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5 Lessons for Government from Johnny Football

Five keys to success that government can learn from college football.

Fall is here, which means many students are graduating, new faces are starting to pop up at work and the advice columns start pouring in.

With another college football season just getting under way, here are my five keys to success that government can learn from college football.

This year, we have the return of Johnny Manziel, the first freshman quarterback to win the Heisman Trophy. In his first season, he broke records for total offense in a season, led Texas A&M to an 11-2 record and victory in the 2013 Cotton Bowl.

So what does this mean for you in government? Actually a lot. In government, we often play by the “experience” rule where pay and responsibility are based on number of years in the position.

In today’s era, where a freshman can be the best player in the country, surely government has some of its own freshmen waiting for their chance to start.

Here’s what government can learn from Manziel:

1. Ignore the freshman rule.
For a long time, most universities would not play freshmen. It was simple: Freshmen were not strong enough or smart enough, so they shouldn’t play. Obviously that notion has changed with a freshman Heisman Trophy winner. Give your new employees a shot and play them — not all of them need years of preparation. The truly talented can shine right away and deserve a chance to start.

2. Let people compete. Going into Manziel’s freshman year, Texas A&M was in a pickle. The university’s last quarterback had just left for the NFL, and it didn’t know who to pick to fill the position. So the team let three quarterbacks — Manziel, Jameill Showers and Matt Joeckel — compete for the role. Showers and Joeckel were older, but it wasn’t about experience; it was about skill and who earned the job. In your agency, don’t just give the biggest project to the most experienced employee, give it to the person who was most successful on the last project.

3. You still need a backup.
In football, we always need a great backup. Even with a Heisman Trophy winner, all it takes is one play, a hit and injury, and the backup is the new starting player. Make sure you are doing that for your team — it’s the proverbial hit-by-the-bus test (or more likely, an employee got a new job). Are you training backups in case of a change in status?

4. Avoid the sophomore slump. Manziel won the Heisman his freshman year, but things haven’t been as positive during the off-season. He’s been arrested, accused of skipping out of a training class and dealing poorly with the new pressure. It’s unclear how he’ll perform this year. And it’s the same with your young stars. Maybe they did an awesome job their first year, but make sure they don’t get too cocky and continue giving them the support they need. Tied to point No. 2, it’s all about who is performing the best now.

5. It’s about wins. In the end, college football is all about wins. The coach puts together a strategy, plays and players on the field with one goal: winning. And they just care about winning right now, not who has more experience, who is a nice person or who is on full scholarship versus a walk-on. Government should be the same — it’s all about providing the best services to the public now. As a leader, we should be putting the best players on the field each week with the most current plays.

September is my favorite time of the college football season. Everyone starts fresh with a 0-0 record and aspirations. Use September in your agency the same way: Make people compete, start the winners — not just those with experience — and play to win.


Steve Ressler is a serial gov tech entrepreneur and investor. He has held leadership roles at companies including Callyo, GovDelivery/Granicus and GovLoop.