5 Words That Have Set the Tone for Patrick Mahomes’ Leadership Style


One week ago today, the fates and fortunes of people and organizations were changed for the immediate future. The video of former NFL running back Kareem Hunt assaulting a woman (and literally kicking her while she was down) was released by TMZ. This came after an incident one month before in Kansas City and preceded another incident just a few months later in June where Hunt was suspected of punching a man in the face.

Many others have offered their opinions on how the release of the initial video opened up a box of misguided judgement, from the handling of the “investigation,” by the Cleveland Police Department, NFL, and Kansas City Chiefs, to a misinterpretation of domestic violence, to when or if Hunt should have even been released. But in keeping with the theme of this blog, while this involves an issue more sensitive and complex than simply communication lessons gleaned from sporting events, we’ll focus on how one positive emerged from this very serious situation.

Turning the focus back on the Kansas City Chiefs, those even some familiarity with sports this year are probably aware that second-year quarterback, Patrick Mahomes, is having a marvelous season. One of historic proportions that have included his name mentioned in the same category as future Hall of Famers Manning, Brady and Brees due to his statistical projections. Not to mention, having his jersey already displayed in the NFL Hall of Fame after the second week of the season after his six touchdown performance against the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Besides his performance, it has also been Mahomes’ demeanor and leadership ability that has equally earned the respect of his teammates and new hometown of Kansas City. It’s a lot to put on the shoulders of a 23-year-old, asking him to lead professionals 10-15 years older with their livelihoods and NFL careers riding on how he acts on and off the field.

But it is in times of adversity – and often due to unexpected events – that truly measure the character of a person. It’s easy to lead when things are going well, but how you rally a group, get them to buy in, and continue to follow the direction of the organization when things are seemingly – and suddenly – at their worst, is the ultimate measuring stick of a leader. It turns out Mahomes had an answer for that as well.

When being asked about the situation with Hunt, Mahomes uttered five simple words (okay, six if you’re counting the compound word) that in my opinion has set the tone for his leadership of the Kansas City Chiefs. He said, “We don’t do those things.”

The statement was short, simple and to the point. And it also offered three takeaways:

  1. Saying a lot without saying much: By not offering any more “fluff” before or after his message, Mahomes left nothing open to interpretation. Instead, his brief and direct statement allowed his message to be clear and understood.
  2. Setting the tone: Instead of a friendly rebuke of the charges, or continuing on about how “unfortunate” the situation was without specifying if his sympathy was for Hunt or the victim, Mahomes’ statement flat out admonished the behavior by his former teammate. He let the team and fans know what is expected and certain actions that will not be tolerated as part of the organization.
  3. Setting the stage: Employment is a privilege. Nothing should be taken for granted. Mahomes’ words, while addressing the situation, also made something else clear: we’re moving on. With a definitive statement, it made clear to the organization that the goals they have for the year remain, the trajectory toward those goals will continue, and they will get there with people that adhere to a certain standard.

While it’s yet to be seen if Hunt will have a future in the NFL, it is clear that Mahomes’ leadership shines equally off the field as it does on it. Mahomes may have what it takes to lead the Chiefs to another Super Bowl, but more importantly, already has what it takes to lead a team and a city with high character. And for a town that has desperately wanted another “homegrown” quarterback to call its own since Len Dawson retired, it is a welcome reward that has been a long time coming.



How the Royals Ended the Season the Right Way

From left: Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustaka, Lorenzo Cain, and Alcides Escober wave to fans as they exit the game together perhaps for the final time on Oct. 1, 2017. Photo by John Sleezer.

The 2017 Kansas City Royals won’t be remembered for another epic postseason run as they did in 2014 and 2015. No, this year’s team fell just short of making the playoffs, and even short of finishing with a .500 record, concluding with a record of 80 wins and 82 losses. However, this year will still be remembered for something else special with this club; it is likely the final year the team’s “core four” players will be in uniform in Royal blue: first baseman Eric Hosmer, third baseman Mike Moustakas, centerfielder Lorenzo Cain, and shortstop Alcides Escobar.

Together, these players represented the Royals in 3,847 games, five All Star game appearances, one All Star game MVP (Hosmer, 2016), four Gold Glove (fielding) awards, two American League Championship Series MVP awards (Cain, 2014; Escobar, 2015), two American League Pennants, and one precious World Series Championship.

The team could have tried “selling off” players in free agency earlier in the season, but wanted to give this group one last chance to have a memorable postseason run. That playoff push never fully materialized and as the season neared its end, fans, players and the organization knew this could very well be the end of an era that brought a Major League Baseball championship back to Kansas City, 30 years after its first.

While many teams – and companies – go through reorganizations, rightsizing, or personnel shifts, there are many ways to handle it. Sometimes fans and employees see it coming; sometimes they don’t. Emotions can be raw, feelings can be hurt, and reputations can be damaged. However, the Royals knew when this season ended, it could not afford to keep these core players intact. Instead of hiding that fact, they were honest about, which led to three valuable takeaways that eased the transition for the organization, their fans, and even the players:

  1. Keeping it Real:” While a slang term meaning “to be honest and do the right thing,” this was the first step the Royals successfully took in setting up expectations for all involved. They were honest about the likelihood – or lack thereof – of being able to retain all of these players when their contracts were up at the end of this season. While hard news to take, by never concealing that fact and “doing right” by the players by making the moves during the season to give them the best chance at another postseason, this was an easier pill to swallow. Players and fans alike appreciated all efforts were exhausted to set them up for success, while being realistic about the future. All an employee can ask for is the resources provided to do well in their job, even if their future is uncertain.
  2. Setting the Stage: With expectations set from the first step above, while bittersweet, the organization could begin planning for the future, while cherishing the players in the final year of their contracts. The players could then savor their potential last year together while anticipating a reward for all players, free agency, and the chance for them to receive the largest contracts of their careers. The fans could also plan on seeing these players for the last time as Royals, aiding in any potential closure they needed with this upcoming change.
  3. Sentimental Sendoff: With everyone in the stadium and city knowing what the last game of the season meant, each of the players received a standing ovation during when they came to the plate for their at bats. With recognition routinely being the one attribute employees value most, the Royals “core four” received that from their fans and employer. It was made even sweeter when Hosmer belted a first-inning home run under the adulation. Then, in the fifth inning, the players were subbed off, receiving a final “thank you” from fans, and able to leave the field together, under a thunderous standing ovation from their fans. 

Personnel transitions rarely go as smoothly as how the Royals were able to handle the end of this year. Had they not been sniffing around the playoff picture all year, they could very likely have moved these players earlier, negating this seemingly perfect sendoff during the last game. Conversely, companies rarely have the chance to have such a sendoff for any of its employees. It may occur only when an employee retires or maybe a farewell happy hour if an employee chooses to move on to a new opportunity, and is still in good standing with the organization.

But in today’s hyper-critical world, it was nice to see one example of everyone understanding the realities of the situation, embracing (rather than ignoring or concealing) inevitable change, and doing their best to recognize the accomplishments of its employees while all look ahead to the future.

How Hawkeyes from Iowa show Heart

Iowa Hawkeye fans wave to patients of Stead Family Children’s Hospital after the first quarter at a recent game. Photo by Jeffrey Becker, USA TODAY Sports Images

There is a new tradition happening in college football and many may not be aware of it. But on Saturdays in Iowa City, Iowa, more than 70,000 fans wearing their beloved Hawkeye black and gold (and probably even the visiting fans too), turn to the east and – if during the day – begin waving, and – if at night – wave and even include their lights on their mobile phones.

However, they’re not waving their team onto the field or participating in a school fight song. Instead, they are waving to those who are already doing battle without any pads on, but with courage in their hearts. The Iowa faithful are waving at patients and their families in the newly opened University of Iowa Stead Family Children’s Hospital next door.

A Facebook fan suggestion has turned into one of the coolest, most sincere, perhaps most touching and gentle traditions for a sport where opponents crash and collide into each other with brute force. But at the end of the first quarter, there it is … tens of thousands waving to the tenth floor of the hospital, where the children and their families are watching the Hawkeyes from above. For these children and families, their daily battle may involve cancer, cystic fibrosis and diabetes (read more about some of these brave patients), but for just a moment, they are able to feel like normal kids, joining in with thousands of others on Saturday in the fall, rooting on their favorite team.

Given the theme of the blog, what communication tips can be taking from this sentimental sports story? Three important ones:

  1. The Big Picture: While they play a game below, the patients above are fighting for their lives. Instead of pretending they have a bubble inside the stadium, they realize there are those facing more serious situations right over their shoulder, and pausing during the game day festivities to recognize those brave individuals above. In the workplace, it’s easy to get caught up in just your individual task or what your team is doing. But taking a step back to see how your contribution can be part of the larger picture, or how you help solve a bigger problem, will ensure you always have a profound perspective.
  2. Inclusion: It would be easy for the football program or even the fans to forget about what building is looming over them or the tenants inside. However, instead of turning their backs, they turn their hands back and forth, helping to include the children and their families as part of the larger game-day family, providing a brief bit of normalcy in their daily fight. At work, don’t forget those who may be on the periphery as well. Ensuring the broader team is updated and feels they are part of the project will help ensure that everyone is not only on the same page, but an invested part of the process – and success.
  3. It’s Never Too Late: Usually traditions have been something already occurring over time. However, Iowa’s new tradition is just a few weeks old and one that is sure to have staying power. In our jobs, just because it hasn’t been done before, doesn’t mean something new cannot be created with a lasting impact. Stay innovative and keep thinking of new ways to enhance any experience. The best traditions may be ones waiting to be discovered at any moment.

When ‘Coach Speak’ Crosses the Dangerous Line of Delusion


Baylor Coach Kim Mulkey (left) and K-State Coach Bruce Weber. Photos by Rod Aydelotte, Associated Press & Ken Corbitt, cjonline.com

This weekend, two basketball coaches made two statements after two significant games. Both instances happened in the Big 12 Conference. The first with Kansas State men’s head coach Bruce Weber and the second with Baylor women’s head coach Kim Mulkey.

Weber’s team, facing a critical game to keep their NCAA tournament hopes alive, turned in perhaps their worst performance of the season, losing by 30 points to the last-place team in the conference. Weber’s seat was already warm from speculation this would be his last year with the team. It just became a blazing inferno. However, in his ongoing effort to stay positive, Weber said this in his post-game comments about the mountain of criticism that is now being shown his way (here’s the full statement):


Yes, apparently it is only the media who is criticizing the coach. Maybe Weber truly hasn’t read any message boards, the “KState Bruce Weber” search results on Twitter, or the pining for an opposing coach in the school’s newspaper.

Just further south of Norman, Okla. where Weber uttered those words, Mulkey’s Lady Bears in Waco, Texas had just finished winning their seventh consecutive league title and the coach’s 500th win. An otherwise momentous occasion turned into a personal platform for Mulkey. She chose to voice her opinion on the backlash the school has been receiving for allowing a culture of gross misconduct to take place during several years and the epic fallout (more on that in just a second.)

After an on-court celebration, Mulkey took the microphone and said that people should commit an act of violence against those who are critical of Baylor University’s dismal failure of having prohibited acts of violence against others. (Ironic these comments also come from a representative of a private, Christian university.)


She then doubled-down and compounded her as-of-Sunday’s backtracking “poor choice of words” by saying the problems at Baylor are no different than at any other school in America.” You can have a full listen here.

Except no other school in America is currently facing a federal  lawsuit alleging 52 sexual assaults by 31 football players in a four-year period which led to the removal of its head football coach, school president, athletic director, and other athletic staffers, with a visit by federal Title IX investigators on their way. Oh, and like Weber, Mulkey also stated she hadn’t heard any of the criticism on Sunday, despite feeling the need to “clarify her comments” a day later.

Coaches are paid to do a lot of things. One of those things is to motivate their players, their fan bases, their employers, and to help sell their program to recruits. So, perhaps it’s natural for coaches to lean on the optimistic and at times defensive side of the fence when their jobs are on the line or their school is being called into question.

But when “coach speak” crosses over from positive pep talks to outright denial and delusion, then not only they, but their program and their employer, have a problem. In today’s 24-hour news cycle, that problem can spread quickly.

For Weber, his comments were further evidence for a now unified fan base that his time in Manhattan should be nearing an end. The comments that show he’s out of touch with the immediate world around him and a blind allegiance to a strategy that is apparently sliding down hill fast.

For Mulkey, her tone-deaf tirade on a far more serious issue is an alarming matter … essentially telling everyone (including the victims) to move on from a still very unresolved situation.

So what communications lessons can be learned from these two? You don’t have to be a college basketball coach to get it. Here are three starter tips:

  • Be Self Aware: When a situation has been building, or you create it yourself, today there is no excuse not to realize when criticism is mounting or has quickly escalated against you or your company. Ignoring it makes you ill-prepared and denying it makes you seem aloof and even worse, ignorant. Not traits you want to have perceived to gain public consensus on your side.
  • Know Your (Broader) Audience: Weber may have been speaking one-on-one with the reporter and Mulkey may have been speaking inside the friendly confines of her home arena, but these remarks were being recorded, hence both speaking into microphones when making their remarks. While you may be playing to your immediate audience, remember that your comments can now be carried anywhere … and thus quickly condemned.
  • Stay in the Moment: Sure, it’s easy to get carried away, but it’s better to stay on track. Weber could have still focused on being positive by staying on his original message when asked about criticism. Instead of saying he doesn’t notice any criticism except for the media, he could have led right into how he focuses on staying positive. Removing one line could have made all the difference.For Mulkey, focus on the celebration. Their seventh straight conference title. Her 500th career win. So many other people to thank, players to honor, and celebration to enjoy. Instead, she brought up – unprompted – the very issue she’s preaching to everyone else from which to move on.

While it’s tempting for anyone to default to a motivational tone, a measured response can further your cause in the long run. After all, just ask Howard Dean what going off the rails can do for you.

What to Say When the Worst Happens

Photo by John Sleezer, K.C. Star

Yordano Ventura. Photo by John Sleezer, K.C. Star

Yesterday was a stark reminder that every day is not promised; rather it should be cherished. Kansas City Royals pitcher Yordano Ventura, just 25 years old, who went from high school dropout to millionaire World Series winner, died in a car crash on Sunday, Jan. 22 in his home country of the Dominican Republic.

Shock, disbelief, perhaps denial, but definitely sadness is being felt by anyone that knew him, felt like they knew him, or had any connection to him. A player who many felt his best years were still ahead of him, despite a meteoric rise the past two years. A player who many middle-aged people thought should learn to mature, (although how mature were many of us at 24 and 25 years of age?). A player affectionately nicknamed “Ace” (for the movie character Ace Ventura) whose smile warmed a room and melted any doubt that he was having fun playing the game of baseball.

When something like this happens to your team, to your company, or to your organization, what do you do? When do you it? How do you do it? But the most important question of all is: What do you say when the worst happens?

In a time of reeling emotions, it’s best to focus on just four words in preparing a response: let the heart lead.

That’s what many of Ventura’s teammates did in their reactions (see here and here), and what the Royals organization did in their initial response. They emblazoned their scoreboard (aka Crown Vision) with a tribute image, they offered a candlelight vigil at the stadium last night, and perhaps most importantly, they allowed fans to show their grief, support and emotion however they saw fit by creating makeshift memorial outside Kauffman Stadium.


Royals fans create a makeshift memorial for Yordano Ventura outside Kauffman Stadium after learning of his death on Jan. 22, 2017. Photo by John Sleezer.

  • When you let the heart lead, true and genuine words follow. The fondest memories naturally rise and help create a great illustration of who the person truly was.
  • When you let the heart lead, you enable others to feel and share in your emotional connection, helping to create a shared bonding experience.
  • When you let the heart lead, you show your true sympathies, exhibiting a transparent sense of loss and understanding for those that feel the same.
  • When you let the heart lead, perfection is not expected and raw emotions are embraced. More often than not, these are the right emotions and the right words to address the situation, share in what others are feeling, and begin the journey toward healing.

As the days pass and the next baseball season begins, many other words will be written about Ventura. His number 30 should rightfully be adorned on the uniforms of Royals players this year. There is even a petition to retire his number, which would be just the fourth Royals number ever. All that will be determined in due time.

In this and any moment of sudden and tragic loss, whether it be a teammate, coworker, friend or colleague, no amount of preparation can prepare you for exactly how you will feel or react. But letting the heart lead will at least start you in the right direction and place you on the correct path of remembrance and recovery.


Note: Former big league infield Andy Marte was also tragically killed in an unrelated car crash in the Dominican Republic yesterday. Thoughts and prayers with the Ventura and Marte families.

The K-State Way: Improve A Little Bit Every Day

K-State's 'family' ties propelled the team to a 2016 Texas Bowl championship. Photo by Bo Rader, Wichita Eagle

K-State’s ‘family’ ties propelled the team to a 2016 Texas Bowl championship. Photo by Bo Rader, Wichita Eagle

Kansas State (K-State) Coach Bill Snyder did it again. He took a team with little to no expectations – picked 8th in the 10-team Big 12 – along with having the youngest squad in his 25 years with the school and finished fourth in the league, capping the season with a win in the 2016 Texas Bowl. Their 9-4 season marked the 14th time in his 25-year tenure with K-State in which his football team has won 9 or more games. That’s 56 percent of the time; not bad for regular winning percentage, but almost unbelievable for a percentage of winning nearly double-digit games for a quarter of a century.

Fans may also point out that the 2016 team is also the unofficial Texas State Champs, defeating all five Power 5 conference teams they played from the state: Baylor, TCU, Texas, Texas Tech and Texas A&M.

So how does he (and K-State) do it, and what can any company or organization learn from it? The secret is not one at all, but rather very public: 16 Goals for Success:


16 goals. In our daily world, it may be a lot to remember. But I believe if you focus on one in particular, the rest will follow: Goal No. 4: Improve Every Day. Or as Coach Snyder often says, “Improve just a little bit every day.”

This helps large tasks seem manageable and puts you on a path of continued improvement, constant focus, and relentless determination.

Not sure how you’ll achieve a 365-pecent increase in sales for the year? “Improve just a little bit every day” and aim for only 1 percent per day. By the end of the year, you’ll have met your goal.

How do I even start putting together a strategic plan for 2017? “Improve just a little bit every day” and start with only three objectives you want to accomplish; it will build momentum and likely spur more ideas for a well-developed plan.

How do I keep up with the trends in my industry when new items are developing seemingly every day? “Improve just a little bit every day” and pick one to focus on; you’ll become a specialist on that item, carving out a niche for yourself and your newfound expertise.

While we embark on a new year many will inevitably attempt resolutions to stop something, start something, or try something else. However, focusing on measurable ways of “improving just a little bit every day” will truly show you how far you’ve come and 2017 will be marked as a year of growth and accomplishment instead of possible regret and underachievement.

And while you may not make 16 goals for yourself in the new year, or lead a team to a bowl win, by “improving just a little bit every day” you will accomplish one thing: become a resounding success.

How Paint Made People Lose Their Minds

HOF Pres David Baker_Cantonrep.com Scott Heckel)

Brow of Embarrassment. NFL Hall of Fame President David Baker wipes his forehead prior to an interview. Baker and the Hall of Fame had to cancel their preseason game to due poor field conditions created by using the wrong type of paint. Photo by Cantonrep.com, Scott Heckel)

This is what happens when an exhibition is supposed to be played by athletes making millions of dollars in an organization worth billions of dollars. When the game cannot take place, analysts call for others to lose their jobs, calls of ineptitude abound, and finger pointing runs rampant.

Sunday, Aug. 7 was a busy day in sports which included baseball players Ichiro Suzuki reaching 3,000 hits and A-Rod announcing his retirement,  golfer Jim Furyk hitting a PGA Tour record round of 58, and U.S. swimmer Katie Ledecky smashing her own world record in the Olympics, which looked something like the image below; note: she’s on the far right.

Katie Ledecky_ESPN

She gone! U.S. swimmer Katie Ledecky blows away the field in her Olympic race as she breaks her own world record.

In addition, there was a furor created when the NFL had to cancel its “Hall of Fame” preseason game in Canton, Ohio between the Green Bay Packers and the Indianapolis Colts.

The stadium was brand new, the field was brand new, and unfortunately, so was the paint, which the wrong kind was applied just 12 hours earlier. This proved to be key sticking point, literally. Players and coaches complained that parts of the field either felt like concrete or felt like running in tar. In technical terns, the paint congealed and wouldn’t allow a cleat to penetrate it. As a result, the game was canceled.

Yes, fans paid their money and spent their time to be there. Yes, the game was supposed to be the culmination of celebrating the latest Hall of Fame class of players inducted the night before. Yes, there is no excuse to not have a field ready when the date has been determined a year in advance.

When a crisis like this occurs and an audience needs to be addressed – in this case the millions watching at home and the thousands in attendance – it can be a complicated dance. However, here are three things the NFL Hall of Fame actually did well in announcing the result of their crisis, taking the hit head on*:

  1. Front and Center: Often when things go awry, it’s easy to blame outside factors or even hide your organization’s top leaders. The NFL HOF had their President, David Baker, address the crowd directly and then proceeded with follow-up interviews.
  2. Simple Messaging: Instead of listing a complicated technical explanation of why the field wasn’t ready or how paint couldn’t dry, Baker simply did the following:
    1. Explained to the crowd why the game was being cancelled (poor field conditions created by the paint)
    2. Reinforced key messages (safety is our main priority)
    3. Informed customers how they would be compensated (refund policy)
    4. Outlined what actually would take place that evening (still honor new Hall of Famers, previously scheduled halftime performance would still take place, just earlier).
  3. Rinse and Repeat: In subsequent interviews, he stayed on point – admittedly and rightfully embarrassed – to explain the situation, express regret, and vow to correct the problem in the future.

Even with these three “rights,” there was one awkward matter that still occurred. Those closest to the action were the last to know … it was announced on TV the game was being cancelled nearly a full hour before fans inside of the stadium were told. Oh well, as they say in sports, there’s always next year.


*Pun not intended; the NFL has serious concussion issues which is a whole other topic altogether.