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The Traits That Make RG III a Leader

Alex Brandon/AP

Given my history on this blog, I never thought I’d write anything positive about anything to do with the Washington Redskins. After all, one of the most widely read posts I’ve ever written was one back in 2009 called Learning What Not to Do from the Leadership of the Washington Redskins. Heck, I even did a television interview on the topic. There is no denying that I’m on the record as thinking that the Redskins have had some pretty bad leadership for over a decade. I swore I wasn’t going to root for them until it improved.

Well, it has and it comes in the form of rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III. It’s been a strange experience to find myself rooting for the Redskins but that’s what’s been happening this year as Griffin has led his team to the verge of the playoffs. The guy is so compelling I can’t help myself.

It’s not just his play on the field, it is, as so many others have noted, how he leads on field and off. Take this past Sunday’s game against the Ravens as a case study in what makes RG III a leader.

Fans know that Griffin was leading a last minute comeback when his right knee was whiplashed during a tackle. (The Washington Post has the complete story.) He limped off the field and told his coach he wanted to go back in on the next play. He did and threw two passes that moved Washington into the red zone. It was clear, though, that he couldn’t put any weight on his right leg and two plays later he crumpled to the ground and started crawling off the field until he was helped to his feet and carried off. As he was laying on the sideline getting examined, his back up, Kirk Cousins, threw for a touchdown and then scored a two point conversion on a QB sneak designed for RG III to send the game into overtime. By the time Washington got the ball in OT, Griffin was up with a knee brace, walking the sidelines, cheering on his team and embracing his teammates as the Redskins won with a field goal.

This morning before an early flight back East out of LAX, I saw a dozen people staring at a TV to hear the ESPN update on RG III, the game and his knee. As soon as the story was over, the crowd dispersed. The average person, let alone the average NFL player, sees something special in RG III. He exhibits the traits of a leader that people naturally want to follow.

Here are some that stand out for me:

Credibility: Clearly, RG III has the goods that make him the top rated passer in the NFL. Leaders have to be great at what they do to establish credibility with the people they’re leading.

Dedication: When Griffin was injured on Sunday, his first instinct was to keep playing because he was dedicated to leading his team to an important win.

Wisdom: At the same time, Griffin had the wisdom to know that he was going to do his team more harm than good if he stayed in the game with an injury that kept him from performing as needed.

Poise: With a torn ACL in his college history, it would have been all too easy for RG III to freak out on the sidelines after he went down with a potential season ending injury. Far from doing so, he got up as soon as he was able and showed the poise on the sidelines that great leaders exhibit when the pressure is on and the future uncertain.

Humor: RG III uses humor at the right time and in the right way to make the people around him comfortable and optimistic. When asked in the post game press conference what he did when his knee was twisted he said with a smile, “I screamed. Like a man, of course.” That kind of self-deprecating humor from a leader gives others hope and confidence.

Connection: At the end of the game yesterday, I was struck by the emotional hugs that Griffin shared with his teammates and how he slapped the palms of fans who were hanging over the railing as he walked off the field and through the tunnel. Leaders like RG III connect with people in a way that’s real.

By the way he carries himself, Robert Griffin III plays the role of leader not just for himself but his new hometown.

Executive coach Scott Eblin’s goal is to help you succeed at the next level of leadership. Throughout the week, he’ll offer his take on the leadership lessons in the news and his advice on your most pressing leadership questions. A former government executive, Scott is a graduate of Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government and is the author of The Next Level: What Insiders Know About Executive Success.

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