A lot has been written and spoken about Cam Newton's performance at Super Bowl 50 ... and he's come in for a lot of criticism. So having let the dust settle I thought I'd take a look at Cam Newton's performance from the standpoint of him being a leader and not just quarterback of the Carolina Panthers.
Now I admire Cam Newton's ability as an NFL quarterback, I like the way he plays the game, the Dab dance celebration, his enthusiasm is infectious. I mean he's the NFL MVP this season .. what's not to like?
However, the more I reflect on the Super Bowl, the more I feel that unwittingly Cam Newton may have taught us all a salutary lesson in leadership.
Two instances stick in my mind - the pivotal sack and stripping of the ball by Von Miller in the fourth quarter and the press conference after the game. Let's consider the sack first.
It's late in the fourth quarter, the Panthers trail by six points and are backed up in the own end of the field. The ball is snapped, Newton drops back to pass and the Denver Broncos defence, as they had all game, converge on Newton with Von Miller stripping the ball away. The ball is loose on the ground, bodies flying to recover and Newton hesitates .... the Broncos recover the ball and a couple of plays later they score a touchdown and the game is over.
Newton later gave his reasons for not diving on the ball, all well and good, however, it got me thinking ... if the play had happened at the other end of the field with the Panthers threatening a game tying touchdown would he have dived on the ball then. We will never know for sure, but I have to admit I think he would. I feel that the Denver defence had got to Newton not just physically but mentally and at that point in the game he was at a loss what to do. So far this season everything had gone Newton's way, he was the MVP of the league, but at that point in the game he wasn't as sure of himself and he backed away from the challenge before him.
Lesson #1 - Toughing it out when the going gets tough
As a leader it's easy to be on the top of your game when everything is going well, everyone looks up to you, your team members and peers praise you. However, when the chips are down and things are not going well, it's easy to shrink back and look to others. But this is exactly the time when your colleagues are looking to you to stand tall.
Okay onto the second instance, the post match press conference. All season Newton had been a charismatic and talkative player in front of the press, in fact leading up to the Super Bowl he'd led the press like a modern day pied piper. However, following the game he sat with his hoodie pulled up, one and two word answers to the press corps questions. His reasoning, he doesn't like losing. Now I'm familiar with the old adage - show me someone who likes losing and I'll show you a loser, but as the leader and public face of the Carolina Panthers there was an onus on Newton to stand-up and answer the questions that came his way, instead he came across to me as a sulking star, if he'd had a stuffy he probably would have thrown it.
Lesson #2 - Not standing up and taking responsibility
There are times as a leader when you need to stand up and be counted. It may not be easy or pleasant but it comes with the territory to step up and take responsibility. Many of us who've been in leadership roles may often have wished that we could pull a hoodie over our head, but circumstances and our teams needed us to step forward. People remember the leaders who do and those who don't. I remember one organization I worked with when a senior leader left work early the day his team were told they were being laid off, leaving it to his deputy to make announcement and manage the fall out. At least Can Newton hadn't stooped that low!
Lesson #3 - Learn from your mistakes
Hopefully Newton learns from this, as leaders we don't always get it right, however we can learn from our mistakes and seek to be even better next time around. Leaders aren't perfect, they're often doing the best they can with what they have in front of them.