Last week, I received an email from Eric Webster, general manager at Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices First Realty, in response to the weekly Thoughts on Leadership detailing lessons learned from the NFL. He wrote: “Good morning, Gino. You and I are cheering for the same guy for maybe slightly different reasons. I am a fan of (San Francisco 49ers Quarterback) Brock Purdy from his days at Iowa State.”
Eric said he’d been thinking about Purdy lately as he’s been in the news for near-flawless performances during games this season, helping to lead the 49ers to a 5-0 start. (It’s certainly made my Sundays a lot more enjoyable!) In his email, Eric posed an interesting point to consider: “I’ve been wondering why he is so good today—but was only ‘good’ at Iowa State University.”
When Purdy played at Iowa State University, he was a solid player, but his team didn’t win a national championship. In the 2022 NFL Draft, he was chosen 262nd, the very last player selected, historically deemed “Mr. Irrelevant.” (He was even celebrated during “Irrelevant Week,” a charity event held each year in Newport Beach—just a few minutes’ drive away from the Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices headquarters—to celebrate the last-picked player in the NFL draft.)
Today, Purdy is the ultimate come-from-behind underdog story, very much like the story of Rich Strike I told days earlier at the Marketing Forum in New Orleans. From beginning his NFL career as Mr. Irrelevant, Purdy is today starting quarterback for a so-far undefeated 49ers team. He threw four touchdown passes in Sunday’s game against the Cowboys. He has fourteen consecutive regular season wins under his belt, dating back to last season. And to echo our earlier question: Why? How did a player picked last in the NFL draft turn into such a standout?
Well, there are many reasons for Purdy’s productivity and high-performance, and each one proves a lesson in both leadership and the establishment of a mindset that embraces perpetual improvement:
- Trust. Purdy is implicitly trusted by his teammates and 49ers Head Coach Kyle Shanahan; it’s a trust he’s earned through consistent results since taking over the starting quarterback position during Week 13 last NFL season. Shanahan says Purdy’s been “extremely consistent in practice since he’s been here, and he’s been the same in games. What you see is what we see and it’s what you feel.” Trust is earned, and trust is felt. Trust allows teams to take risks and push themselves harder on the path toward reaching their highest potential, knowing every member of the team supports the whole.
- Progress. Some might say Purdy is the byproduct of an excellent team, a quarterback surrounded by a tough offense line that’s coached by some of the best offensive strategists in the nation. But while critics will tell you it’s only a matter of time before Purdy’s “great” turns to “not so good,” the stats are clear: Purdy keeps getting better. His time before passing improved from 2.84 seconds in 2022 to 2.56 seconds so far this season. He’s also bringing the ball farther down the field, with 7.2 air yards per attempt, up 0.2 yards from last year. Purdy’s 95.2% completion rate in Sunday’s game against the Cowboys is the best by any passer in 49ers history, and 48.2% of Purdy’s pass attempts gain a first down or touchdown, which is the highest percentage in the NFL right now. In leadership, a commitment to evolve and innovate is everything.
- Dedication. As 49ers Left Guard Aaron Banks told ESPN: “ is a dude who comes in and studies his film, studies his craft and makes sure he’s getting better week by week.” In leadership, a dedicated leader who is set on improvement is far more important than a leader who is complacent, even if they’re at the top of their game. Remember, once you think you know it all, your slide to mediocrity has already begun.
- Chemistry. In Eric’s email, he said: “Something happened to Brock. He is on the right team at the right time, and they are really having fun together.” This is a true example of chemistry at play. In sports, chemistry is everything. You win or lose based on the chemistry of your leaders and your team. The same applies to business; a good leader not only understands their team’s chemistry but can also utilize it to effectively accomplish every Wildly Important Goal.
So, what’s the message? An underdog like Mr. Irrelevant has nothing to lose and everything to gain, which is the perfect recipe for success.
This article is adapted from Blefari’s weekly, company-wide “Thoughts on Leadership” column from HomeServices of America.