Patrick Mahomes stole my dream job.
As a kid growing up in a small Kansas City suburb, I used to dream of playing quarterback for the Kansas City Chiefs one day. My brother and I would practice in the backyard for hours year around. But after a championship season as a high school senior, it became apparent that my career path lay in corporate leadership development rather than football.
Interestingly, not only do I enjoy watching Patrick Mahomes play football more than I would probably enjoy it myself, Mahomes serves as a great leadership profile example as well.
Here are some of the best leadership lessons from Patrick Mahomes’ career thus far.
Follow Your Passion
As the son of a major league baseball pitcher, Patrick Mahomes grew up in the clubhouse. He excelled in many different sports as well. It was all but assumed he would follow his father’s footsteps as a MLB pitcher. After all, that’s where the “smart money” usually is.
It wasn’t until college that Mahomes finally made the decision to follow his true passion and commit to the sport he loved most: football.
Most of us will never be forced to choose which professional sport we want to pursue, but we’ll all need to make tough career decisions that involve risk, unknowns and future earning potential. Like Mahomes, make your passion a key part of those decisions.
Wait Your Turn
Even though the Kansas City Chiefs drafted Mahomes in the first round to be their franchise quarterback of the future, he had to spend his first year as a backup behind incumbent QB Alex Smith. Instead of pushing for playing time, Mahomes made the most of his waiting period by soaking up the knowledge and professional example Smith set. Mahomes even waited to sign several large endorsement deals until after he became the starting quarterback in his second season after Smith was traded.
The waiting game paid off immediately. Mahomes won league MVP in his first year as a starter and led the Chiefs to a Super Bowl championship the year after that as the Super Bowl MVP… all before the age of 25.
In evaluating Mahomes’ historic rise to superstardom, Chiefs head coach Andy Reid often credited a portion of the success to the time Mahomes spent learning from Alex Smith.
It’s unrealistic for most of us to expect Mahomes’ level of success so quickly in our respective careers. But when we’re patient and commit to working hard and smart, we shouldn’t be surprised when success finds us – sometimes sooner rather than later.
Earn the Respect of Your Teammates
When Mahomes took over the starting QB job in Kansas City, most teammates were excited to play with him. But as an Alex Smith loyalist, star tight end Travis Kelce took a more reserved “wait and see” approach. It wasn’t until after Mahomes’ breakout performance in his first game that Kelce came around and quickly became Mahomes’ close friend and #1 fan.
If you’re hoping to become a great leader someday, focus on being a great teammate now. Building trust and respect are always prerequisites to leading well.
Empower Others and Share the Praise
Once Mahomes became the starting quarterback, success – and recognition – came almost immediately. But instead of hogging the spotlight, Mahomes deflected the praise with his teammates.
“My job is to put the ball in my teammate’s hands and let them make the big plays.” Mahomes would often say to reporters after a big game.
Zig Ziglar said, “You can have everything in life you want if you will just help enough other people get what they want.” It works in football and it works in life.
Set a Good Example – In Words and Actions
Midway through Mahomes’ MVP season, video evidence emerged of a physical altercation between star running back Kareem Hunt and a young woman. Despite Hunt leading the league in rushing the year prior and the lack of depth at his position, the Chiefs quickly released him from their team.
Though Mahomes offered support to Hunt throughout the process, he represented the values of the team and the league by acknowleding the responsibility to set a good example. “We don’t do those kinds of things here,” Mahomes explained after the incident.
When you have extraordinary talent, it can be tempting to excuse a lack of character. Great leaders understand that character always trumps talent.
Be an Authentic Leader
After winning the Super Bowl, Mahomes was rewarded with the largest contract in U.S. sports history – 10 years for up to $503 million. Incredibly, most analysts considered this a “team friendly” deal – and the Chiefs had money leftover to offer generous contracts to other star players on the team.
When asked how this kind of contract would affect him, Mahomes was resolute. “I’m not going to change from who I’ve been all the way back in junior high,” he said. “I’m going to keep being myself.”
It’s one thing to overcome failure. But it takes a special kind of maturity to overcome success by remaining authentic to who you are. You can’t lead by being someone else.
Patrick Mahomes’ example on the football field may be too high a bar for most of the human race, but his example off the field is one we can all learn from. Whether you score touchdowns for a living, give presentations, care for patients or teach children, leadership is a responsibility we all share, including the responsibility to set a good example right where we are.