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What an NFL Pro Thinks About Leadership, Trust, and Small Wins w/Reggie Rivers

This post is based on a podcast with Reggie Rivers. If you’d like to listen to more #FlipMyFunnel Podcast episodes, you can check them out here and listen to this episode below!

What if you didn’t have to wait until you were “in charge” to lead those around you?

Authority doesn’t always equal leadership.

Regardless of your position, you can start leading now.

Reggie Rivers is a former running back for the Denver Broncos and currently a keynote speaker for his company Corporate Kickoff. In this episode of the #FlipMyFunnel podcast, Reggie joined us to talk about leadership, trust, and celebrating small wins.

Leadership vs Authority

Reggie believes that “leadership” is a word that often gets confused. Many people think that being a leader means you’re automatically “in charge.” Sometimes this is true, but often the leaders are not the ones in charge; they are instead the ones that lead by example and help those around them.

For example, in the NFL, Reggie saw many position coaches take up the idea of “bottom up” as opposed to “top down” leadership. Position coaches in the NFL teach technique to one specific position (a quarterback coach, a defensive backs coach, etc.).

In actuality, position coaches do not have a lot of authority. They don’t get to make personnel decisions, decide player’s salary, choose which players start, or make many key decisions. But their responsibility is to teach their players how to become better at their specific position.

NFL players know that these position coaches have no authority, so these coaches must win the trust of their players to demonstrate they have something of value to teach. They lead by building relationships and becoming servant leaders.

They ask questions like “what can I do to make my players better?” Players become more and more loyal to the position coaches because they see how much they are helping their team. This is true “bottom up” leadership: leading with from among the pack. They understand their job is to serve and help, so they are leading with influence, not authority.

Reggie can instantly tell the difference between teams using the “bottom up” versus “top down” leadership. The best teams (in the NFL or in the business world) are doing everything they can to make employees happy. They recognize employees are the fuel driving the engine.

“Our job is to solve our employee’s problems for them. Our job is to retain our employees. Our job is to make sure our employees have all the tools they need to do their job.” – Reggie Rivers

Building Trust

So how do the position coaches in the NFL build this sort of trust? They truly get to know their players.

They ask their players what their goals are. They ask questions like, “Is there anyone in the league you see who you want to be like? What do you think it takes for him to perform like that? How can we help you get to that level?”

They say things like, “I can’t wait to see what you’re going to do in this league” and they actually mean it. Right away they are demonstrating they are on the player’s side and want to do whatever it takes for this person to reach their goals.

This translates to the business world as well. It is vitally important to keep graduating the employees around you to bigger and better things. Continue to feed them opportunity after opportunity.

Often times we are too focused on where we want to go without taking into account where the employee wants to go.

Celebrating Small Wins

When Reggie left the NFL he had a hard time adjusting to the lack of small win celebrations in the business world because the NFL celebrates small wins all of the time.

Instant celebrations and pats on the back for small signs of progress are commonplace in the NFL, so Reggie made it his mission to find a way to regularly celebrate wins and even acknowledge mistakes in the workplace.

When you acknowledge mistakes, you take the fear away that is associated with mistakes. Your biggest playmakers on your team (the best sales reps, the most creative marketers, etc.) are going to be the ones to make mistakes because they are the ones on the front lines. But if you create a culture of acknowledging mistakes, your employees won’t be paralyzed by the fear of being perfect.

Reggie encourages teams not to accept mediocrity, but at the same time acknowledge mistakes as a part of life.


Reggie’s challenge for leaders is to learn to focus on your behaviors.

There is a difference between goals and behaviors. You often don’t have control over goals, but you do over your behaviors. Focus on things within your control, and that includes changing your behavior every day to line up with what your desired goals and outcomes are.