When you're on a team, you can't always get what you want--whether that's in business or in professional sports. So when disagreement arises, you have to make a decision: Do you walk away, refusing to bend on certain principles? Or do you compromise, for the sake of team goals?
For two prominent leaders of the Denver Broncos--participants in Sunday's Super Bowl--these have been big questions all year long.
First, there's Broncos head coach Gary Kubiak. His authority comes directly from his longtime friend and former teammate, Broncos General Manager John Elway, who hired Kubiak before the season. A successful head coach in his own right who turned the Houston Texans from a laughingstock to a consistent winner, Kubiak came to the Broncos with the pedigree of a leader who knew how to build a successful culture.
Then there's quarterback Peyton Manning. Maybe you've heard of him? Coming into this season, he was already a legend. Just two seasons earlier, he'd led the Broncos to the Super Bowl, setting several NFL passing records in the process.
So when Kubiak and Manning began working together, you had a classic case of a new boss meeting a superstar employee. Would they clash, based on a stubborn adherence to what had made each of them successful? Or would they find enough common ground in the mutual goal of winning games?
At the heart of most business compromises is the tension between long-term values and short-term needs. Honest Tea co-founder Seth Goldman faced this conflict a few years ago, when the company realized that its then-new product, Honest Fizz, would not carry the USDA Organic seal--the first time Honest Tea would not have that label since 2004. The reason? It was simply too expensive to use all-organic ingredients. But Goldman still chose to release the drink. For him, the compromise was worthwhile: Honest Fizz was still a healthy product--far better than sugary sodas--and didn't stray far from the company's core values. "In the long run, we always choose organic, but in the short run, we realize it may take several years to get there," he wrote on Inc.com.
When it comes to clashes that are directly between new boss and star employee, there's no easy script to rely on. Alison Green, in her Ask a Manager column, has advised employees with seemingly inept new bosses to make a sincere effort to do things the new boss's way. Right or wrong, the new boss "gets to set the agenda for your department, until someone above her says she doesn't," she writes. "If you fight that, at a minimum you're going to be unhappy, and probably not successful there."
All of which makes sense--unless you are the employee equivalent of Manning, a well-paid superstar with leverage and credentials who knows as much, if not more, about the business as the new boss does. When it comes to superstar employees, new bosses are often focused mainly on how to win them over, support them, and retain them.
From their earliest interactions, it was apparent Kubiak and Manning were willing to compromise, despite their different approaches to NFL offenses. For instance, Kubiak has long been a devotee of quarterback bootlegs and power running plays, launched from formations where the quarterback begins directly behind the center. By contrast, Manning has had his greatest success in the shotgun formation, lining up a few yards behind the center. In addition, Manning's lack of foot-speed make him a poor candidate to execute Kubiak's bootleg plays.
So as a compromise between their two styles, the Broncos began running plays out of the so-called "pistol" formation early in the season. The pistol--a well-named adaptation of the shotgun--allowed Manning to survey the field from a few yards behind the line of scrimmage. But it also ensured--to Kubiak's liking--that there was a running back behind Manning, giving Manning the option to execute Kubiak's run-oriented game plans.
Importantly, the pistol worked: The Broncos began the season with a 7-0 mark, giving both Kubiak and Manning the ultimate justification for their compromise. Later in the season, more validation came when Manning missed six games with a foot injury. His substitute, the speedy and strong-armed Brock Osweiler, won four of six starts. At times Osweiler was erratic; at other times, he demonstrated how potent the Kubiak offense could be in the hands of another quarterback. In some games, the Broncos showed they could win without Manning. In others, the Broncos showed that they sorely missed Manning's brains and guile.
In other words, when Manning was out, both Manning and Kubiak got a crash course in their own strengths and weaknesses, with and without each other. And ultimately, the team proved it was at its best when Kubiak is on the sidelines and Manning is in the huddle. It's that combination that won two playoff games, including an impressive win over the defending champion New England Patriots. And it's that combination that will have a chance to lead the Broncos to victory in Super Bowl 50.