Lead Lean: Leading Beyond the Pundits

I work too damn hard to bottle my emotions up. – Cam Newton

(Image credited to ESPN Twitter)

In a recent interview with Michael Strahan, Carolina Panther quarterback, Cam Newton, stated “I work too damn hard…too damn hard, for me to bottle my emotions up”. His team only lost one game during the regular season; his stats are stellar; he acknowledges his team; and he loves the kids. Yet somehow, people are only focused on his emotional ‘show-boating’. I believe there are many GREAT leadership lessons that we can all learn from this 26 year old superman.

Whether you like Cam, hate Cam, or are not a fan of the Panthers, it is hard to refute the fact that he is the leader of the team and has led the team to new heights. Just four years ago, the pundits didn’t consider him NFL quarterback material. And let’s not forget that just last year, he was involved in an accident that injured his spine. So you might ask, what exactly are the leadership characteristics that we can learn from Cam Newton?

Set the Vision and the Intention

Cam envisioned himself as a top level quarterback, his team in the Superbowl, and being undefeated, even when others didn’t believe in him. He hasn’t fulfilled all of these things yet. However, he set his mind by beginning with the end in mind. Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People taught us this principle several years ago. Cam could have listened to the pundits, who declared him a runner, not a quarterback; that he would never be a franchise player, and more. He could have used their words as fuel and motivation. Nevertheless, if he didn’t believe in himself and his vision, there wouldn’t be a conversation. He also surrounded himself with like-minded people and those who had accomplished what he is striving to achieve. Leaders must set the vision, make it plain for those they lead, and believe when others don’t.

It is also apparent that he set intentions. When you think about the progress he has made over his years in the league, and the dynamic improvements over last year, it correlates to being intentional. I don’t know his work schedule, however, it is evident that he has spent time preparing his body, especially after the accident; studying film, practicing things like his play calling that is known to throw off defenders, and a lot more.

In leading lean, the leader has to have a long term vision and a short and mid-term vision. I tell leaders that they need to be thinking 3-6 months ahead of what they are actually working on. Then they must be intentional in doing things NOW to be prepared for what they want to accomplish later.

Inspire Others

Great leaders don’t instruct, they inspire. The Panthers could not be successful without the efforts from everyone affiliated with the team. It is clear that several players have elevated their game. They’ve stepped up because their leader stepped up, and they believe in him and the possibilities for the team. On the sidelines, he encourages them to bring their best to the game. On the practice field, he challenges them to rise above and push their minds and bodies. In the game, he demonstrates respect by addressing the officials as Mister. Philanthropically, he demonstrates his passion for children.  He keeps the team focused on their vision and believing in themselves instead of allowing what others think or say deter them.

In leading lean, the leaders has to establish this same level of belief system, drive and motivation within the organization. People will have to rise above the status quo and do ‘extra’ work until the work becomes apart of the DNA of the culture. Leaders must inspire the team when things don’t work out as planned, and to that acknowledge it is okay to fail. Failing isn’t the problem, but not trying is the problem.


In sports, there is an element of sportsmanship that is often defined by one’s perception in many regards. Celebrating, in my opinion, is a grey area. In business, partnerships, and friendships, we are taught to be happy and of good cheer when people accomplish something significant. Yet in sports, a trending belief is that the players should be calm to respect their opponents, yet the fans are losing their minds in the stands. Go figure. When I watched Cam’s interview, I could empathize with him. When you work really hard towards your dreams and goals, why bottle up these emotions?

I encourage the organizations I work with to stop and celebrate. The reason I encourage this behavior is because it is so incredibly difficult to change the mindsets and behaviors of adults, let alone professionals within an organization. When a break-through has occurred, it is important to reflect, but to also celebrate. It really motivates a team when the leaders acknowledge their effort, hard work, and accomplishing the goal. It also inspires the team to keep going, to stretch further, and to push harder. So why then in sports, should it be any different?

In my business of lean consulting and leadership coaching, these are the principles I coach leaders to follow:

  • Set the vision and be intentional
  • Inspire Others
  • And Celebrate.

Thank you Cam Newton for reminding us of these great leadership characteristics.

Crystal Davis, The Lean Coach, is passionate about helping leaders make bold transformations within their organizations by focusing on transforming people. To book a free discovery call with Crystal for executive coaching, visit https://bookcrystaltheleancoach.acuityscheduling.com/

One Comment

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