Leadership Lessons From NFL Star Vernon Davis

Vernon with Football.jpg

I recently went one on one with longtime NFL tight end Vernon Davis as part of my Lessons in Leadership series in Thrive Global. Famous to all football fans, Vernon led the NFL in receiving touchdowns in 2009, made the second-team All-Pro in 2013 and made the Pro Bowl in 2009 and 2013.

A native of Washington, D.C., Vernon played college football at the University of Maryland before being drafted by the San Francisco 49ers sixth overall in the 2006 NFL Draft. He played his first nine seasons in the league for the 49ers, before being traded to the Denver Broncos in 2015, where he won his first Super Bowl championship. In 2016, Vernon joined his hometown Washington Redskins. This upcoming season will be his 14th in the league.

Here are some excerpts from our conversation:

Adam: What are your hobbies and how have they shaped you? 

Vernon: Acting has taught me how to create success outside of my comfort zone, as well as how to harness different emotions in order to become a better leader. 

Adam: In your experience, other than natural talent, what are the defining qualities of a superstar athlete? 

Vernon: The defining qualities of a superstar athlete are being level headed, appreciating the fans, trying to be a positive role model and not being afraid to be vulnerable. Another defining quality is trying different things in the public eye.

Adam: What are the best lessons you have learned through your career in sports that are applicable to those of us who will never earn a living playing pro ball?

Vernon: The importance of preparation to accomplish a goal and take care of responsibilities. How to use adversity and use it physically, mentally and spiritually. Learn the importance of a strong network and professionals around you to achieve success. 

Adam: How did you get here? What failures, setbacks or challenges have been most instrumental to your development and success? 

Vernon: Hard work, dedication, and sacrifice. When I entered the NFL, I was focused on my independent performance and, as a result, lacked the skills of being a team player. After the guidance of Mike Singletary, I became a team player. 

Adam: Who are the greatest leaders you have played with and what do you believe are the defining qualities of a great leader?

Vernon: Patrick Willis, Peyton Manning, Alex Smith. The defining qualities of a great leader are acknowledging your teammates when the team accomplishes something great and taking ownership when the team doesn’t accomplish their goals. Always lead by example even when it comes to failure. 

Adam: Who is the best teammate you ever had and why? What are the characteristics of a great teammate? 

Vernon: Frank Gore. He is a great guy, positive, friendly, and hardworking. Regarding football he never complained, was a blue collar player, that exceeded his natural athletic abilities, mental toughness and work ethic. 

Adam: What players and coaches have you learned the most from? What did you learn from them? 

Vernon: Mike Singletary taught me how to become a team player, leader and how to humble myself. Jerry Rice taught me discipline on and off the field, how to take care of my body and perfect my craft. Peyton Manning taught me to be a professional and how to work through adversity especially when getting up in age with playing football.

Adam: What is one thing everyone should be doing to pay it forward? 

Vernon: Each one, teach one. Help those accomplish their goals the same way others have helped you accomplish yours.

For the full interview, visit https://thriveglobal.com/stories/tips-from-the-top-one-on-one-with-vernon-davis/

Adam Mendler