Leadership Lessons from New Hampshire and Super Bowl 50

I had the privilege of working with Loren Cunningham, the founder of Youth With A Mission, during the late 1980s. Loren is one of the wisest leaders I’ve ever known–and just watching him made a powerful impact on me.

Two character qualities really stand out in Loren’s life and the lives of other great leaders. A political primary and the world’s most watched annual television show recently brought those qualities to the forefront in America.

What leadership lessons can we learn from New Hampshire and Super Bowl 50?

I spend part of my time as an ad junct professor for Faith Evangelical College and Seminary located in Tacoma, Washington where I serve as an assistant professor of Global Leadership. This quarter I’ve been crafting some new leadership courses for graduate students.

What I learned from Loren Cunningham has been placed central in the curriculum. Here are two of his leadership nuggets:

The number one quality of a leader is self control. 

I remember hearing Loren share these words in 1986 and I immediately questioned the absoluteness of the statement. What about faith, love, diligence, hard work etc. Why was self control the most important leadership character quality?

Loren explained that leaders are models of behavior for all who follow or watch them. Their influence is great and so their actions must be circumspect.

For example, how many people and churches have been ruined by a pastor’s lack of self control when he committed adultery with a secretary, and that moral failure tore both the families and church apart and left a stain on the ministry of Christ? 

Baptist minister Gordon Hanstad says that “the greatest gift I can give to my people is my own personal holiness.” 

Exactly. Only self-control in leadership, in all areas of life, protects others from being devoured by the wolves of hypocrisy and disallusionment. No wonder the Bible holds leaders (teachers) to a higher standard of conduct (James 3:1).

Here is the second leadership gem from Loren Cunningham:

Authority from God is given to people on the basis of humility.

In other words, true power and authority does not come from a booming voice, a strong personality, or a larger height than everyone else.  The greater your humility, the more moral authority you have in your leadership.

Powerful vocal cords, style, personality, and stature are given by DNA.  They are not moral. How a person chooses to live in a fallen world–honest about their mistakes, willing to admit error and be known for who they really are–is what creates the strongest and best of leaders. Humility is harder to achieve and more crucial to wise leadership than physical strength.

King David is an example. Though he was a dynamic and powerful warrior, it was his tender heart and willingness to repent and acknowledge his failures that produced great leadership.  You can find his humble heart splashed throughout many pages of the Psalms (Check out Psalm 51).

Jesus Christ has the greatest authority of anyone who’s ever lived because he had the greatest degree of humility. No sin in his case. Just the beauty of self-sacrifical meekness that died for the transgressions of the world (Philippians 2:5-11).

Self control and humility. They form the core of truly successful leaders.

There are many other qualities that are important in leadership. I list ten attitudes and ten actions in my book Leadership for the 21st Century: Changing Nations Through the Power of Serving. But self-control and humility are the most necessary and endearing. Why?  Because leaders handle power.

Let’s look at those attributes (or lack of them) in two recent events.

New Hampshire Primary

The United States just held its first primary vote in the Granite State in the run-up to the 2016 presidential election. For the Democrats, Bernie Sanders beat Hillary Clinton 60% to 39%–with 95% of the people that highly valued “honesty” voting for the seventy-four year old Socialist.

In other words, Sanders’ transparency and authenticity (despite terrible Robin Hood and Santa Claus fiscal policies) earned his victory over the former Secretary of State who many viewed as an untrustworthy liar.

Hillary has not showed self control and humility. Bernie seems more sincere.

On the Republican side, Donald Trump cruised to a stunning outsider victory with 35% of the vote. Trump is a powerful American icon who could ride the wave of anger and angst all the way to the White House.

But fellow Americans beware. Though Mr. Trump says he is a Presbyterian and holds up his mother’s gift Bible in front of evangelical audiences, he must not be listening on Sundays. He admitted recently that he’s never asked God or anybody else for forgiveness in his entire life.

Ponder that statement.  The Donald never had the guts and character to admit (and forsake) any sins or mistakes.  That’s not a wise heart to have sitting in the Oval Office. It’s the same problem our current president has of never admitting wrong but always blaming others.

Contrast Donald Trump’s lack of humility to Ted Cruz’s apology to Ben Carson for the incorrect message sent out to caucus goers. Or Marco Rubio admitting that he blew it in the last debate, apologized to those who’d worked hard for him in New Hampshire, and promised to never do it again (Proverbs 18:13).

We need those kinds of leaders sitting at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

Super Bowl 50

Sunday’s 50th Super Bowl was the third most watched television show in history. It show-cased Peyton Manning of the Denver Broncos in probably the last game of his illustrious career against the up-and-coming Carolina Panthers and their young MVP superstar, Cam Newton.

Peyton’s team won the game 24-10–not with his aging arm, but with a tenacious and opportunistic defense.

After the contest, Manning acknowledged that the other side of the ball was responsible for the victory and thanked his teammates for the privilege of playing with them. All of his career, Peyton Manning–who will have a special wing built for him in the NFL Hall of Fame–has carried himself with dignity and character.

After getting trounced in Super 48 two years ago, Manning humbly congratulated Seahawk quarterback Russell Wilson for the win and sought out cornerback Richard Sherman to see if he was okay (he’d been injured in the game).

Class act for many kids to emulate. Self control and personal humility–especially after an agonizing defeat.

Not so after Super Bowl 50. Losing quarterback Cam Newton sat slumped in a chair hiding under a sweatshirt hoody. He gave tortured one-word answers to the interviewers and even walked out of the room after three minutes.

A few days later Carolina coach Ron Rivera defended Newton: “That’s who he is. He hates to lose. That is what you love in him. I would much rather have a guy that hates to lose than a guy who accepts it.”

No, Ron.  You can have a guy who hates losing and loves winning with self-control and humility.

Cam Newton justified his own poor leadership example this way:

“Show me a good loser and I’ll show you a loser… If I offended anybody that’s cool, but I know who I am and I’m not about to conform nor bend for anyone’s expectations because yours or anybody’s expectations would never exceed mine…Who are you to say that your way is right? I have all these people who are condemning me saying this, that and the third, but what makes your way right?”

Sorry, Cam. Both self control and humility are the right way to win AND lose.

Who says so? God. No amount of narcissism or self-pity can change that.

In fact, here’s a lesson from Russell Wilson.

The most watched television show ever was Super Bowl 49. At the end of the game, with the New England Patriots leading 28-24, quarterback Russell Wilson dramatically led the Seahawks to the New England one-yard line with thirty seconds to play. Seattle was one down away from repeating as Super Bowl champions.

On the following snap, Wilson threw a quick slant pass to intended receiver Ricardo Lockette that was intercepted by Malcolm Butler–sealing the victory for the Pats. 

It may have been the most devastating Super Bowl moment of all time and certainly for the young quarterback.

But Wilson bowed his head and walked calmly off the field.  Here’s how he explained later:

“The play happens, and they pick the ball off. And I take three steps,” Wilson said. “And on the third step God says to me, ‘I’m using you. . . . I want to see how you respond. But most importantly I want them to see how you respond.”

Russell Wilson passed the test.

Memo to Cam Newton: Give Russell a call. He can help you grow in self control and humility.

They remain the real marks of true leadership.






  1. Ross Tooley on February 12, 2016 at 8:43 pm

    Good stuff Ron!

  2. Jim Hagman on February 12, 2016 at 7:34 pm

    Ron, thanks again for as usual a great article. Something about Russell Wilson's statement didn't sit right with me. I agree God could have made him throw that interception but I don't believe God did that. I think it would be more along the lines that once Russell threw the interception God said "lets see how you respond to a devasting loss. Let Me help you." Actually if God were controlling who won he would have had the pass completed to test Tom Brady…..

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