In the U.S. National Football League, January is known as the playoff month. It leads up to the all-important Super Bowl, scheduled this year for Feb. 13. With 53 players allowed on each team roster, most of the players have backups. The “kicker” is the only unique role on the team. Kickers come out on the field to make the extra point after a touchdown and to make field goals.
Many games are won or lost by the accuracy of kickers. The Cincinnati Bengal’s kicker, Evan McPherson, cinched a 19-16 win over the Tennessee Titans with a 52-yard field goal. This advanced the Bengals to the American Football Conference championship game. The following weekend, McPherson’s 33-yard field goal in overtime secured the 27-24 win over the Kansas City Chiefs, and the Bengals can now advance to the Super Bowl. As a rookie, he’s also the first player in NFL history to make more than four field goals in multiple games in a single postseason.
The Baltimore Ravens’ kicker, Justin Tucker, is the highest-paid – and the most accurate, at 91.1 percent. He also holds the record for the longest field goal at 66 yards. He says it takes 1.3 seconds from the snap until he makes contact with the ball, requiring extreme precision and skill.
The Carolina Panthers’ kicker, Zane Gonzalez, is key to their success, and his scoring record is 20 of 22 field goals. He injured himself in warmups before their Dec. 19 game, and with no backup, they made no attempt at field goals. Ultimately, they lost to the Buffalo Bills.
Appreciating the importance of kickers
A recent news report on 60 Minutes, Inside the Mind of an NFL Kicker, profiled the role of kickers. It indicated that they score more than a third of the points for their teams, yet they’re often unappreciated:
- Only two are in the NFL Hall of Fame.
- Teams seldom have backup kickers.
- They don’t have to practice as hard as their teammates.
- They don’t have to endure the physical contact of hitting or getting hit.
- Their performance feedback is immediate, as the ball either goes through the goalposts, or it doesn’t.
- Their role is also high-pressure as the team is typically in a pinch needing those points to win.
Highly-skilled individual contributors
Now admittedly, I’m not a huge football fan. As I learned more about the role of the kicker, though, it intrigued me. They wear special shoes, use a uniquely prepared football and have a few secret tricks of the trade. They use different muscles and physical tactics than their teammates. And their mental game is just as crucial as their physical game. They can’t buckle under pressure.
As leaders, when you look at your team, you typically recognize their various strengths. You know the skill sets needed to accomplish your objectives. You hire and train for these capabilities. And you tend to invest in your most valuable leaders (like the quarterback). But where are the high-pressure individual contributors who are skilled but only get a little bit of visibility?
- They have specific expertise that isn’t easily covered by anyone else.
- They “stay ready” but only “play their role” for a relatively brief period of time.
- While they don’t appear to work hard, they’re always available.
- They’re not always in the huddle when plans are developed.
Still, playing their role well can be the difference between success and failure for the entire group.
Investing in success
The question for leaders is, do you have a kicker role on your team, or should you have one?
This is a unique skill set or strategy that will significantly improve your business and help you achieve your goals. Sometimes in the push to reduce staffing-related costs, a strategic resource whose value is underappreciated is let go from the team. Leaders fail to recognize the potential of someone with a skill set that doesn’t fit the norm, or who takes a nontraditional approach. When this person or their skill set doesn’t look like the rest of the organization, you may not know how to best leverage it.
If you’re not sure whether you have or need a kicker, start by evaluating the performance of your team and identify areas where performance falls short. Are there data gaps, missing expertise, response time lags or persistent problems that no one seems to be able to solve? What are your critical success factors and how are you addressing them?
As you identify your kicker, recognize that this person will most likely not have the same credentials as the rest of the team. And initially, they may not have the same level of credibility. They also may not deeply understand the intricacies of the business or industry, but may be knowledgeable, insightful and add value.
Consider these points for skilled contributors:
- They may not need to be present in every meeting.
- They could require specialized training and development, different from everyone else.
- Contributors could be 12-year-old whiz kids, 80-year-old wizards and anyone in-between.
- They may have a physical or intellectual disability.
- They may not mix well with the team, but they shine as an individual contributor.
- Contributors could be full-time employees, consultants or part-time contractors.
The bottom line is, are these highly-skilled contributors making a game-changing difference in your results so that you’re a winning team? The Super Bowl is almost here. Who’s your kicker?
To hear more from Priscilla Archangel, read “Blind Spots: Learning How to be Self-Aware.“