That was the case in last night’s stirring AFC Divisional Round playoff game between the Kansas City Chiefs and the Buffalo Bills. The entire sporting world and beyond is describing the electrifying 42-26 Chiefs OT victory as one of the best football games ever. There was one spectacular play after another under pressure by both teams, no turnovers and just four penalties.
One play stood out among all the back-and-forth impossibilities that were turned into possibilities, and then realities. With just eight seconds left in regulation and Chiefs facing a long-shot imperative to get at least 20 yards for the tying field goal to avoid a heart-breaking loss, Chiefs all-world TE Travis Kelce told all-universe QB Patrick Mahomes: “I am probably NOT going to run the route that is called.”
Mind you, the route was called by future Hall of Fame Head Coach Andy Reid and revered offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy. The QB and the TE got to the line of scrimmage for what was essentially a do-or-die play. They took a second to study the defense. Then, they improvised as if they were kids playing football in the backyard after school.
At the line of scrimmage just before taking the snap, Mahomes yelled so everyone could hear - including the Buffalo Bills and a national TV audience: “Do it Kels! Do it! Do it!”
Kelce indeed didn’t run the play that was called. And Mahomes didn’t do a formal audible with hand signals and code words like “Omaha” or “Lasagna” or “Martini.” He boldly and openly yelled to Kelce to do what they had briefly “discussed” just before the play. Kelce found an open spot, caught Mahomes’s pass to gain 25 years to get into position for the tying field goal with three seconds left.
Sure, that kind of bond is built through practice and familiarity from working together for some time. But lots of people work together for much longer periods of time. That special bond is rare and exists with just a few people – if not just one - in a career.
I’ve enjoyed working with some incredibly talented professionals in my career – ethical, intelligent, driven, competitive, compassionate and more. But I only enjoyed the rare professional bond like Mahomes and Kelce have with one person. Here is what made our professional relationship transcendent:
- A relentless drive to exceed expectations and goals – We both were in sync about not just meeting goals, but plowing through them on every single project, every annual program and every metric. Being on the same page was foundational to a work ethic and mindset to do whatever we needed to help achieve a higher-level success.
- We trusted each other but weren’t afraid to disagree – Even though I had more experience than she, I encouraged her to challenge me. She willingly obliged by drawing from her own unique experiences and intellectual capital to make suggestions I hadn’t considered. That resulted in greater combined intellectual capital – strategy, creativity, unconventional thinking –than had we just agreed with each other or had she deferred to my experience.
- We didn’t play by conventional rules – Much like how Mahomes and Kelce improvised in the most high-leverage, high-risk moment, we developed a collective mindset between us that we would first consider the unconventional rather than the default or safe option. Then we would assess the risk/benefit and determine the best course. We weren’t unconventional just for the sake of it. But when a big moment presented itself, our goal was to meet the moment.
- Our trust led to a sixth-sense and no-look passes – Because we had similar high aspirations we could take the baton from each other knowing the other would run just as hard and just as smart. No need for detailed instruction or to be in the same room at the same time. We could hand off tasks mid-project, piggy-back on each other’s thoughts in meetings to build momentum for a point-of-view and make easy, seamless no-look passes of strategies and ideas to inspire confidence and peace of mind from our clients.
- We always wanted to keep learning – We both understood we didn’t have all the answers and had a curiosity to keep learning, not only from each other, but from anyone or anything that would help us become better as individuals and as a company. When she had a job offer from a client, one of the bargaining chips she requested was that she received personally tailored leadership training from me to help her to learn.