How Birthdays And The Super Bowl Can Teach Leadership

Learning Leadership From Birthday And the Super Bowl

It’s Super Bowl Sunday today and the game is over. The victory parties might still be raging on but my kids are tucked into bed.

Today was also my daughter’s 7th birthday.

I realized today that Super Bowls celebrations, like birthdays can shed some great insights into building great teams at work.

1) Rituals Matter – For my daughter’s birthday, I made the same M&M cake with frosting that I make for each family birthday.  In fact using the M&Ms on the cake is an idea I stole from my my mother-in-law who had used it on my husband’s birthday cakes as a boy.  The M&M cake is now an accepted part of every family birthday ritual. So much so that even when I don’t make the cake (i.e. for my birthday), my husband makes sure to layer the ritualistic M&Ms over whatever cake he has ordered for me.

Rituals give a sense of predictability, and also continuity.  And they often develop around the things that we care about the most.  Football in the US is a huge passion, so we have elaborate Super Bowl rituals around it.  In my house, our rituals center around cake and yummy desserts.

What does your team/org care about? How can you turn it into a bonding ritual that people look forward to?

2) Spectacular or Spec – As we watched the halftime show with Katy Perry (who I love!) – we were remarking on what a true entertainer she was.  We realized that when you are performing in a huge football field – you have to go big (spectacular), or you’re barely noticeable (a spec) from all around the stadium.  Similarly with a 7-year old’s birthday gifts, subtle and small is not what she’s looking for.  Not only did she love the huge box that her giant tiger stuffed animal came in – it provided endless entertainment for her brothers to climb into.

It subtlety isn’t working on your team or in your org, how can you go bigger? Get the promotion? Get the funding? Get the visibility?  Perhaps you need to use a bit more spectacular.

3) Praise Lavishly – In our house, we celebrate birthdays by going around the table and asking each person to say what they love most about the birthday boy/girl.  Even my most shy child will sit there enraptured by hearing all the amazing things their family thinks about them.  Similarly, after the Super Bowl, what are the coaches and players doing? Praising their team, their coaches, everyone’s all-out effort.

Have you ever heard too much praise about yourself?

Neither has your team! Many leaders reserve praise because they believe people shouldn’t be praised for doing their jobs, or they worry they will come across as disingenuous with their praise. Don’t be crazy!

Some people prefer verbal praise while others adore acts of appreciation or gifts, either way – acknowledgment matters.  There’s never anything suspect about giving well-earned compliments and kudos.  And even if loving and appreciating our kids is part of the job – I’ve never seen any parenting books that advise parents to refrain from acknowledging it to our kids.

Giving appreciation builds relationships, trust and confidence at home and in the workplace.  And why wouldn’t you want more of that?

How about you? Comment below and let me know what lessons you’ve taken away from the Super Bowl, or birthdays.

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Jo Ilfeld, PhD

An executive leadership coach, Jo helps C-suite leaders, executives, and high-potential managers develop the flexibility, skill, and frame of mind to meet the challenges of the next five, ten, twenty years…. and beyond. She works with individuals, teams and organizations on four core areas of leadership development. Check out Jo's bio page for more information.

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