Leadership Lessons from Brett Favre and the Green Bay Packers

It’s amazing how much we can learn about how not to lead from the examples provided by professional sports. The latest instance of sub-par leadership came to a head this past week by future Hall of Fame quarterback Brett Lorenzo Favre and his soon to be former team, the Green Bay Packers. (For the six people on the planet who have no idea what the Packers and Favre do, they play football – more specifically they play American football.)


Some Background Information


This story requires a little background before we get into the leadership lessons provided by both Favre and the Green Bay Packers. Brett Favre has played nearly his entire career with the Packers. Over the past 16 seasons as a Packer, he’s led them to two Super Bowl appearances and one victory. He is beloved by most of America and all of Wisconsin. He is one of the last great gunslingers of the NFL and a lock to make the Pro Football Hall of Fame on his first ballot.


Last season, the 38-year old Favre led his Packers to a surprising 13-3 record and a legitimate shot at the Super Bowl. Unfortunately for the Cheeseheads (Packer fans), Green Bay was defeated in the NFC Championship game by the eventual Super Bowl winners (the New York Giants).

Just like the previous off-season, speculation abounded about whether or not Brett would retire. This year’s speculation lasted all the way to March 4, 2008 when a tearful Favre retired from the game of football. (Last year Favre left everyone hanging until it was almost too late for the Packers to do anything else before he announced he would play.)


Just the Beginning


While the retirement of Brett Favre should be the end of this story, it really is just the beginning. It seems Mr. Favre was having a little buyer’s remorse. Looking around his Mississippi homestead I imagine he decided playing in front of 60,000 adoring fans was more satisfying than tilling his dirt and tending to livestock.


This month, Brett Favre had a complete (I think) change of heart and asked to be un-retired and reinstated by the Packers (they still have a valid contract for Favre’s services). Unfortunately for Favre, the Packers took him at his word back on March 4 and had moved on. They had already decided to start last year’s backup QB Aaron Rodgers in Favre’s place this season.


No problem, say the Packers, Brett can come back and compete for the starting job. This, of course, means there’s a chance that Brett could become the backup and Rodgers the starter. You see, Brett signed a contract with the Packers that carried him through this season and the next two. The Packers own him and can do virtually whatever they choose, including sitting him on the bench.


The great Brett Favre standing on the sidelines holding a clipboard like some common backup quarterback? Are you crazy? Actually, no, I’m not, but I think Favre might be. Brett, you see, doesn’t want to play for them – unless he can start – he wants to be released and play for one of their competitors.


The Leadership Lesson We Learned From Brett Favre


Something happened to the humble Brett Favre we all came to know and love. It seems there is a new Favre, one whom we will simply call “Cuatro” in honor of the loudest crybaby in the NFL, Ocho-Cinco. “Play me or trade me” is now the mantra of the man who was once just happy to get his shot. Cuatro now expects to start or he wants to take his ball somewhere else. He’s looking for a guarantee of sorts from the Packers.


Who said there were any guarantees in this world? Anyone remember hearing anything about guarantees while in business school? Not me. In fact, I remember hearing just the opposite: there are no guarantees in business. Guess what, Cuatro? The NFL is an industry and the Green Bay Packers have a business to run. (By the way, if you think there are no guarantees in business, you should read an NFL player’s contract to learn the real meaning of “no guarantees.”)


It’s up the Packers to put the best product they can on the field so they can win. (Actually, their real goal should be to make money for the owners of the company, but this is professional sports the only exception to that rule, so we’ll give them a pass.) If they feel their best shot to win is to keep Cuatro on the bench and not trade him to a team that could potentially knock them out of the playoffs, then God Bless them, that’s their call.


The leadership lesson we glean from Cuatro’s antics is that a true leader would do everything they could to help their team succeed, regardless of who throws the touchdowns and gets the glory. If Cuatro’s contribution in 2008 only amounts to developing the future for the Packers and helping Aaron Rodgers win games, then he should be satisfied in the knowledge that he helped the organization that pays his salary. (By the way, he could receive $39 million over the next three years to sit on the bench.)


Cuatro is showing his potential teammates (regardless of where he ends up) that he is not a team player – he is Brett Lorenzo Favre, and Brett Lorenzo Favre is more important than the team.


The bottom line for the Packers is this: if they feel Cuatro gives them the best chance to win, he’ll start. If they feel Aaron Rodgers is the guy, then Rodgers will start. It really is that simple… or is it.


The Leadership Lesson We Learned From the Packers


It would be great to have a simple story about good v. evil. This story, however, is really about both sides wearing the black hat. The Packers, you may know, have completely mishandled this situation from the beginning. Lately, they seem to be saying the right things and encouraging Cuatro to officially apply for reinstatement (which, to this point, he has not). This, of course, maybe too little too late to the legions of Packer fans who line up to buy Packer paraphernalia.


The leadership lesson here is to get out in front of issues early; speak the truth and stay firm in your convictions. It seems the Packers are now speaking truthfully and firmly, and they should remain solid in their resolve not to trade Cuatro unless it benefits them.


In the end, the Packers may come out of this smelling like roses (especially if Cuatro continues his childish antics), but they certainly could have started out this way. Very few businesses get a second chance at a public relations snafu, but Cuatro has provided them that and they are jumping on it.


To read more about the Brett Cuatro Favre situation, check out these news sources:


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