Character over Victory: What I Learned about Leadership from Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers

In the past few years, Green Bay Packer fans have come to rely on a solid offensive line and a dynamic quarterback. But what happens when the season begins at 1-2 and fans suddenly start to doubt the success of the team? Well, that very element played out at the beginning of this season. In a radio interview, Aaron Rodgers, quarterback, addressed his teammates and fans with five simple letters: R.E.L.A.X .
Weeks later when the team’s record had reached 8-3, Rodgers was asked about his seemingly confidence-building mantra. The interviewer asked something like: “When you said that, was it more to convince everyone else, or did you need convincing too… that everything would be okay?”
Rodgers responded with a few words about leadership. He remarked that the record may have had him a bit rattled, but he wasn’t ready to hit the panic button. He wanted to give the team and fans the picture of calm and confidence, even if he wasn’t feeling it 100% himself. And even though it was five little letters, it has seemed to help as the season has played out.
Some of the wins have not come easily for the team, but other games have resulted in blow-out victories. When asked about the games that resulted in 3 or 5-point victories, Rodgers and coach, Mike McCarthy remarked that those were character wins because they served as confidence boosters.
As the Packers continued forward in their progress toward a hoped-for playoff stint, I found myself comparing my music ministry to some football-themed concepts. One Sunday morning as we sound-checked before leading worship, things just weren’t clicking. The harmonies were off, and the guitarist and I were still figuring out the arrangement. We were just minutes before the start of the service, and I was worried. We just weren’t ready in my opinion.
During the prayer time with the elders before the service, I was silent— too stressed to utter a word. I knew I had some great musicians with me that morning, but still, my confidence was shaken. In that moment, I could have used a little encouragement from Green Bay’s quarterback, for sure! I was far from being relaxed!
In the seconds leading up to our first set, I furiously tried to get the attention of my team. As congregation members greeted each other and shook hands, I leaned over the piano and stage-whispered: “Tyler, remember the quiet part after the bridge. And girls, no harmonies there either, remember?”
They all nodded and affirmed that they heard me, but I was still not completely at ease. Even though our first set went pretty well, it still hadn’t quite met my standards. I was really battling perfectionism that morning! As the rest of the team left the platform, I realized I had to quickly transition to my piece for the offertory. As the pastor prayed, I placed my hands on the keyboard, ready for the first chord of the song. But my mind blanked on the first lyrics.
For a moment, I thought about just playing through the chords. No one would know that I had forgotten the words; they would just think that I was playing an instrumental tune. But then I remembered that the tech had arranged for the lyrics to go up on the big screen! I was trapped. I couldn’t see well enough to read the lyrics up there, so I knew I had no other choice. I had to admit defeat.
I sheepishly said into the microphone: “Um, so I forgot the words. I—”
Before I could even finish my sentence, Pastor and the tech stage-whispered back to me my opening line. With trembling hands and shaky legs, I began to play, seeking to find my calm again in the midst of chaos. As I moved through the song, some of the initial panicky adrenaline ceased, but I still felt an element of dread. I had just messed up in front of my congregation and worship team.
Here I had been worried about the team messing up, and it was me who had made mistakes. My perfectionism had sought a flawless performance, but I had not succeeded. If anything, it made me appear more human to everyone else, which was probably a good thing, but it made me feel rotten inside. I realized that I had not expressed confidence in my team when I felt our sound check had not gone well. I should have had the faith to press forward with the knowledge that bad rehearsals usually result in good performances. But instead, I had seen all doom and gloom. Although our first set had gone well, my mind was elsewhere, more than likely resulting in my botched offering piece.
I thought about other times in my leadership roles when I should have found confident peace in the midst of chaos. Several performances and worship leading experiences come to mind, but directing at camp has also created quite a few instances as well. I can think of the day when a camper was homesick and wanted to go home. I had only been directing for two hours when he made a dash for the parking lot. He was leaving no matter how hard I tried to stop him. I leaned on my two head counselors later that day and cried because I felt like a failure. Rachel and Abe were strongly affected too, but I didn’t think of them and how my doom and gloom persona was probably making them feel worse.
And then there was a roommate altercation between campers that resulted in a staff disagreement. I am embarrassed to admit that my anger toward the staff squabble was first priority in my mind. Somehow, I managed to insert myself into the middle of the drama instead of concentrating on the campers who needed me. At 1:00 a.m., I was once again the emotional director who was more concerned about my reputation as director than my campers and staff.
As a leader, I have a long way to go when it comes to leadership through strength of character. The victories, as I have seen in football, don’t always come easy. Sometimes, you have to slug it out— one altercation, one song at a time. But in the end, the victory can be sweet if I have the confidence that our goals can be accomplished. Sometimes, I just need to R.E.L.A.X. and let the game play out— whether it be on the stage or in Dominican Hall. Leadership isn’t always easy; in fact, I believe it to be incredibly challenging. But is it rewarding? Yes! And those character-building wins make the journey that much sweeter on the road to victory.

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