Genuine Leadership, On and Off the Field

In December 2010, Sports Illustrated recognized Drew Brees, the quarterback of the NFL’s New Orleans Saints, as their 2010 Sportsman of the Year. It is an award well-earned for Brees, who came into the Saints organization a bruised and battered player . . . and into a region that was nearly destroyed by Hurricane Katrina. I understand that sports metaphors don’t translated well for many. AND, I believe there is much we can learn from Brees’ effective approach to leading this team and this region.

Strong Values

Brees is an American sports celebrity, which means he is in the public eye 24/7. In the Internet Age, personal foibles become headlines in moments. Brees boldly lives the values of fidelity, fatherhood, service, selflessness, and sportsmanship. Brees and his wife Brittany came to New Orleans feeling a faith-based calling – and both have immersed themselves in helping recovery occur.

A telling quote from the article describes how vital Brees has become to the region. Veteran Saints tackle Jon Stinchcomb says, “People come up to Drew and don’t say ‘Congratulations.’ They say, ‘Thank you. Thank you for coming here.'”

Demonstrated Accomplishment

The Saints needed a quarterback – and Brees has delivered, big time. In 2006, his first season with the team, he threw for a league-high 4,418 yards. In ’08, he became only the second quarterback in NFL history to throw for 5,000 yards in a season. In 2009, Brees completed 70.62% of his throws and lead the team to the first Super Bowl win in the Saints’ 44-year history.

Brees is relentless in his efforts to build his skills, stamina, and savvy-ness. He works his body, his mind, and his spirit to be an effective leader on and off the playing field. Those efforts have created a terrific athlete and a brilliant quarterback, surrounded by a team that would follow him to hell and back.

Selfless Service

In 2003, Brees established the Brees Dream Foundation to support cancer research and the care and education of children in need. Since that time his foundation has contributed over $6 million in Louisiana, San Diego, and West Lafayette, IN (the home of his alma mater, Purdue).

Brees gives time, talent, and treasure, even during the football season. The foundation has helped nearly 50 New Orleans schools and organizations, and Brees supports many schools with visits and individualized attention. He developed a “Quarterback Club” made up of nine New Orleans businessmen Brees brought together to leverage their creativity and wealth (each member contributes at least $25K annually to the foundation). In addition, Brees has made five NFL-sponsored USO visits to troops all over the globe.

Personal Connection

Brees cares about his teammates AND holds them accountable for their responsibilities. He spends time daily – during the season and off-season – building the “communal faith” that makes the modern passing offense work. Slot receiver Lance Moore said, “The biggest thing Drew ever said to me is, ‘I trust you.’ When Drew trusts you, you can get the ball anytime.” Wide receiver Marques Colston said, “Just being around so great a player, a guy who works so hard . . . it makes you feel like you have to raise the level of your game.”

Insights from this Genuine Leader

  1. Be bold about your values and about the behaviors you must demonstrate to live your values. Share them. Ask your staff to help you live them.
  2. Demonstrate your skills in the workplace and help others build their skills. Be bold about the skills you DON’T have, yet, and ask for coaching from players who do have those skills.
  3. Commit time, talent, and treasure to personal and company philanthropy. Share what you have with those less fortunate, not just during the holidays, but all year long.
  4. Connect to each of your team members. Learn and support their plans, hopes, and dreams. Let people know you care – and they will care right back.


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