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November 23, 2016

A Lesson in Leadership from
Dallas Cowboys Quarterback Tony Romo

I've never been a Cowboys fan. There, I said it. I live in Texas, and I am not a Cowboys fan. (What can I say? I'm from Illinois). I am a fan of players, admiring those who have fought to get where they are. I prefer those who have overcome great odds or rose from being the underdog. As a former journalist, I love a good story, and I love finding the lessons in those stories.

So it's probably fitting that I loved the leadership lessons shown by Dallas Cowboys "backup" quarterback Tony Romo in his first media address since his back injury in August.

Here are three leadership lessons you can glean from his message:

The Good of the Team is Always More Important

Romo acknowledged his heartbreak at being injured when he felt he had the best supporting cast around him. But, he said, he refused to be a distraction to rookie quarterback Dak Prescott, who has led the Cowboys to a 9-and-1 season (as of November 23, 2016).

No one knows what Romo truly feels about losing his starting spot. It could be like being passed over for a promotion, only for it to be given to someone you trained. It could be like losing a big project to someone with less experience. It could be like not being named successor for a role you felt you'd worked twice as hard and twice as long to get.

At the end of the day, there is only one thing that matters for any organization, and Romo said it most eloquently: "Ultimately it's about the team — it's what we've preached our entire lives."

Give Credit Where Credit Is Due

I still remember the first time a trusted colleague took credit for my work. The dishonesty was compounded by the sense of betrayal I felt by having someone I trusted prove I was a stepping stone to their success.

Romo could have easily taken that path. He could have taken the podium and made the case that he had earned the right to reclaim his starting position now that he had been cleared to play. He could have chalked up Prescott's 9-and-1 record to luck, to less challenging teams, or to the strength of his supporting cast.

Instead, he gave Prescott credit for the team's wins. "You earn everything, every single day…A great example of that is Dak Prescott and what he's done. He's earned the right to be our quarterback. "As hard as that is for me to say, he's earned that right," Romo said.

The best leaders allow their staff and colleagues to shine.

Pay It Forward

Yet another leadership lesson from Romo's speech is the importance of being a mentor.

Romo spent a lot of years waiting for his shot to lead America's team. He now has more than a decade of experience that he can impart to Prescott.

It can be an unnerving thing to have an up-and-comer step in and challenge your position — moreover, to be more successful at your job. One of my staff members said something to me once that has always stuck with me. He said he wasn't afraid of teaching his colleagues what he knew. Even if they became really good, he wouldn't be afraid of that; instead, it would serve as a challenge for him to get even better.

As a leader, you have a responsibility to share your knowledge — whether it's with your peers, your employees, or even your managers. An organization cannot grow without knowledge.

Romo's future with the Cowboys is uncertain. But the leadership lessons he demonstrated in graciously stepping aside are forever cemented in sports history. For more than a decade, Romo led America's team; and in a 4-minute-58-second speech, he showed the leadership needed to be America's quarterback. Sports fan or not – you've got to love a good story.

Jaime Jordan is a Vice President and Director of Corporate Communications for the Federal Home Loan Bank of Dallas. 

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