NFL Pro Bowler Mecklenburg: ‘Nurture Leaders, Not Egos’

In this edition of our Corporate Competitor Podcast, Maxwell Leadership Thought Leader Don Yaeger sits down with the Denver Broncos’ Pro Bowl linebacker Karl Mecklenburg to discuss how to sway the balance on your team from good to great.

When he was an All-Pro linebacker for the Denver Broncos, Karl Mecklenburg used to watch Pat Bowlen, the team’s late owner, greet and chat with the janitors, the equipment managers, the strength coaches—everyone from “top to bottom”—at the Broncos facility. He saw everyone who worked for the team as “his teammates.”

“He knew who each of them was, what they did and how they helped the organization,” remembered Mecklenburg. “He knew the names of their family members, too. And that brought us all together as a team. When difficult things happened, we felt we could rely on each other. We trusted each other, so when we got into an ‘us against the world’ situation, we were able to be successful.”

Mecklenburg, who retired from professional football with more than 1,000 tackles and enshrinement in the Denver Broncos Ring of Fame, is now tackling public speaking, inspiring organizations and their leaders to make long-term positive changes. In this podcast, Mecklenburg proves himself to be as versatile a storyteller as he was a football player when he once played seven different defensive positions in a single game.

Mecklenburg says that Bowlen’s modeling visible leadership for his organization illustrated the primacy of leadership up and down any team, which Mecklenburg likens to a seesaw. “On one side you’ve got leaders; on the other side you’ve got egos. In the middle is the majority, waiting to tilt one way or another,” he says. “By adding or subtracting a leader or an ego, your momentum will slide toward success or failure as the middle follows suit. That’s how it happens in the NFL. And that’s how it happens in business.”

The secret Bowlen understood was that by getting everyone in the organization to feel like contributors who are leaders in their respective areas, everyone was energized to pull in the same direction. Mecklenburg was not only a superb athlete, he was also an insightful reader of team dynamics, which listeners to this episode will enjoy through such anecdotes as:

• How Mecklenburg learned to tap into his natural adrenaline to give himself an edge before a presentation or public speaking event.

• What Broncos quarterback Gary Kubiak taught him about leading from the sidelines and making ourselves indispensable regardless of where we’re drafted or what role we play.

“Gary and I had a tradition before every game,” recalled Mecklenburg. “He’d come up to me and say, ‘Meck, hold up the class.’” Yes, Mecklenburg and Kubiak were part of the same draft “class,” but “Meck” also thinks that Kubiak, who backed up Hall of Famer John Elway, was saying something else: I’ve done everything I can to get us ready for this football game. Now I have to stand here with a clipboard, on the sidelines. So go out there and make the plays I won’t get to!

Check out the full Corporate Competitor Podcast interview archive and subscribe to new episodes.


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