Joseph Ossai and B.J. Hill. Courtesy of @michaelniziolek

From Anguish of Cincinnati Bengals Defeat Comes a Lesson in Leadership, Culture and Teamwork

The mistake Joseph Ossai made Sunday in the NFL’s AFC championship game left him distraught, his Cincinnati Bengals teammates frustrated and the Cincy fan base in anguish. The reactions to the mistake also delivered timely lessons in team dynamics and leadership.

The Cincinnati Bengals defensive lineman took an unnecessary roughness penalty on Kansas City Chiefs superstar Patrick Mahomes in the final seconds of the AFC championship game. The late hit out of bounds gave KC an extra 15 yards, more than enough to make their game-winning field goal and secure a 23-20 victory.

Moments after his hit, Ossai could be seen on the sideline with tears in eyes. As the Bengals players walked back to the locker room after the game, teammate Germaine Pratt was captured on video, visibly angry. “Why the [expletive] did you touch the quarterback?” he shouts.

It’s understandable to be upset in the heat of such a moment, and Pratt later apologized for the outburst. It was some other Bengals teammates’ display of leadership, however, that really stood out.

Fellow lineman B.J. Hill stood on the left shoulder of Ossai during the postgame locker room media scrum.

“It didn’t come down to that play,” Hill said. “I’m not going to put up with no dumb questions that make it seem like it was all his fault. It takes more than him. It takes an entire team… That’s my brother. I’ve been in that situation before, too.”

As SuN contributor Rachel Blakley-Gray writes, 65% of promising startups fail because of clashing co-founders: “[Y]ou need to know how to manage co-founder conflict before it has the potential to destroy your business.”


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Hill’s response, among others, is a terrific example of how to manage potential strife in the workplace. He captured five traits that any entrepreneur or small business owner could learn from.

We lay those traits out below, drawing on insights shared by StartupNation contributors who have worked in their own trenches of startups and small businesses:

1. Compassion is key to success

“Compassionate leaders listen, invest in their people, and create a collaborative culture with a positive attitude to help employees feel valued and appreciated. Through compassionate leadership, you can spread joy, connect with others, and resonate positivity in your organization.”

2. Positive work relationships

“People who like working with each other will also support each other in times of need. Plus, it’s easier to open up about a difficult work issue toward a colleague you trust. By promoting a culture of empathy, businesses help build powerful teams, where collaboration and support are norms. As a result, these teams will be more efficient since they will be able to work like a well-oiled machine.”

3. Great leaders have a team mentality

“Having a team mentality means thinking about your team before yourself. Great leaders focus first on how they can help their team members learn and grow, contribute to their day-to-day success, and inspire them to keep thinking outside of the box.”

4. Meet adversity head-on

“No matter how intentional you are at safeguarding a positive work environment, adversity will arise. It’s not an if, it’s a when. And when a tough situation does crop up, you have to meet it head-on. Bad scenarios, left alone, do not resolve themselves. …Just like you can’t wish away a physical ailment, you can’t wish away a work problem that threatens your business culture.”

5. Embrace mistakes

“Mistakes and failures play an indispensable part in helping your employees learn and grow. Your leadership team should accept and even encourage mistakes as a necessary step on the path to mastery. By celebrating failures as learning opportunities, you can establish a culture that will drive creativity and innovation for years to come, both of which often differentiate the top performing companies from the rest.”

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