5 Lessons from the Super Bowl on Dealing with Setbacks in Business

January 25, 2018

Remember the 2017 Super Bowl?

The New England Patriots staged a breathtaking comeback to snatch victory from the Atlanta Falcons, who had dominated most of the game. The Patriots went home champions, and the Falcons went home to wonder what happened.

Business leaders can learn key lessons from the Falcons’ post-game experiences in dealing with setbacks. Take these five tips to form your own playbook to guide your team back to success.

1. Take Aim, Not Blame

After their humiliating defeat, the Falcons regrouped and performed well enough to earn a wild card spot in the 2017-18 playoffs. A key part of that success was identifying what needed to be fixed or addressed rather than finger-pointing in the locker room about who or what was to blame. Focusing on what’s next is a far better way move forward.

2. Appreciate What Went Well

Business leaders must build teams with positive people who offer encouragement in good times and bad. Pessimists can also be converted when leaders stress the importance of positive thinking with words and by example.

It’s easy to let the outcome of a loss overshadow accomplishments. But apply this to your own defeat. The Falcons achieved a winning season. They took their division. They made to the Super Bowl, one of the world’s largest stages. Only one team could win…and it wasn’t them in 2017. Look at how much went right and build on that to move ahead.

3. Lean in and Learn

Falcons Coach Dan Quinn told his players that becoming a better, tighter-knit team would require self-examination and a focus on what was in front of them. Quarterback Matt Ryan took it as a direct challenge to put the Super Bowl completely behind him by leaning into learning what needed to be changed or improved. He was using a technique called ‘never waste a good mistake.’

Business leaders and their team members can learn from a setback or failure. Then it’s time to take the lessons learned and move to the next order of business. Remind people they still have the same abilities that landed them their jobs and led to past successes. Renew their sense of purpose by setting concrete goals and directly challenging them to reach higher.

4. Be Consistent and Reliable

In the face of a setback, there is a temptation to try to change everything, all at once. Quinn prepares the Falcons with unshakable consistency, closely following practice routines day after day. By not diverting from routine, business leaders can also relay the fact that the fundamentals are still in place. Then, it’s time to execute.

5. But Adjust

Be open when you need to adjust to get better or different results. Be specific about needed change – more of this, less of that – while emphasizing elements that do not require adjusting at all. Suggest meaningful tweaks to the elements of performance that contributed to the recent setback — like avoiding an unnecessary phrase in a sales pitch or presenting data in a less confusing way — but don’t abandon what works.


Remember you’re not the only organization adjusting to a setback, like the Falcons aren’t the only athletes who’ve had to do so.

Baseball immortal Babe Ruth is remembered for his 714 home runs.

But he also struck out 1,330 times.

“Every strike brings me closer to the next home run,” Ruth believed.

No one is perfect, not even the Babe.

But leaders who learn from him and others like the Falcons will show that, when dealing with setbacks, they know how to turn loss into victory.

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