instead, he threw to his primary receiver and the play was broken up.
Despite that, Harbaugh praised the decision of his young quarterback along with the effort of the opposing player that made the game-winning play. That's how you build a culture.
In strong cultures, people find safety in relationships. Strong relationships are the foundation of high-performing teams. And all high-performing teams start with trust.
This was not about a single game or victory. Harbaugh has a vision and a mindset he's instilled into his team. He is not satisfied with leaving his team's fate to luck.
Columnist Mike Jones wrote:
Harbaugh will give the order to go for two again. Because as a coach who believes in ultra-aggressive calls and wants his players to play in that same fashion, going for the win is always the play.
Mark Andrews, a Ravens' star player and the intended target of the two-point conversion, shows the team is fully on board with that vision:
It was the decision. I wouldn’t have it any other way. I think people that would second-guess that are wrong. It was the right thing to do.
We’re an aggressive team. We fought and clawed. That was a good Packers team, so for us to be able to be right there and almost win it, that’s the opportunity we want. I love the decision.
As a leader, this was the ultimate act of faith. You cannot do more than give your people a chance.
While this is one instance of Harbaugh's leading with an infinite mindset, his tenure with the Ravens has been one of embracing change.
In 2018, Harbaugh replaced Superbowl-winning and stereotypical quarterback Joe Flacco with Lamar Jackson, a quarterback with unique athletic abilities, but significant draft concerns about his ability to be an NFL quarterback. Instead of forcing Jackson to adjust to the system, Harbaugh overhauled the team's system to fit Jackson and unleashed an offense the NFL had never experienced before.
The result was that Lamar Jackson earned a unanimous league MVP the following season while Harbaugh won coach of the year.
All organizations suffer turnover and change, but infinite-minded leaders embrace it. They find alternative ways to continuously get better and achieve success.
In a sport where injuries can instantly change a season and COVID continues to make an impact, the Ravens continue to contend because they have John Harbaugh, a leader with an infinite mindset.
And, if given the chance next week, I’d guess they’re going for two.
"You play to win the game."
This was Coach Edwards' iconic press conference and rallying cry for his 2002 New York Jets team who, mired in losing, would turn it around to win their division. (As a long-time suffering Jets fan, I'm also reminded 2002 was the last time it happened.)
While his initial quote speaks to the infinite game, his actions in the following seasons did not. Characterized as having an ultra-conservative "play not to lose" mentality, he would depart the Jets three years later with limited further success.
In the infinite game, consistency of actions and message matter.
The Great Ones Think Differently
Alex Ovechkin, arguably the greatest hockey goal scorer, opts for something a little different in his water bottles during the game:
Alex Ovechkin is pretty famous that he has the same pregame meal,” Kaplan reported. “It’s a heavy meal from Mamma Lucia’s. I’ve also heard a rumor that he has Coca-Cola during games. I got to the bottom of it. It’s in this water bottle. It’s not Coca-Cola. It’s actually Pepsi during games. I saw him sip it a little during the first period. In the first intermission, he actually likes Dr. Pepper.
While I'm not saying the soda made him great, I'm not saying it didn't...