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Down by 14 points not once, but twice, the New England Patriots battled today to eliminate the Baltimore Ravens and advance to the American Football Championship playoff game.  Fierce. They battled fierce, that’s their mindset. Fierce.

“We didn’t panic, You can’t score 14 points in one play. We played one play at a time,” Gronkowski said. I’d argue that mindset is the foremost weapon in championship performance. Every team has top athletes. Every team trains. Every team has game plans. However execution of the plan, requires more than all of those ingredients.  Mindset pulls it all together to either choke or to elevate the play into the most memorable feats such as we saw in today’s instant classic. Focus, conviction, no fear. Fierce.


# 1 Mindset interprets.  Our interpretations are either negative or opportunistic.  Resourceful or unresourceful. A well trained mindset deletes panic, fear and pessimism  being ever alert to opportunities and openings to excel.

One reason I love watching Belichick at the end of his worst losses is that he simply moves on. Next.  He doesn’t ruminate, chastise, or berate. He doesn’t engage in negative or pessimistic thinking.  He simply moves on, so that he can be most ready for the next play. “There will be bad plays. The point is you bound back and play the next play,” said Belichick at the end of the AFC 2012 game. In turn, his players delete any focus on bad plays or mistakes so that they can bring their best game to the very next play.

#2 Focus is critical to excel.  Opportunistic mindset focuses only on the present, not the past play or the next play but “this play.”  In other words, the team stayed focused on “one play at a time.”  It seems to be a rather trite cliche, “stay in the moment, the power of now,” however today’s game exemplified this truth in a powerful way.  Coming back twice  from 14 point deficits in a playoff game is a triumph of the mental toughness of the Patriots. They didn’t panic. They didn’t give up. Instead, the Patriots played with resilience and a governing conviction that they would not be denied.

Several important things happen by focusing on “one play at a time” and staying present.  First, it avoids a “can’t do” defeatist mindset which ends up blocking breakout performances, otherwise known as  choking. Here fear, panic, doubt, or pessimism stymies performance in otherwise top talented and well-trained athletes. Think of Peyton Manning stumbling in a crucial 4th quarter play with minutes left.  Great quarterback numbers, very seasoned and talented athlete, yet something happens in Peyton’s mindset that befuddles him in key plays. Same story with Bledsoe.

Secondly by focusing and staying alert in the moment, a space opens up which is the only place where action can take place. Right here, right now.   Here, is where the “I can” belief or what I call the opportunistic mindset flourishes.  Once the focus is in the moment, the mind opens to possibilities, ever alert, scanning, adapting, improvising, and innovating. Awareness lives here. This is the space that unleashes all the training, skill and talent that has been honed all season long. This is the space where a team exerts it’s own will on the opponent. It acts on opportunities, even creates opportunities.  The lateral pass to Edelman who then threw to an open receiver downfield for a touchdown. A “deceptive” play, or a creative “surprise”  coming from an open and alert mindset?

#3 Stay calm under pressure. The best leaders are most calm under the most pressure or adversity.  Brady with the fierce narrowing of his eyes and cold glare at the line, his sheer awareness of the field, all lead to a nimbleness and creativity in the moment that results in clutch plays. This is his preternatural signature skill which distinguishes him from other quarterbacks who have great numbers but aren’t clutch. 

Much was made of a statistician’s pre-season claim that Brady was beyond his peak elite quarterback status. Brady’s will to to battle, the grit and determination to battle fiercely.  Brady uniquely brings that indelible quality of scanning, scanning, scanning—for a full 60 minutes— and battles every second to win.  Although Brady’s QB ratings might not be rated elite, he has a talent for consistently finding ways to win, be that ugly, pretty, or flawlessly executed. A win is a win, and Brady’s decided edge I’d argue is his fierce mindset.  Quantitative analysis can never define, defy or defeat the human spirit, or this indelible quality that Brady masters.

#4 Let your emotions work for your rather than against you.  Brady brings fierce emotions to the game, from the locker room to the field.  It’s a classic case of letting your emotions work for you rather than against you.  From his barrage of expletives to his mammoth and celebratory head butts, Brady is in the game and he lets his teammates know it. Emotions are contagious and Brady’s emotions clearly impact his team. Down 14-0, Brady ran in the first touchdown. My first reaction was how much that would fire up his team. He shows his team that he is right there in the trenches with them.

So what does any of this have to do with executive leadership and performance? What are the leadership lessons here in a business setting?  How to develop your leadership mindset?

1). Develop an opportunistic mindset rather than a negative one. Pay attention to your self talk. Understand your underlying beliefs and attitudes. See if there are any patterns or situations that trigger a negative mindset. Do you catastrophize or do you see possibilities to advance? Do you get overwhelmed or take it one play at a time?

2) Learn how to course correct by shifting to a more opportunistic mindset where all the really exciting action happens. Ask yourself powerful questions in order to refocus your mind on excellence and open up a space for creative and innovation strategies to emerge.  Above and beyond all else, avoid an unrelenting cycle of “what if” questions that focuses the mind on extreme negative outcomes. Instead, try “how can I” or “what would” type questions.

  • “How can I make a difference here?”
  • “What’s the best skill set to improve this situation?”
  • “How can I bring my passion and vision to inspire my team?”
  • “How can I analyze this more clearly and concisely?”
  • “What would bring more harmony and engagement to my team?”
  • “How can I be even better at this?”

3) Learn how to stay calm under pressure. The ability to do so is actually an EQ skill, and top leaders excel in this EQ skill.  Do you get hot headed or befuddled rather being the calm in the eye of the hurricane? Can you hold onto an unwavering belief that you can influence the situation in a positive manner? Understand that your emotions can work for you or against you. Like a contagion, they can either demoralize or inspire those around you. When negative emotions quickly fire up, realize that you will dumb down about one standard deviation in your IQ. This is not the place were winning strategies and decisions are made. Find time to calm down, release stress, find alternative perspectives and seek feedback from others.

To learn more about how to improve your executive leadership style, contact or email me here at

To your Success!