If you’re one of the estimated 103 million people who tuned in to watch Super Bowl LII on Sunday, you may have seen the MVP award handed out to Eagles’ backup quarterback, Nick Foles. While Foles showed strength under pressure against the favored New England Patriots, recognizing quarterbacks of the winning team as Super Bowl MVP has become the norm over the 52-year history of the game.
Former NFL coach and New York Times bestselling author, Tony Dungy, offers a perspective on the MVP award for leaders who want to build successful teams both on and off the field. In The One Year Uncommon Daily Life Challenge, published in 2011 following Super Bowl XLV (45), Dungy wrote:
“Since the first Super Bowl was held in 1967, forty-six Most Valuable Player awards have been handed out, one for each of the forty-five Super Bowls and one with two.
In the first four Super Bowls, the quarterback from the winning team was selected as the Most Valuable Player. Green Bay quarterback Bart Starr was selected in both 1967 and 1968 as the MVP, and in 1969 Joe Namath was selected following the New York Jets’ historic win over the Baltimore Colts. In 1970 Len Dawson of the Kansas City Chiefs was selected after leading his team to victory over the Minnesota Vikings in Super Bowl IV. Every year since, the award has been handed out to a member of the winning team, except in 1971, when Dallas Cowboys’ linebacker Chuck Howley won the award in the game against the winner, the Baltimore Colts.
During the course of the forty-five-year span of Super Bowl Sunday games, the breakdown by position of the Most Valuable Player selected is kick returner-1; running backs-7; wide receivers-6; defensive players-8; quarterbacks-24.
In the forty-five-year history of the Super Bowl, not one offensive lineman has won the award. Yet try to play the game without them. Try to win a Super Bowl without a stellar offensive line. And as to quarterbacks – how many Super Bowl MVP awards do you think they would have won if they had been consistently hurried, hit, or sacked during a game, watching the game from the vantage point of their backsides?
I know of one in particular – Peyton Manning, the MVP quarterback in Super Bowl XLI – who couldn’t have won it without his offensive line. Or his running backs, receivers, and tight ends. Or his defense. Peyton’s a great player, but he needed the rest of the supporting cast.”
Whether or not you’re a football fan, Dungy’s thoughts about recognizing team effort applies to leaders of all winning teams. Yet, not all team members need a to hold a trophy over their heads to feel recognized. In an article written for Harvard Business Review titled What Great Managers Do, leadership author Marcus Buckingham noted that the best managers know what triggers each team member. They know that by far, the most powerful trigger is recognition, and that each employee’s standard of recognition is nuanced.
To excel as a leader, you must be able to match the team member to the recognition he values most. One employee might prefer peer recognition. The best way to praise him would be to point him out in front of his coworkers and give kudos for his achievement.
Another employee’s favorite audience might be you. The most powerful recognition would be a one-on-one conversation where you tell her quietly and precisely how you value her on the team. Still another employee might define himself by his specialized skills. He would most prize being recognized with a professional or technical award.
Great leaders understand that success requires recognition of a Most Valuable Team. Find the right recognition method, and you’ll unlock an inherent desire for continued high performance.
Question: Who are the unsung heroes on your team?
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