Leadership Lessons From Former NFL Star Lincoln Kennedy

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I spoke to former NFL star offensive tackle Lincoln Kennedy as part of my Lessons in Leadership series in Thrive Global. A three-time Pro Bowler, two-time All-Pro and member of the College Football Hall of Fame, Lincoln made headlines on the field from his days at the University of Washington (he was a first-time All-American and a top-ten draft pick) to eleven seasons in the National Football League. Best known as an Oakland Raider, Lincoln has worked for the team as a broadcaster since 2013. Lincoln also co-hosts a show on Fox Sports Radio and has enjoyed success outside of football opening the first Angry Crab Shack franchise location in Happy Valley, Arizona. Here are some highlights from our conversation:

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?

Lincoln: One of the greatest lessons I’ve learned while playing sports is that you have to work as a team. It’s so much harder to achieve the end goal if you are trying to do everything alone. You learn so much about yourself and about others when you work together to accomplish the same goal. To succeed on the field, you have to communicate with every team member; owning a business is no different. At Angry Crab Shack, things will go array if every member isn’t on the same page and working together –communication is the secret ingredient to success.

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

Lincoln: I  wouldn’t call myself a superstar, but I think it’s important to know how to motivate people, bring out the best qualities in them, and teach them how to operate as a team successfully. Once every member of a team has their eyes set on a common goal, it’s easier to reach success. A superstar athlete knows you can lead better once you’ve learned to follow. The best athletes are leaders who understand they don’t and cannot know everything. This goes for any career – I rely on my staff and managers at Angry Crab Shack to lend their knowledge and to take on a leadership role when necessary.

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

Lincoln: Over the years of playing football, I played with and against some of the greatest leaders. Athletes like Steve Wisnewski, Jerry Rice, Deion Sanders, Andre Rison, Micheal Haynes (WR), Rod Woodson, Eric Allen and Tim Brown are incredible leaders and each one of them leads in a different way. The commonality among each one is that they keep their word and follow through. Leadership can happen in different ways – you can lead vocally or by your actions—but regardless, stay true to yourself and do what you said you would do.

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

Lincoln: Over the years, I have learned from countless people – coaches, players, and just truly good and honest people. I think everyone comes into your life for a reason, like my high school coach, John Shacklet. He is the sole reason I started playing football in the first place. I might still be living in the inner-city if it wasn’t for him. My college coach, Kieth Gilbertson, taught me to use any tools I had to get the job done. This really helped be develop as a player, entrepreneur, and even as a person. Players like Kieth Rowen, Joe Bugel, and Bill Callahan have also had an incredible amount of influence on my personal and professional life.

Adam: What is the most surprising thing about life in professional sports? What is something that would shock fans?

Lincoln: I don’t think there really isn’t anything incredibly shocking about life as a professional athlete. I think it’s important people understand money can’t, and won’t, solve all of your problems. The fame and fortune that come with being a professional athlete is like any other form of entertainment, it doesn’t last forever.

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

Adam Mendler