I grew up in Chattanooga, Tenn., where the closest NFL team in my youth was the Atlanta Falcons. And while I became a Titans fan when they later moved from Houston to Tennessee, I grew up as a Falcons fan. I am really happy they made it to this year’s Super Bowl, and yet I have this hopeless feeling that they will lose to the New England Patriots.

Setting aside the whole “Spygate and Deflategate” thing and the ethical implications, there is a way to look at New England’s ability to play and win — particularly this year — through a lens of leadership we call DAC, or Direction, Alignment, and Commitment. DAC is how we know when effective leadership happens, and in my book, Be the Boss Everyone Wants to Work For: A Guide for New Leaders, DAC is one of the main ways I help new leaders in particular make the difficult transition from being part of a team to leading one. Here’s how I’ve seen DAC play out with the Patriots, and what you can do to turn DAC into a reality for the teams you lead.


Direction – Ensuring there is agreement on what the team is trying to achieve together

  • What the Patriots do: In an ESPN story, quarterback Tom Brady described the approach of his coach, Bill Belichick: “There is an urgency that really starts with Coach Belichick,” Brady relayed. “He walks in every day and says, ‘This is a big day; it’s boom, boom, boom, boom, boom. These are the keys to win.’”
  • What you can do: Clearly and concisely communicate goals, objectives, plans, and solutions. Tell your team the keys to success on a consistent basis.


Alignment – Ensuring effective coordination and integration of all the different aspects of the work, and that the work fits together in service of that shared direction

  • What the Patriots do: I am amazed week after week that the Patriots’ “star” player changes. One week, it’s the running back LeGarrette Blount. The next, it’s another running back Dion Lewis. The next week it might be wide receiver Chris Hogan, or Julian Edelman. In some cases it’s someone you’ve never heard of, like Malcolm Butler when he made the game-winning interception in the 2015 Super Bowl. In every case, each player knows his role, his specialty, and how their individual work is an integral part to the team winning. Even if the game plan dictates that most players’ roles aren’t in the spotlight, every player will still do his particular job according to the game plan.  
  • What you can do: Tell each person on your team what their individual roles, responsibilities, and tasks are, and how their specific work and specialties fit in with the overall mission of the team.


Commitment – Ensuring that people make the success of the collective — not the individual — the No. 1 priority

  • What the Patriots do: During a conference call with reporters earlier this year when Belichick was asked why one of his better players, Jabaal Sheard, was benched for a game, New England Sports Network quoted Belichick as saying, “As I think I’ve said on dozens of occasions, every decision we make here is based on what’s best for the football team.”
  • What you can do: Determine whether your team members are team-focused or self-interested. Draw attention to work that is team-focused, and reinforce those behaviors through rewards and recognition, and by walking the talk yourself.

I really hope the Atlanta Falcons win – that’s still my team. But regardless of the score, I will be glued to this year’s Super Bowl LI. In particular, I’ll be looking to see how the players and coaches on the Patriots deal with adversity and handle success or failure. How will they respond to the media afterwards in a way that mirrors Direction, Alignment, and Commitment?

And if you’re watching, will you be able to take away those key insights to help better lead your team?

Bonus: If you don’t like football but watch the game for those commercials, consider these 3 leadership lessons you can learn from Super Bowl commercials.    

Extra bonus: If you don’t like football or the commercials but are going to watch the game for the halftime show with Lady Gaga, check out these mentoring lessons from Lady Gaga (and Tony Bennett).

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