What DeflateGate Teaches Us About Leadership


I’m a big NFL fan. When the whole DeflateGate controversy was going on, I was in Guatemala visiting the schools that we built.

But I wanted to write about this topic and what we can learn about leadership from this controversy.

Say what you will about Bill Belichick, the guy engenders loyalty.

Once the DeflateGate controversy exploded following the AFC Championship game against the Indianapolis Colts, everyone everywhere was up in arms about the possible cheating by Belichick and his staff.

Everyone except the New England Patriots, and specifically their owner Robert Kraft.

Kraft loudly defended his coach and his quarterback against all charges, even to the point of snubbing NFL commissioner Roger Gooddell, ripping the NFL’s investigation during a Super Bowl press conference, and demanding an apology to Belichick and Brady if the investigation falls flat.

This article isn’t about whether Belichick cheated or not. I’m not going to address that issue. There was more airtime given to this issue leading up to the Super Bowl than anything related to Seattle Seahawks.

I want to talk about Kraft’s unwavering loyalty for a member of his team, and what we can learn from him as leaders.

Right or wrong, Kraft is throwing his considerable might behind his coach, and has said, right or wrong, he’s standing with his man.

When head coaches have a few bad seasons, the rumors swirl that they’re going to be fired. If you’re not sure what’s going to happen, pay attention to what the owner says before the season ends.

If the coach says they’re going to evaluate their options, he’ll be out by the end of the season.

If he’s all sunshine and rainbows about his coach — “we are standing behind Coach Smith and are giving him our 100% support” — Coach Smith will be gone by Thursday.

But not Robert Kraft. Kraft didn’t give any indication. There were no rumors or anonymous tips to the press. No one questioned whether Belichick would be fired, because you just knew he wasn’t.

Kraft said Belichick was his guy, and he would truly stand by him, and we believed it.

If leaders showed that loyalty to their employees, that could be a game changer in the tech world.

For many startups and small tech companies, employers see their employees as seat fillers and keyboard monkeys. They know they can get new warm bodies to fill those seats by the weekend.

The employees are aware of it. They feel as much loyalty toward their company as the employer feels toward them.

They’ll follow their leaders, but only as far as the money and the opportunities are there. Once things go bad, they’ll jump ship before their employer throws them off.

Real leaders support their employees through the rough patches. They build trust during the good times, so they’ve built a bank of goodwill for the bad times.

They can easily get their employees to buy into their vision, because the employees feel the support and respect their leaders have.

Bill Belichick feels that from Robert Kraft. Belichick will do whatever it takes to win another Super Bowl for Kraft. He’s the first to work, and the last to leave. He’ll sometimes sleep at the practice facility when the season is in full swing.

He doesn’t do it because it’s his job. He does it because of the faith and loyalty Kraft has for him.

Ditto Tom Brady.

Brady would throw a Hail Mary, even if he knew his arm would go flying after it, if Kraft and Belichick asked him to. He’ll put everything on the line, not just because he wants to win, but because he wants to win for his coach and his owner.

If you could inspire that kind of loyalty and belief in your employees, what would they do for you? How many mountains would they move if you asked them?

If you don’t have employees like that, the problem may not be with your employees. The problem may be with you, and the loyalty your employees believe you have for them.

At my companies, we have created a family environment where everyone cares about each other. Whether someone’s kid is sick or whether there is another tragedy, we stick together. I attribute that to much of the success we have experienced.

Bottom line is: Show your loyalty and support to team members, and they will show you theirs in return.