Scoring to Lose

Nov 13, 2020


Rarely does an opponent insist on giving points to the other team. What does an ill-timed goal tell us about instincts, clock management, and losing?

Have you ever seen football players signal a touchdown for the other team? Or teammates console the player that accidentally broke the plane, earning his team six points and a chance for a seventh? It’s extremely rare, if not unheard of… Well, until Todd Gurley, running back of the Atlanta Falcons, scored the “game-losing touchdown” this season. Graham MacAree, of SB Nation said one could call it a mental error, but “Gurley’s brain had figured out what was going on and was fighting hard against both his downhill instinct and years of training.”1

“I was mad as [H-E-🏒-🏒]. I was trying not to (score). My momentum took me in.” ~Todd Gurley2

The Falcons were on the opponent’s 10-yard line, down 16 to 14. After using only 8 seconds to accidentally fall into the end zone and score the game-losing touchdown, Gurley left more than a minute for the Detroit Lions to score a game-winning touchdown-- awarding the Lions a 23-22 victory.3 This is like the marketing team announcing a new and improved offer the production team isn’t ready to deliver-- a big score for marketing and a huge loss for the entire organization. Or like a CEO proclaiming to stockholders that the company is in lock step with competitors, only to discover what was promised requires an impossible investment-- a short-term gain for the CEO and a long-term setback for the entire organization.

Leaders need to know it’s possible to score points and still loose, here’s why:

  1. Instincts Aren’t Always Strategic: Knee-jerk reactions and well-worn habits don’t always serve the greater, overarching goal. New reflexes, aligning with a more strategic approach, can be developed through practice. It is a very slow and targeted effort.
  2. Clock Management Matters: Leaders, often in a hurry, can avoid mistakes by not rushing into judgement or rushing activities like a sales conversation or speech preparation. Leaders should, instead, rush call-backs, offers of help, and genuine endorsements.
  3. Scoring Isn’t Winning: Sparring with colleagues is a sport. A battle of wits can be stimulating and add a bit of intrigue to an otherwise mundane meeting. Knowing when to battle it out and when to let a point go requires awareness, discretion, and maturity.

It is no surprise that Todd Gurley got a lot of razzing for falling into the end zone, especially when fans could see he was fighting his instincts to manage the clock in an effort not to score, but win. This first-round draft pick has scored 79 touchdowns (so far) in his professional career and this one, unfortunately, might be the most memorable, yet.4 What new reflexes would you like to develop in support of your higher goals, what specific activities would you like to stop rushing as you lead at home and at work, and, finally, what small victories can you skip for the better win?

Sources/Notes: 1SB Nation: Todd Gurley and The Very Bad, No-Good Touchdown, includes ESPN video of the play (20s); 2Pride of Detroit: Todd Gurley explains accidental TD that led to Lions win; 3The Falcons opted for 2-point conversion with unmet hopes of the Lions missing their extra point; 4National Football League: Todd Gurley.

by Michelle Sugerman • Leading Synergies, LLC • © All Rights Reserved

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