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Cam Newton

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Recent opinions surrounding Cam Newton’s statements are the latest in a string of controversies that have surrounded him since he was in college. For those who missed it – the latest controversy surrounds many people’s negative reactions to Cam and his on field behavior; like dancing after touchdowns, smiling and laughing, and giving footballs to little kids in the stands. Addressing the controversy, he said, “I am an African-American quarterback; that may scare a lot of people because they haven’t seen nothing they can compare to me.” The reactions to Cam may fall into many camps, but it is likely that race and unconscious bias is one bit of fuel for these reactions. A recent study of college students has shown the real impact of unconscious bias on perceptions of competency and behavior, as reported in The Atlantic magazine.


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However, there is much to be learned from Cam Newton – the leader – that should not go unnoticed amidst the controversy. Here are things we can take away from Cam Newton, African-American and leader:

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1. Take risks – Success is born of taking risks. However, these risks need to be mediated with some strong belief that success is attainable. All the clichés apply: no risk, no reward etc. the key to taking risks is not only a belief in yourself and your ideas, but an ability to see opportunities where others might not – and seizing upon them. Often this is garnered from study; by scanning the internal & external landscapes, including areas outside your business, you can find ideas and inspirations. It is important to ensure the payback offsets the risk; a risk taker without payback is just a risk.

2. Be decisive – The distance between success and failure is a millimeter, a razor’s edge, a thread with little room for failure and no room for indecision. To waffle is the absolute worst thing in leadership. The NFL position of quarterback may be the poster child for the need for quick and decisive action; the team looks to the QB, as a leader, and wants to follow his lead, but will only do so if they believe he is sure of the actions he is taking. Sharp crisp thinking (clarity) is paramount, but in the moment that clarity is born of study and deep understanding of your topic/subject matter. It is not just the ability to connect the dots, but also the ability to act decisively on that knowledge. That is how winners in any field beat the competition.

3. Know yourself & be yourself – Authenticity in the workplace is elusive for all leaders. It may be even more so for leaders of color and women, but let’s be clear no one is 100% authentic at work  (See Dr. James’ whitepaper “Journey to the top: Developing African-American Executives”). However, the closer people can get to their true authentic self at work, the more genuine others will perceive them, and the less stress they will experience at work. Owning and embracing who and what you are in every environment empowers you and cuts down on the baggage. The outside world wants you to conform to their image of who or what you should be, whether that is as President of the USA, a senior organizational leader, or an NFL Quarterback. At the end of the day, you have to live with you and be happy with who and how you are, but there can be consequences for being authentic (see #10). At the end of the day, a waffling, inauthentic leader is an ineffective leader.

10 Things Cam Newton Can Teach Executives About Leadership  was originally published on

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