Hello out there, loyal Leadership Toolbox fans! I am Capt. Fletch and I am thrilled to bring you another sporting collection of all things leadership and how they relate to our industry. Last month, we examined how to maintain motivation in the pursuit of objectives we feel are unclear or unworthy of our efforts. This month, in honor of the Super Bowl, and the Pro Bowl and NHL All-Star games gathering in my own backyard, I would like to look at leaders who took calculated risks.

My son and I recently ventured to the movies to see “American Underdog.” If you have not seen the film yet, I highly recommend it to everyone. Even my wife, who is not a big sports movie fan, found something for herself in the story. The focal point of the story is Kurt Warner and the unbelievable journey he took to a Super Bowl victory and eventually the Pro Football Hall of Fame. The leader in me, however, looked to Coach Dick Vermeil. I was a kid when the Rams won Super Bowl XXXIV in 2000, so I had no idea about Kurt Warner let alone Dick Vermeil.

As I watched, I realized the coach of the 2000 St. Louis Rams was also the coach of the 1976 Philadelphia Eagles, the team that inspired Disney’s “Invincible,” the story of wide receiver Vince Papale. It occurred to me that Vermeil had risked his career on a longshot player not once, but twice. Up until the year 2000, you could have argued that Vermeil got lucky when he chose Papale to jumpstart that Eagles team and make a splash. When he chose to do it again with the Rams and Warner, despite those around him warning against it, it became clear this man had mastered the art of the calculated risk. Not only had he mastered the calculated risk, he mastered the ability to look at people and see what others chose not to.

In both cases, Vermeil listened to the input of those on his staff but, ultimately, he made the final decision. I want to emphasis this, because he did not simply shoot from the hip. On the contrary, he had an idea in his head, he posed it to the people around him, and he ran his calculations based on their input and his perception of the risk of his decision. Many times leaders are at the extremes when it comes to making a risky decision and gathering input from others. Some leaders do not take input when considering any decision, let alone a risky one. Other leaders consult for too long before making a decision. Simply put, Vermeil managed to make two monumentally risky decisions and he toed that line almost perfectly.

The other interesting part of this tale is, in both instances, Vermeil chose to go with a player who did not have the qualifications that usually accompany professional athletes. Papale never played college football. He walked on from the streets of South Philly. Warner played college football at a small school. He went undrafted, failed a tryout with the Packers, worked as a grocery clerk and played in the often-frowned-upon Arena Football League (AFL).

What if our teams were built on the concept of diverse perspectives that look at the same problem from different angles — and not merely in terms of standards and specifications?

We have a coach who listened to his team before risking his career twice to hire two players who, by all industry standards, were highly underqualified. What tools can we dust off from this classic gridiron tale that might prove useful as we lead our own teams? Obviously whenever making any decision that affects large portions of our organization or team, we should gather input. This does not imply that we lead by committee, but rather that we ensure our team feels part of the decision-making process. By doing this, we do not guarantee that everyone will buy into our decision. However, we offer respect to our team and, if they do not fully respect our decision, they can at least respect that we allowed them the opportunity to participate. We also cannot allow ourselves to be held captive by competing inputs, or the feeling that we need to please everyone with our decision. In the end, a leader must make a decision and the team must be able to function in support of that decision.

When a decision involves people, we should be willing to weigh the risks of choosing someone who may not fit the mold of the posting on the job board. Standards should guide our decisions but we should not allow those standards to cause us to miss someone or something that could offer the key to victory. Positions often have educational and experience requirements. Those are important, but what about the importance of different perspectives?

Many people talk about diversifying industries across the board, but does that mean we hire people to simply address a diversity problem? Or do we build a cohesive team of unique perspectives combined with qualified expertise? What if our industry was made of teams where the kid with a theater background was working beside the kid with an engineering degree who served in the military? What if our teams were built on the concept of diverse perspectives that look at the same problem from different angles — and not merely in terms of standards and specifications? Perhaps we could not only solve the problems we face on the jobsite, but build an industry that naturally embraced a diverse culture that develops creative solutions to problems.

As I watched the real footage of Kurt Warner winning the Super Bowl and how his life affected others, I could not help but wonder: What if Vince Papale had been a bust? What if the calculated risk that Dick Vermeil took in 1976 ruined his career? Would we be talking about Kurt Warner 24 years later in the year 2000, and 22 years after that as his old team again has a date with destiny in 2022? As we close out this edition of the Leadership Toolbox, preparing to huddle around the TV for the annual big game kickoff, perhaps a play from the book of Coach Vermeil is the perfect tool for your championship box. Until next time, Capt. Fletch over and out!