The five pillars of Roger Goodell’s leadership strategy

Illustration: Kagan McLeod

Everything I know about leadership, I learned from Roger Goodell. And you can, too, if you follow the five leadership priorities of the NFL commissioner.

1. Give the people what you want Do people love your product? Then don’t just give them more—give them way too much more! Do they enjoy watching football on Sunday afternoon? Then give them football on Sunday night. And Sunday morning in an entirely different country for some reason. And Thursday night but with funny-coloured pants. Heck, why not give them football on Wednesday afternoons to boot? The cast of Days of Our Lives won’t know what hit them. (Spoiler: It was an off-target pass from Brock Osweiler.)

Did you know that some people like to watch TV in the morning? Let’s make the fifth hour of Today a Jags-Titans matchup. It’s like the old saying goes: Nothing in moderation.

2. Put the customer second Few moments in sport are as thrilling as a touchdown. People get really excited! So it’s important to capitalize on that burst of energy and goodwill by cutting away to a commercial while the TD is being reviewed. Build on that by airing four more spots after the extra point. And then, after finally coming back for the kickoff, you’re going to want to squeeze in another six ads. Take it from Roger Goodell: Nothing builds loyalty and momentum like 11 consecutive commercials for boner pills.

3. Be inconsistent One of the most important things you can do as a leader is to demonstrate strong judgment. But it can’t be just any kind of judgment—it’s got to be the wild, flailing judgment of a crazy person. Confused? Let’s use Goodell’s treatment of Ray Rice and Tom Brady as an illustration for a situation you may encounter in your workplace.

Did one of your employees commit a serious crime? Give him a slap on the wrist. Is another employee accused of eating Stephanie’s yogourt from the break-room fridge? You need to spend literally millions of dollars taking him to federal court. It’s called perspective—and it’s important to have none.

4. The customer is always dumb Many business leaders say they value their customers, but actually take them for granted. That’s hypocritical. But Roger goes to the next level. He shows us how to really rub people’s faces in it. This is how you do it the Goodell way:

   • Agree to publicly mark and promote Breast Cancer Awareness Month to show how much you care about women’s health.
   • Embrace the slogan “Football is Family” as further evidence of values and inclusion.
   • Just when people begin to think you might be human, utterly bungle yet another domestic-violence incident.

You’re learning, but there’s more. When people complain about your hypocrisy, it’s crucial to respond not by apologizing, but by saying your customers aren’t smart enough to understand your policies. Take it from Roger: Those bridges aren’t going to burn themselves.

5. Focus on the little picture As a leader, you don’t want to get distracted by inconsequential issues like the declining popularity of your business or the short- and long-term mental and physical well-being of your employees. You’ve got to keep your eye off the ball.

Focus instead (and obsessively) on essential things like how your workers dress. Are they wearing the shoes you want them to wear? Really get in close and check. Did they write something in tiny print on their pants? Is that one sweatband slightly bigger than the other sweatband? Follow Goodell’s lead: It’s been six years since anyone involved with the NFL could explain what a catch is—but by God, that tight end’s socks are going to be the same hue of green.

And whatever you do, don’t stand for any displays of enthusiasm or satisfaction in the workplace. Roger Goodell warms up for Sundays by going to church and fining his daughters for smiling.

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