Last night, Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Nick Foles delivered one of the most spectacular Super Bowl performances of all time. And he did it while facing the NFL's version of Goliath: the New England Patriots.
Foles wasn't even supposed to be in this position. He took over as the Eagles' quarterback by default after starting quarterback Carson Wentz went down less than two months ago with a torn ACL, an event that many thought would end Philadelphia's stellar season. After Foles strung together a couple of good games (and a couple of mediocre ones), he proceeded not only to lead his team to the Super Bowl, but to outduel arguably the greatest quarterback of all time in the process.
As Foles stood for his interview as Super Bowl MVP, he could have told us that he knew all along he would make it here. He could have told us how he deserved to be on this stage, and that he never lost belief in himself, or doubted his abilities.
He could have told us that, but he didn't. Because as he knew more than anyone, those things wouldn't be true.
Instead, Foles reminded us that as recently as a couple of years ago, he almost gave up on football. As he shared his struggle, he was calm and collected--an image he projected throughout the previous few hours, from warm-ups to his outstanding performance. (Foles's teammates would cite his poise under pressure as a major strength--and one of the reasons behind their underdog victory.)
Foles then taught a major lesson in leadership, brilliantly captured in a few, short words:
"I think the big thing that helped me was knowing that I didn't have to be Superman. I have amazing teammates, amazing coaches around me. And all I had to do was just go play as hard as I could, and play for one another, and play for those guys."
The thing is, Foles did play like Superman. He threw his passes with remarkable precision, often times hitting the only spot on the field that his receivers could pull them in without interference from opposing players. Down by one late in the game, he showed no nerves while orchestrating a "Bradyesque" fourth-quarter drive that resulted in a touchdown. Foles even became the first player ever to both throw and receive a touchdown pass in the Super Bowl, when he completed a play that looked remarkably similar to one Brady and the Patriots failed to execute just a few minutes earlier.
But despite these feats, Foles managed to display poise and humility. In just a few, short sentences, he captured much of what great leadership is about.
Nowadays, too many people are focused on "becoming a leader." They play office politics in an attempt to win a management position. They hire PR firms or focus on marketing and "branding" to establish a name for themselves, so others will think they're important and hear what they have to say.
But as Foles so beautifully demonstrated over the past several weeks, true leadership isn't about position, or trying to get others to follow you.
Rather, true leadership is about action: It's putting your head down, going to work, and trying to lift up those around you. That's what inspires others to follow because they want to, not because they have to.
Despite putting on a performance for the ages, Foles recognized that football is a team game.
There is no Super Bowl win without the protection of his front line.
There is no Super Bowl win without the amazing play-calling of Eagles head coach Doug Pederson.
There is no Super Bowl win without the defense that forced Tom Brady to fumble in crunch time, those final minutes when New England's favorite footballer typically plays with the laser focus of a machine, programmed to dash the dreams of hopeful opponents, much as he did last year.
Foles recognized all of this. He knew that great teams aren't only about who's on your team, but about how the team works together. By showing humility, setting the example, and praising his teammates, Foles demonstrated emotional intelligence. In doing so, he inspired trust--the deep, long-lasting trust that requires connecting with others on an emotional level.
That's the lesson Nick Foles taught us over the past several weeks, and the lesson he reminded us of last night, as he stood before the podium reserved for the newest Super Bowl MVP--a place no one ever predicted he would be, perhaps not even he himself.
But that's exactly where Foles deserved to be. A reward for putting his head down, going to work, and trying his best to lift up those around him.
Now, that's what I call leadership.