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President's Weekly Brief: Next Player Up


Hi Washington Football Family,

Tuesday is the classic "Day Off" for the guys on the squad, where they are focused on recovery, spending a little time with family, and pivoting their attention to the next game. A deep breath if you will. I thought that I would take advantage of that natural break in the week to give you a weekly update on the business side of the Washington Football House. I use a slightly longer format to answer some of the things I expect are on your minds, since 280 characters don't allow you to get details and often bring out the shittiest aspects in all of us 😊. So here we go…

Reflections From Lions Week

There are certain changes that occur once you become a starter on a team sport. I only had a handful of starts over the course of my career (handful might even be a bit generous), and while I like to believe my effort never changed, knowing that others would be counting on me even more than usual changed the way I approached the game in unconscious ways.

One of those changes was that I felt more empowered to direct, guide, and critique the attitude, preparation and effort of others. I could have done that at any point, but when I was the starter or captain (as I was in Arizona), something in me allowed me to be just a bit more assertive in putting "my stamp" on the team over the course of the week.

Coach Rivera noted this about Alex Smith after he was named the starting quarterback. In the days leading up to Sunday, and even in the game itself, he saw Alex tutor, guide and mentor a young group of players who are not yet seasoned pros and are learning what it takes to win in the NFL. He lifted up the people around him as well as demanded more from them, and that was magnificent to see. (I also fully expected Alex to have a great game, because everyone should know by now that you don't bet against that man!)

This reminded me of something important. While we don't name people starters in our business activities, I want our people to know what responsibilities they own, take a high level of ownership and accountability for their work, and feel empowered to shape the environment around them. I want them to set the tone and bring up the level of play of the others around them, whether their field is in social media, finance, guest experience or any other area of expertise.

My hope is that with role clarity and empowered leaders, we'll see a 390-yard passing performance on the business side (Hard pass on that last-second field goal though…still hurts!). Like Alex, I want our employees to approach every day as if they could be named a starter, because once they know the ultimate responsibility rests with them, that will empower them to bring all of their creativity, energy and innovation to the task.

Business Question Of The Week

What benefits do you receive from hearing external advice?

Coach Rivera and I are in the middle of figuring out how we can best communicate our values, not just within our organization, but also to the fans and broader public. One of the words we keep coming back to is "bold." We are not afraid to break the mold and be aggressive, assertive or different. We want to play to win in every scenario, but we also understand that our tactics will run counter to how others tend to operate.

I'm sure that most have heard that the NFL is a copycat league. A team invents a concept only for others to copy it because it's effective. We want to be the franchise others are copying, but in order to lead the pack, we have to bring in leaders and thinkers from diverse, varied backgrounds. And we need to receive advice from people who bring disruptive ideas.

Here's my philosophy on how we select who to bring in for outside advice: No matter what the expertise or where these people come from, they have to be aligned with your values, have high integrity and have people speak about them as trustworthy, kind-hearted individuals. There's this fundamental level of humanity and integrity that needs to be in place for anyone to advise you. And that's just a life lesson. Take that one for free. :)

Specifically in business, I look for people that come from a different industry or have done something like a disruptive brand launch or an identity reestablishment in a consumer industry or for a large manufacturer or car company. These people will think of things that others in the sports industry will not think about. And the more disruptive, edgy, or controversial they've been in their work, the more interested I am in hearing their ideas. They will drive and push us to be more expansive, to be more dynamic in our thinking. This applies to both our revenue driving activities and the underlying organizational culture that fuels them.

I'll give one example of some outside advice that inspired us on the culture front. Part of my team and I recently spent time with Dallas Mavericks CEO Cynthia Marshall, who took over the leadership of that organization and faced many of the same cultural challenges that we're facing here. Like us, she experienced long and tiring days as well as turnover that was difficult but inevitable in a culture change. Cynthia encouraged us that we are doing the right things. The Mavericks are now an exciting workplace that is setting a new standard for equity; they are beginning to see the fruits of innovation they sowed through those hard years.

This advice not only confirmed to us that we are on the right path, but also provided a shot in the arm of vigor and spirit. And because of that, we have an even clearer sense of direction and strong resolve to create a safe, productive, and innovative work environment at the Washington Football Team.

Encounters Of The Week

Last week, we had the pleasure of hosting a virtual open discussion with Nicole Lynn -- a rockstar sports agent who has represented multiple top 10 NFL draft picks. She spoke about how sponsors and mentors can be used to provide a clear path to success, and it made me think about those who have influenced my life. Mentors are those who guide you with sage advice. Sponsors are those who create the "step up" opportunities that move your career forward.

For a sponsor, the first who comes to mind is Vivian Riefberg. She's currently a professor at UVA-Darden, but she broke ground as one of the first women senior partners at my former company. She's been a guide for me from the moment I was hired there, and she continues to be an advisor to me. This is a person who has advised world leaders and some of the greatest CEOs of our time, but she saw my gifts and worked to create career shaping moments for me to lead -- even if I didn't personally feel I was ready. As a result, I had an accelerated career in professional services and that ultimately led me here to Washington.

As for my mentor, I would have to go with Ron Parker, who is currently the CEO of the National Association of Security Professionals. He's been the president of the Executive Leadership Council, and before that he was Pepsi Co.'s head of human resources, labor relations and diversity. (Oh, and by the way, a former NFL player)

Ron has helped me to understand and vet the opportunities in front of me by asking me the hard questions around why I'm making a decision, why an opportunity is exciting for me or why I'm turning down an opportunity. He'll ask me if I'm fearful and direct me on how I can push beyond that fear to really step into great opportunities that I might've turned down. He's also a great mentor from the lens of being a black professional and having someone I can go to and have honest, open conversation about the unique pressures and challenges that face a person of color.

What's Next

As we head into this week's game, we are in the midst of COVID-19 resurgence in the area. I'm disappointed that this means we won't have fans at the game against the Bengals, but we and our partners in the Prince George's County government agree this is the most responsible decision we can make. However, we know that you all will be there with the guys in spirit, and we will continue to work furiously on some of our business priorities.

I'm also proud to say that the Washington Football Charitable Foundation and our alumni will join volunteers to distribute Thanksgiving food baskets to 2,500 Prince George's County residents in need today from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. This weekend, we'll also be honoring our alumni with the annual Homecoming weekend, which will include a welcome reception on Saturday and brunch on gameday. We're all looking forward to seeing them in the coming days!

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