When one thinks of Deion Sanders, words like overconfident, brash, entertaining, charismatic, attention-seeking, and other similar descriptors may come to mind. He was a professional athlete in two sports in the US, football and baseball. He was also part of two winning Super Bowl teams during his professional football career and played in a World Series during his professional baseball career. He is the only athlete to play in both a Super Bowl and a World Series. Deion Sanders was inducted into the Professional Football Hall of Fame and the College Football Hall of Fame. During his playing career, his nickname was “Prime Time”. He was the center of attention on and off the field not only for his athletic prowess but also for his showy and flashy behavior.
As he transitioned from an athlete to a coach, he succeeded in reshaping a mediocre college football team, the Jackson State Tigers, into a conference title winner in the Southwestern Athletic Conference. He was then recruited to take the reins of a University of Colorado football program that only won one game the season before he took over as the head coach. After he arrived, the team leaped to a 3-win and no-loss record before finally being beaten by the University of Oregon and the University of Southern California. The season is still young and there are still a number of games to be played, but I can’t help but think how amazing the turnaround has been for the team that he’s coaching.
His outcomes as an athlete and a coach did not occur by accident. While nobody can deny Deion Sanders’ talent in athletics and coaching, there must be more to his success than just his athletic abilities and coaching strategies. There are many talented athletes and coaches who don’t reach the heights of their profession as has Deion Sanders. What makes Deion Sanders different? What is his secret?
In my assessment, his secret is leadership. You can argue that Deion Sanders recruited great players to his teams and that is why he won at Jackson State and why he tripled the number of wins at the University of Colorado compared to the prior season. But, what attracted the players to his team in the first place? One can have the best players on a sports team, and it can still underperform if leadership is lacking. Charisma and personality can only take someone so far. There needs to be substance behind the appearance. That is where, in my opinion, Deion Sanders’ leadership has provided the “secret sauce” to his success.
I am not privy to the nuances of his leadership style or techniques. All that I have seen of Deion Sanders’ interactions has been from news clips or interviews and social media posts. So, I haven’t seen what goes on behind closed doors or with one-on-one exchanges. Nevertheless, from what I have witnessed, he appears to be intelligent, accountable, engaged, and intentional. He also seems to be an active listener and is considerate of those around him. He performs the usual passionate, motivational speeches to his team, but I believe his leadership is much deeper than what he shows in those moments in front of the camera. People don’t commit to following someone from one college to another, as his players did from Jackson State to the University of Colorado, if there isn’t something that makes them feel valued and like they are part of something special.
Beyond the Spotlight
Deion Sanders may be a larger-than-life personality and entertainer in the public eye, with his occasional brashness and showiness, but his stature as a leader cannot be underestimated. His track record as an athlete and a coach was not built by chance or luck. He has an unwavering commitment to his craft and the pursuit of excellence. While some may be turned off by his antics, public displays, and posturing, it cannot be ignored that beneath the surface lies a leader who has unlocked the “secret sauce” to success through his remarkable leadership. One can try and emulate Deion Sanders’ public persona, but one won’t find success until one dives deeper beyond the spotlight or headlines and understands that his leadership qualities are the most important part of his game.
Have you ever followed a leader who made you feel truly valued and motivated? What qualities and actions of that leader stood out to you?
Please feel free to share your thoughts and comments!