Leadership Lessons from Andrew Luck

NFL Quarterback Andrew Luck’s surprise retirement shocked people across the country. The number one draft pick in the NFL in 2012, Luck lead his team to the playoffs his first three years in the NFL. Many expected him to become one of the greatest quarterbacks in the history of the game. At age 29, still in the prime of his career, he retired. What happened?

Sports fans possess notorious dedication to teams (living in Northwest Arkansas I can attest to the love of the Razorbacks). Often sports fanatics, like many business gurus, value the good of the team or organization over the needs of the individual. What happens when an individual must sacrifice their physical health, emotional health, and family for the good of an organization? This is where life gets sticky.

A deeper look at how Luck made his decision to retire testifies to his character as an individual and leader. The story behind his retirement has implications not only for sports, but for the business sector as well. Let’s take a moment to learn from Luck today. For more information, the transcript to Luck’s news conference can be found here.

Priorities Previously Established 

A major injury struck Luck at the start of the 2015 season, resulting in him missing 26 games including the entire 2017 season. During this time, Luck began questioning his career. He was regularly in pain, missing practices, and not living the dream he had when he entered the NFL. At one turning point, Luck made a decision to chance the injury, pain, rehab cycle again for one more season as a quarterback. But at the start of the 2019 preseason, the cycle struck again. Luck decided to retire.

Many fans booed Luck off the field of his last game, attacking his character and loyalty to the game and the Colts. But many did not know the heart behind his decision. You see, the quarterback lives as the leader of the team. When Luck believed his injuries threatened the future of the team and his heart was no longer in the game, he stepped down from leadership. This act shows the decision of an honest, caring, and intelligent leader to step down when he can no longer wholeheartedly lead him team.

Community Involved in the Decision

A long list of family, friends, and coaches participated in Luck’s process prior to announcing his retirement. Luck stated, “It’s been a difficult process, but my wife, Mr. Ballard, Mr. Irsay and his family and Frank Reich have been incredibly helpful and supportive and I’m so grateful for them.” This list included his wife, the general manager of the Indianapolis Colts, the owner of the Colts, his family, and his head coach. This monumental decision included people Luck knew, respected, and valued their perspective. It was ultimately his decision to make, but he chose to include those closest to him in the process. 

The Decision was for Luck

The rise of social media foundationally changes what American culture values. Images portraying the perfect life became more important than actually living a great life. The image of happiness surpasses happiness itself. I find that many critics of Luck’s decision hold this perspective. People have criticized him for leaving $50 million and abandoning the Colts. But a careful look at Luck’s words shows his deep love of the Colts and it’s fanbase. Luck decided to retire for himself and his family and for his team. He decided to take care of himself for his own benefit, but the impact was also great for others. Without taking care of himself, what kind of leader would he be for the team or for his family?

The media portrays Luck’s decision as selfish to himself and the football community, rather than seeing the strength of his leadership. Luck’s physical health will improve when he stops competing at the greatest level being hit regularly. His emotional health will grow as he focuses on self care and deepens his family relationships. He realized that his own health and wellbeing were important and continuing down the path of being a quarterback would forever leave him injured. 

This main idea is at the heart of leadership: you cannot lead others without first being a leader to yourself. How can you expect to lead others well if you don’t apply the principles you teach in your own life? Luck made a seemingly controversial decision based on what he felt was best for himself and for his team. As a leader in your business, how can you take Luck’s example and apply it to your situation? Are there areas where you need to take a step back and let others lead? Do you need to assess your own self-care before committing to yet another project? Who can you bring in to help you evaluate these decisions? Take some time to evaluate your current “injuries” in your life and how they are affecting your leadership. 

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