So Much Leadership to Like: Kam Chancellor, Seattle Seahawks


One way to think about developing leadership skills is to think of spheres of influence and control, starting with the individual and working out. Leadership skills can be honed within the individual; in one-on-one interactions; on the team; while leading the team; and in the community.

The decision by Coach Pete Carroll and General Manager John Schneider to extend Kam Chancellor’s contract with the Seattle Seahawks is a reflection of leadership excellence in each of these areas of influence.

Individual Leadership

Spheres_of_Leadership_Influence_4In his time with the Seahawks, Kam has shown individual leadership as a person and as a player. On the personal side, his twitter account bio says “Well respected, well mannered” and as far as the #12thman can see, he lives it.

As a player, Kam is a serious student of the game. As a strong safety, his job is to hit guys on the other team. Hard. He does it really well. You can tell when he has laid a hit on someone, even without seeing the play, because of the sound the hit makes. That’s how he earned his nickname “BamBam” because of how reliably and powerfully – and audibly – he tackles opponents.

Football is a brutal game, and players are at risk of serious and lifelong injury every time they take a hit like the ones Kam Chancellor gets paid to deliver. In the interest of trying to protect the players from avoidable injuries in this violent game, NFL routinely institutes new policies about how players can — and cannot — hit other players. The cost of hitting a player illegally is a penalty on the field, and the possibility of a fine on the player later in the week when the play has been reviewed. The NFL Commissioner, Roger Goodell, is not shy about handing out fines for dirty plays.  Because the league is always looking to balance player safety with exciting football, the rules are constantly changing. When new rules are put in place, there are always a lot of people grumbling – fans and players. The usual complaint is that if you try to make the game completely safe, you may as well not play at all.

But Kam clearly has taken a different approach, and has worked on how to play the game hard and well, but within whatever rules apply at the time. A dramatic example of his commitment to playing clean but hard-hitting football, within the rules, occurred in the December 23, 2012 game between the Seahawks and the San Francisco 49ers. In that game, Kam laid a stunning (literally) hit on 49er Vernon Davis. Three officials flags flew into the air simultaneously, and in the game, Kam was leveled a 15 yard penalty and personal foul for the hit. But watching the replay was like seeing a workshop in how to deliver a hit by the book, head to the side, momentum from the shoulder into the padding on the chest of the other player. The force of the hit sent Davis’ head snapping back, but the hit was a clean hit. The NFL Commissioner must have agreed it was clean, as Chancellor did not get fined.

That’s individual leadership – rather than grumble that you can’t play the game within the rules, Kam instead quietly puts in the work so he can go to school showing others how it’s done!

Leadership, One-on-One

At the press conference with Coach Carroll and John Schneider announcing the extension of his contract, Kam was a man of few words. He described how happy he was that the extension was in place, and expressed his gratitude to the Seahawks organization for making it happen. He also made a point to demonstrate that he had picked up some leadership skills from his one-on-one interactions with other players. Specifically, Chancellor offered a serious shout out to Lawyer Malloy, the “fierce competitor” that Chancellor played behind during his rookie year, crediting Milloy with helping make him a better player.  Succession planning is a challenge in any industry; in the NFL, a player’s career horizon is compressed into a few short years. The best players, like Milloy and Chancellor, understand that the rookie they help find their way around the facility today may have their job next year.  The business end of football is no less brutal than the play on the field. Acknowledging help from and showing respect to the guy who came before him – whose job he now has – was Chancellor demonstrating one-on-one leadership.

Leadership On the Team

Kam_goes_GQKam’s leadership on the team — the primary reason for the contract extension — is well documented on, and ESPN.

[A particularly fun chapter of Kam’s leadership on the team was when he went “GQ” – serving as the model for the new Nike uniforms, for the league in general and for the Seahawks whose look had gotten a complete makeover. ]

Leading the Team

So, not all the leadership love goes to the players of the Seahawks. Kam’s contract extension – the first to be signed by a player drafted by Carroll and Schneider – marks a watershed for the guy who leads the team, Coach Pete Carroll. As an NFL coach, Pete Carroll takes strengths-based management to a championship level. Whether talking to his coaches or the players, or giving a press briefing, or in his book, Win Forever, Coach Carroll talks consistently about looking at what these young men offer, and working with them to shape a role for them on the team that will enable them to make the most of their very best skills. Rather than a plug-and-play, draft-the-position-not-player mentality for these singularly skilled athletes as some NFL coaches seem to adopt, Carroll builds his team from the best skills that they bring to the field.

When pursued as consistently and expertly as Carroll does with his staff and players, this approach to managing a group of talented individuals – playing to their strengths – has benefits that have made the Seahawks odds-on favorites for a championship run in the 2013 season. But the approach has another benefit that not only helps motivate the players on the field, but is invaluable to their development as young men.

There are a surprising number of top flight players on the Seahawks whose bio includes some variation on the theme: “Only Coach Carroll would give me a chance.” Marshawn Lynch, fans’ beloved Beast Mode, had off-field issues with the Buffalo Bills before coming to the Seahawks. Brandon Browner cycled through the Canadian Football League for three years. Richard Sherman was drafted in the fifth round, after other players with arguably lesser skill were taken. Doug Baldwin got overlooked in the draft altogether and signed with the Seahawks as a free agent. Bruce Irvin worked hard to get to college and turn around a difficult early life, but still had “red flags” hanging over him on draft day. As for Chancellor, he fell in the draft to the fifth round when the Seahawks picked him; he had been told he was too big and too tall to be successful in the NFL. When asked how it felt to have his contract extended early rather than have to wait for another year, Chancellor gestured to Carroll and Schneider sitting on either side of him and said “These guys gave me a chance to prove myself”. And prove himself he has!

Because Coach Carroll is so committed to and so adept at strengths-based management of his team, both coaches and players, not only is he putting in place championship caliber play from the entire team, he is providing these young men a tremendous gift: a priceless sense of self-worth. This is leadership of the highest order.

Leadership In the Community

By completing the contract extension, Coach Carroll and GM Schneider recognized Kam’s contribution to the core team that they set out to put in place when they joined the Seahawks organization. An important part of that contribution includes an expectation that the players will demonstrate leadership in the community. MikeRob_Kam_and_Ted_1Kam is an outstanding ambassador for the Seahawks organization, making frequent appearances in the community, at Play 60 events in the schools or at fan events in far-off places like the TriCities of Washington, often with Sherman in tow. He’s also seen from time to time on the Mike Robinson’s Real Rob Report, including once with his new friend Ted.

So Much Leadership to Like

Serious kudos to Seahawks owner Paul Allen, Coach Pete Carroll, General Manager John Schneider, Kam Chancellor, and the rest of the team – players, staff and coaches – for providing such a terrific model of leadership represented by this “first” core team player contract extension!

2 Comments on “So Much Leadership to Like: Kam Chancellor, Seattle Seahawks

  1. Good points on leadership and I have always respected Cam’s approach – he represents a true leader. I only wish Mr. Sherman exhibited the same qualities, he is the counter in terms of “me-ism”. He’ll respond by playing with a “chip”, but I disagree – leaders don’t need a “chip” to motivate them and playing with that attitude flows to the other players. As a leader you have to walk-the-talk, lead by example, play at a high level – and in sports I coach players to have a controlled anger approach. Leverage the energy, but don’t let it overflow where it controls your play and you exhibit a cocky attitude. I prefer the Steve Largent approach – he played hard – as hard as anyone, but with class, humility and a sense of knowing his role was to teach younger people to replace him and he led in the same manner. Personally this type of selfishness/me-ism is counter to what Coach Carroll “portrays”, but he is all about winning. As he was at USC – so yes I am not sure I am always a fan of Coach Carroll who is part ‘rah-rah’ and part do whatever it takes to win at any costs. As he did when he turned a blind-eye to Reggie Bush. I think as the ultimate leader you have to coach your players, even professional ones, you represent your team, your city and the fans who support you. Mr. Sherman is the counter to Cam – one is about feeding his own ego and one is about how I give back.

  2. Thanks, Pat for your perspective. I don’t follow college football and have only followed Carroll in his time at the Seahawks, so I don’t know enough about the situation at USC to have an intelligent position. Having watched Carroll the last few years, I’ve been impressed with how remarkably consistent he’s been in appearing to be a straight shooter during that time, and consistent to his philosophy on being successful in the game and in life. And as I indicated above, one of the areas I’ve been particularly impressed is in how he works with the people around him, especially the young guys on the team. I think how he handles Sherm is a good example, but you sometimes have to look for what’s missing instead of what’s there. Sherm is a big personality – that can be helpful or unhelpful to the team. When he was on Skip Bayless’ show not long ago, he was in rare form, and I’m guessing crossed a line that Pete reacted to. Pete met with Sherm and talked with him about how his public persona helps him (and the team) and doesn’t. Sherm is a smart guy and quick study – he’s been quiet ever since then. I think we’ll see more demonstrating on the field this year, less at the microphone. Let’s compare notes at the end of the season!

    As for giving back to the community, I get the sense he is out there more than most of the guys on the team! And I have to admit a personal bias here – he and Kam came to the Tri-Cities last summer. When I went to shake their hands, Sherm gave me a big hug. One spontaneous hug, and he bought a supporter for life!

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