16 Leadership Quotes and Lessons From NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell

Roger Goodell Cover - Sports Illustrated February 07, 2011


As NFL Commissioner, Roger Goodell is the most powerful man in sports.  He is an Apex LeaderPeter King profiled Goodell in the February 7th edition of Sports Illustrated

The following are the quotes and applications leaders can all take from the article.

  1. Leaders Want Information Before It Is Made Public – You can’t leapfrog leaders.  The article recounts Tank Johnson being the victim of a violent crime.  When he wished to purchase a hand gun to protect himself, Johnson contacted Goodell first. 
  2. Leaders Find Solutions If Included Early – Upon hearing from Johnson, Goodell arranged for private security to protect him and his family.  If you ever make a mistake, be sure to proactvely go to those in charge and say these words – “I don’t want you to hear this from someone else”.  Leaders respect this approach rather than a cover-up or “hoping it will go away”.  As a result, often they will assist you in finding solutions. 
  3. Influence – “The NFL’s become the most important entertainment vehicle in the U.S.  More important than movies, than great TV shows.  The [NFL’s] TV audience is 30% bigger than it was two years ago.  It’s unheard of in a time when the average household has 120 channels.” – Dick Ebersol, chairman of NBC Universals Sports & Olympics
  4. Trust – King says “One ownership source says Goodell’s level of trust among owners is so high that if he recommends an agreement…it will easily get the three-quarters vote necessary for passage.”  Leaders, what is the level of trust you have with those you steward? 
  5. Communication and Listening Skills – Many owners state they feel more connected with the league office now than with the previous commissioner.  In addition, Goodell also frequently communicates with fans, players, and owners through email, phone, social media, television and print mediums.  Leaders, are you using every means possible to connect with everyone? 
  6. Creativity – It was Goodell who championed the NFL season starting on a Thursday night and moving the NFL Draft to prime-time over multiple days to make each a bigger event.
  7. Change before you’re forced to.  Find a better solution.” – Goodell
  8. Father’s Role – “If there is one thing I want to accomplish in my life besides becoming commissioner of the NFL, it is to make you proud of me.” – Goodell in a letter to his father, 1981
  9. Bridge Building – “He listens to all sides and has the courage of his convictions.” – former NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue
  10. Effort and Preparation – “I learned in high school that I was going to have to outwork people…If I work harder than him, I’ll beat him.  And to this day, I overprepare.” – Goodell
  11. Passion – Goodell so wanted to be part of the NFL that he began his career as an intern clipping newspaper stories and performing other menial responsibilities.
  12. Courage – “If you stand up for yourself, you’ll fit in.” – advice from QB Ken O’Brien to Goodell when he began with the Jets.
  13. Wisdom – “The league is better off making no deal than a bad one.”
  14. Accomplishment – Goodell pleases bottom-line loving owners.
  15. Memory – Apex Leaders never forget anything.  It is fascinating to me that during Super Bowl week, Goodell said “He [Bill Belichick] went out and stonewalled the press [concerning spygate].  I was deceived.” 
  16. Accountability – Goodell’s philosophy is that what players say to a large extent is irrelevant.  It’s their behavior and actions that matter.  If a player is going to be accountable, “we’d be able to work together.  But it’s a long process.”

Finally, a contrast between the two sides of the most powerful man in sports:.

  1. To Michael Vick – “You had an incredible year.  Remember the progress.  I’m very proud of you.”  Vick responds – “Thanks Roger!  I will continue to make you and my family proud!”
  2. From Ebersol – “There was a coldness and a ‘that’s it’ tone in Roger’s voice that was chilling.  At his heart Roger can be a cold son of a b*$#h…He’s going to do what he thinks is best for the National Football League.  It’s what he’s always done.”

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About Brian Dodd on Leadership

I am a church stewardship and leadership consultant for INJOY Stewardship Solutions. This blog combines my personal passions of church, sports, pop culture and family into a single leadership resource. I trust your time on this site will create conversations and add value to your life.

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