Hello, and welcome. I’m Heath Alloway, a Director at Upstream Academy and I’m also your host for today’s episode of The Upstream Leader podcast. I’m really excited about today’s episode. There’s some topics that I really love talking about, just based on experiences that I’ve had and the impacts I’ve seen them make on others’ careers, and there’s others, maybe I get a little nervous about the stretch on my background.
But today, it’s one that I’m excited about for a different reason. Today, it’s an opportunity to have a conversation with an old friend that, you know, over the years, maybe we’ve shared some texts back and forth, but we haven’t really had a chance to sit down and have an in depth conversation for quite a while. And whenever I reached out to Shaun about the idea of the podcast and some of our goals, it’s like we never really missed a beat. It was one of those conversations that when you have some similar goals and a vision and mission of what you’re trying to accomplish, it’s one of those conversations that it just clicked.
My guest today is Shaun Hill, he is a retired what I would call 15-year journeyman NFL quarterback—which, I did a little research beforehand, and it’s rather impressive. I think the average length for a quarterback is around, actually maybe less than four and a half years. Maybe more important, in my eyes: I see Shaun as a family man, a friend and someone that’s just a leader all around. And I invited Shaun to talk about the idea of Championship Leadership.
So the thought that you can lead from any position on a team and not only that, but just how to be a leader in life. And Shaun, I don’t know the best way to describe this in your career. You know, Shaun may not show up on the record books, maybe he wasn’t the fastest guy on the field or could throw the ball the furthest. But what I did see was a leader. And that’s what I think about when I see Shaun. So Shaun, can you just share some insights to your career, and what really made you the leader you are today?
Yeah, thanks, Heath. Thanks for having me on, too. I guess it goes back to partly being raised in a coach’s home, helped a lot too. I was able to kind of understand what coaches were wanting, what they were doing, when they were hard on us—I was able to kind of understand their whole perspective.
But throughout my career, I was in a lot of different positions: third string quarterback, second string quarterback, starter at times, having to come in in the middle of a game and take over a team; going into a season as the guy. So I was kind of able to just play a bunch of different roles. And I think that’s the only thing that kept me around so long as you mentioned, and I don’t take any offense to it: I promise you, I was not the most talented guy around. I think Peyton Manning got a heck of a lot out of his talent, and more than I did. But there weren’t a whole lot of guys that they got more out of less.
But the only reason that I was kept around was first these leadership qualities and being able to do it in any role that I was in.
Yeah, and Shaun, one thing we’ll get into a little bit later, and you mentioned—that anyone that’s in the NFL is a great athlete, but not everyone’s a leader. And you know, we’ll get into that a little more. One of the things that we talked about was the Championship Leadership. So I’m gonna put you on the spot for a second you have two minutes or less. How do you describe Championship Leadership and the six C’s?
This works out well, because I’ve been working on some content with a guy—I serve on the board for FCA Football, so being able to go and speak to quarterbacks and coaches about this. And so the 6 Cs that we put together: “Character, confidence, coachable, caring, courageous and consistency.” So those are the six principles that we see for Championship Leadership.
Character, obviously, there’s a lot of different character qualities out there, but what we look at is just your overall character, what you do in the dark, what’s gonna come out in the light, it’s who you are, even when you’re not around other people. It is your—like your whole being, and I really believe this: to be a champion at anything you do, you must be a champion at everything you do. If you’re one of those people that’s going to just skim by in certain areas of your life, if you’re going to be lazy in one area, I guess that’s gonna come out in crunch time. It’s gonna come out whenever the heat is applied out there on the field.
Confidence: so confidence is a big one. For me, I wasn’t one of those people that was able to just wake up in the morning, and I was confident. That confidence was always earned for me. So that’s one I really enjoy talking about. And it came partly from being willing to try, but mostly it came from being willing to prepare.
Coachable: coachable is huge. I think when I look back at the teams that didn’t maybe live up to the expectations—and it wasn’t always the players’ fault, sometimes it’s the coaches’ fault—didn’t feel like they needed to coach the best players on the team as hard as the back half of the team. And I think that’s a huge mistake. But also that the players have to be willing and able to accept coaching. Here’s another C that’s not in there—criticism. It’s not criticism, what it is, it’s there to help you improve.
Caring: caring is a huge one. And when we break out caring, we talk about selflessness and sacrifice and being a servant. That’s caring.
Courageous: courageous, you just can’t be can’t be afraid to fail. And at the same time, you have to be willing to go to bat for the people that you are leading. And that takes courage. Not everybody has that.
I think consistency—consistency is what we all look for, right? That was what coaches are looking for in players. Are you the same player every single day? And then how do you get that consistency? And we break that out into process and preparation and practice habits. So that’s it, in one or two or more minutes.
That’s great, Shaun. I like hearing the six C’s. And there’s a couple things he said that really stuck out that I’ll touch on briefly. But you mentioned the idea of coaching your best players. Frequently I see the mistake of, you feel like coaching is for people that are falling short in an area, but in all reality, your best players—they’re going to continue to evolve and learn, and get better as well. So they’re, you know, sometimes those are the people that are overlooked, and maybe we don’t have enough focus.
And in our world of public accounting, sometimes when you have a high performer that you’re not coaching, sometimes they view that as maybe they’re not as important, and maybe they end up leaving and leaving the profession or going to a different firm. So I think that ties right into what we see in our profession.
Shaun, one thing that we’re big on at Upstream is just that thought of empathy and perspective. Some people call it soft skills. I think it’s more of a human skill. It’s that ability to put yourself in someone else’s shoes—and many of our listeners today, they may have that fire in their belly, they may have that desire to be a leader that I’ve seen going back to that confidence, sometimes people, they don’t view themselves as a leader. And they equivalate that to a title or position. And I don’t always believe that you have to have the title or the position to be a leader. So that goes back to “anyone can be a leader at any time.” So tell us more about maybe your view or your experiences from that thought—that you can lead from anywhere. ‘Cause I know sometimes you mentioned you were a backup or third string. Maybe you weren’t the one in the spotlight, but you were still doing a ton of work behind the scenes. So tell us a little more about that, Shaun.
Yeah, yeah, no, I totally agree. It doesn’t matter where you are—if you are the bottom person on the rung, then you’re the leader of yourself, right? Like, you’ve got to be self driven. You’ve got to lead yourself. So there’s always somebody to lead. And that was basically me coming in as a rookie and a third string quarterback.
But then, kind of as my career evolved, really what it came down to was, I was the leader of the back half of the roster. That’s what I was. I was in charge of making sure that we gave the best look we could to the defense, and I was using the guys that weren’t gonna have a jersey on Sunday: practice squad guys, new guys, or just backups. But we took that job very seriously. And then so what I would do is I would try to—we’d take the picture that was given to us by the defense, usually drawn incorrectly, but we would take that picture and I would call that play as close to what it would resemble, our offensive play. And we will go out and so now we’re not just running plays on a card for the defense, what we’re doing is we’re actually running our plays, and we’re getting better at the stuff that we do. So that was just one thing that I tried to implement for our guys.
And then in that role also though—so this is an interesting one and one that I think is overlooked a lot. So I was brought into San Francisco, Alex Smith was the number one overall pick and then from there, I went to Detroit, and Matthew Stafford was the number one overall pick and then I go to St. Louis, and Sam Bradford was the number one overall pick. And then from there, you know, finished out my career up in Minnesota, behind Teddy Bridgewater, who was a first round pick, but a young player.
What I was brought in to do was to lead the leader from behind the scenes. This is the only reason why I had some of those jobs. I was brought in to tell that person what needed to be said, when it needed to come from him, because he was the guy that it needed to come from—he was the guy that needed to develop into the leader for the long haul for that organization. I was there to be a bug in his ear. But at the same time, then, if it was my turn to play, then I had to step into that role and take over those responsibilities.
Right. Shaun, one thing that we talked about before, too, that I think this is critical for, whether it’s the CEO of a company or a managing partner of a firm, or whoever it may be—you talked about some of your postgame interviews. You know, the difference of how you approached your postgame interviews, you know, from a win or loss perspective, as a leader, and I thought that, you know, the way you handled that, throughout the years is pretty impactful. And after talking to you about it, it makes more sense to me now. Can you share for a couple minutes on how you approached postgame interviews, whether you won by 21 points or you got killed in the game? I think it’s something a lot of people could take away from.
This is very important. And basically, the approach that I took was if things went poorly, if things went bad, if we got smoked, or if we got beat, then it was “I.” You know, I wouldn’t deflect it. It was, I would try to answer every question as in “I need to do better. I didn’t do well enough on third down. I didn’t do well enough in the redzone to get us the points to get us over the hump.” So whenever there was going to be—I knew there’s gonna be negative articles about the game—I tried to talk about “I.”
When things went pretty well, then it would be “we”—“we had a great game plan, we went out, we executed.” But when things went great when we smoked a team, and it couldn’t have looked any better it was “they.” “The offensive line they did just an unbelievable job tonight, gave me all the time in the world. The wide receivers, they got open, they ran crisp routes, they defeated their guys, play in play out. The coaches gave us a great game plan.” So that was the approach I always took. If it was, it was “I,” if it was good, it was “we,” if it was great, it was “they.”
Yeah. One thing I’ve learned in life, Shaun, when things are going well, it seems to be a lot easier for some of those postgame interviews. But sometimes when things aren’t going well, and that’s where you find out, you know, what kind of leader and what kind of team you are. And whenever you’re describing the six C’s, one thing that I love the thought of—and you said this was one of the critical areas—is “coachable.” And you’ve talked to me about “coachable and correctable” One of the things that I’ve experienced, I’ve also seen in other organizations, you know, giving and receiving candid feedback—it can be hard, it’s challenging. It’s hard to talk to people about things that maybe they’re not doing well. And then taking that, because sometimes a guard goes up. But whenever I look at it, that thought around “coachable and correctable”—if you’re willing to give someone candid advice, it can be one of the greatest gifts you can give to someone in their career, if they will take that and run with that.
So can you share maybe your thoughts around “coachable and correctable”—but maybe, you know, going on that empathy side of putting, you know, putting yourself in someone else’s shoes, maybe an example of where you received candid feedback in your career. Maybe it was very hard at the time, but maybe you took that advice and were able to turn it in the right direction.
Yeah. Man, there’s a lot there. So I’ll say—the best teams, I believe, the ones that have the best opportunity to have success—are when your best players are your hardest workers, and when your best players are coachable or coached. Because the back half of the roster—if your top half of the roster is the hardest working, then the back half is going to work hard to catch them. If it’s the other way around—if they’re lazy—then the back half is gonna be lazy. If they’re coached hard, then the back half can be coached hard as well.
The guys don’t respond in NFL locker rooms very well if part of the team’s getting a pass and then the back half’s the only ones that are getting coached. It just does not go well. This is actually—I’m not kidding you—this is scripted with Tom Brady. It’s always been scripted. But it made even more sense this year when he went to Tampa Bay and to see Arians who—Bruce Arians won’t call out anybody. He’s a player’s coach. And then at the beginning of the season, Bruce Arians is calling out Tom Brady all over the place. It was uncharacteristic of the way that he treats his players and stuff. Yep, this is absolutely scripted, and it’s because now the rest of the roster knows that they’re accountable too. Tom Brady, the best player of all time, is sitting here getting called out in the media, and then ESPN’s just running off with it. “Oh you know, the honeymoon’s over” things like that. Like no, you guys just watch—and turns out they are world champions this year, you know. So it’s crazy. And that’s one of the main things that’s made him successful. They did the same thing in New England with him. So that’s, you know, that’s “coachable and correctable,” in my opinion, it’s very, very important.
As far as input: To me, I gave a lot of people advice, off of mistakes that I made, and people did the same for me. I think it’s really important when you’re addressing people, when you are a leader, is to admit your flaws—to admit the things that you get wrong, that you have gotten wrong, to the things that you struggle with. You can’t sit there and talk down to people. I like to sit in front of them and talk with them, you know, face to face. I hate standing up on a stage and I feel you know, I just don’t like it. I’d much rather sit among people and talk to them. But I think that really helps—if you talk to people instead of at people as if you’re able to admit your flaws and the mistakes you’ve made when you’re giving advice.
Well Shaun, and whether it’s business, sports, life in general—one thing you mentioned at the very opening was, you know, the thought of failure and being willing to fail. No one’s going succeed in life with everything they do. And you know, you kind of make a decision on how you tackle that. And if you do fail, that in my mind is always a great learning opportunity and how you take that, and then by sharing that with others, I think that helps you connect with others. And one thing you said too, is you talked about giving advice of talking with them instead of to them or at them. And one thing I’ve seen from a coaching perspective, where mistakes are sometimes made, probably in our profession, is where maybe coaching is seen as compliance instead of actual coaching. So it’s the check a box of, “Well, we got to do a quarterly review or mid year review.” But some of the best coaches I see are the ones that are actively coaching at the moment when they see something, addressing it at the time.
Not only that, you know, a coaching situation should be a two-way conversation, not a one direction conversation. And I think that’s when you really start to make progress. And going back to the failure piece of it: You mentioned the preparation side. And how the things maybe you do in private are what you’re rewarded for in public. And to me the preparation side, I mean, this is maybe more of a question for me. So a little selfish. But I’m just curious, how much time, you know, after a game before the next game, how much time would you spend from a preparation standpoint?
Oh, man. Yeah, a lot of people think you just show up on Sunday, and you play the game. And then you go home and you hang out for the week. And this is not the case at all. So yeah, so Sunday, after the game is over, typically, you got people in town, so you kind of take that evening and try to enjoy yourself, whether you won or lost. You try.
Monday, depending on if I played or not—if I played, then my day was probably about eight hours. If I didn’t, it was about six. So you go and you get a workout and try to work out the soreness, get some treatment, things like that to try to get your body to recover. And the older you get, the harder that is. Then you’d go and you’d watch the game film. You’d watch it as a group, you’d have a team meeting, guys would get called out all over the place.
Here’s one thing about the NFL, I wish that other professions could experience this in some way. But everything we did was videotaped, and then you watched it with your superiors, right? So it was—it’s unbelievable. If we took that to every aspect of our life, we’d be some pretty good people.
But anyway, so we’d watch the game film as an offense, and then we’d break out and we’d watch it just as quarterbacks or it’d be quarterbacks and receivers, or, you know, you’re kind of in your position group. So you’d watch it twice. And that was painful if you didn’t play well. So typically, that was a six to eight hour day, depending on if I played or not.
Monday evening was really the only time that a person could kind of step away from football, and give their mind a break. Tuesday, you wake up, you go in, you get another workout, get treatment if you needed it. But Tuesday begins, and this is our “off day,” quote unquote, “off day.” And that begins your process for preparation for the next team. You start watching the next team’s game film—typically you go back four weeks, so you’d watch four of their game films. That day was about a six hour day as well.
So then Wednesday: Wednesday is when the whole team comes back together, Wednesdays and Thursdays, those are full days. Those are 12, 13 hour days, full of workouts, meetings, game planning, practice, and then watching the film from practice at the end. And then we would go straight from that into watching film for the next day. So if it was Wednesday, we were watching film for Thursday. That would have been your third down film. And then if it was Thursday, you’re watching film for the following day, which would be your red zone film. So that breakout goes back all season. You’re not just watching four weeks of breakdowns on that. So those two days are 12, 13 hour days.
Friday was a little bit shorter, kind of more of an 8 to 10 hour day. And then Friday evening, I would always try to have a date night with my wife and try somehow to get away, but you know, football was in your mind—your game plan’s in at that point and that’s at the front of your mind. But you try. You try as hard as you can. It’s tough.
Saturday was a little bit shorter. But if you traveled, I mean, it was an all day sucker. But Saturday at the office was about four hours, and then you’d get some time off in the afternoon. And then you’re at the hotel that evening. And you’ve got about three hours of meetings that night, Saturday night. So then Sunday back to the game, and you’re rolling.
So it sounds like a lot. I wasn’t trying to do the math there while you were talking, but it’s a it’s a lot from a preparation standpoint. So Shaun, in 30 seconds or less, how did that preparation help with your confidence? Running out of the tunnel when it’s, you know, the crowd’s going crazy. And you know, you’re in the fight. How did that help your confidence level?
Yeah, that was the only thing that gave me confidence. I’m not kidding. When I turned on the other opponent’s film on Tuesday morning, week in and week out, I’m like, “I don’t know how we’re gonna move the ball against these guys.” The first time you turn on the film it’s like “Man, these guys are impressive!” because they all are, right? They’re all really good.
But as you continue to watch, you can then, you continue to find holes in their defense, you continue to find other things that they’re not maybe as good at, you continue to find things that you can do to attack them. And then you hone in on those things throughout the week, and you put together what you feel like some pretty good game plans and create opportunities for yourself against them. And by the time Saturday rolled around, that defense didn’t look nearly as good as it did on Tuesday. So then, you know, you kind of do your finishing touches Sunday morning, and there was always a process that never deviated from before the game. And yeah, you were ready to go.
What you’re talking about Shaun, it correlates very well to our profession as well, because there’s a lot of great firms out there. And many times you’re going up against a great firm, when you’re talking to potential clients. Firms that I’ve seen do a really good job, whenever you’re preparing on the front end, if you’re going into a meeting or a presentation, it can make a huge difference. And it goes back to what we said earlier: what you practice in private is what you’re going to get rewarded for in public. And that’s where a lot of the hard work comes in: the blood, sweat and tears that maybe many people don’t necessarily see.
Shaun, one thing that—I don’t know if I’ve ever talked about this, or mentioned it to you. But one thing that I’ve loved watching you throughout the years is just that will to win or that desire to win. And I always tell my teammates that I manage, that I’ll take the will over skill any day of the week. You can be the most skilled athlete, but if you’re high maintenance, sometimes that can be the worst type of teammate. So how has that will versus skill—how has that concept played into your career over the years?
That was—this is very important to me. Because the guys would get put on the field with you based on potential, right? That’s what we would call it. There’s potential, “this guy was drafted in the first round based on his potential.” And I’m like, “I don’t want to be out there with this guy, if he’s potentially going to block who he’s supposed to.” Like, that doesn’t work for me. You know, this is not fun. So the guys that had the will, had the desire, to know what they were supposed to do and know how to do it, and then you could trust them when he got out there? Those are the guys I wanted to be around. Not the ones that could jump high and lift a lot of weights and look good in a pair of shorts. Those weren’t the guys that got it done for me. And that goes for everybody. I mean, it’s the guys that would show up every day, do the preparation, grit it out. Those are the ones that you like to play with.
Well, Shaun, one thing I’ve learned from following the NFL too, is that, you know, this may sound harsh, but in a way, everyone’s replaceable. You know, you have some of the greatest skilled athletes that don’t make it in an organization. And vice versa. Sometimes you have people that maybe aren’t the greatest athletes that do last. And that kind of gets down to that grit and that desire to win.
There’s a recent podcast that I listened to with Brené Brown and Simon Sinek. And Simon Sinek was talking about the thought of the invisible teammates. So the thought that there’s other people out there that wants you to be successful, they want you to have a great life or a great career, and it’s possible, quite frankly, maybe you’ve never even met them before. And then when you do meet them, it’s easy to talk about your goals, your vision and what you’re trying to do. And when I look back at Jeremy and myself, and what we’re trying to accomplish with this around the podcast, is I want people to know—I want professionals to know—that we’re rooting for them to be successful. And that’s what we’re trying to provide a platform of talking to various leaders in our profession, outside our profession.
I don’t know if I’ve mentioned this to you either but throughout the years, you know, growing up, I never really envisioned you as being an NFL quarterback. But Shaun, it was a blast watching you throughout your career, and when you did get a chance to get on the field. And the reason I’m pointing this out, there may be people going through things that we just frankly, we never know what’s going on in someone’s life, but I want them to know that they probably have more people rooting for them than what they even realize.
And so, how is that thought, or you know, the faith of knowing you just weren’t playing for yourself, you’re playing for a bigger cause—how has that impacted your success in your career as a leader?
I wish everybody could get fan mail. I really do. But I wish all fan mail would somehow weed out the hate mail ‘cause some of that comes too But yeah, if everybody could have fan mail, they could see the people that they’re impacting, and the people that are rooting for them, no matter where you’re at. And there are—if you look back, and this is one of the great things about age, you get to look back at all the people that poured into you over time, and not a single one of them want anything from you other than to see you successful, and see you happy. I mean, just countless teachers, coaches, even your youth group leaders, your youth coaches, things like that. Just incredible the amount of people that pour into you over your life. And then when you do get into your professional career, like that should be all of our goals, right? Is to bring the people alongside of you up, to build them up, to pull out the best in all of them. And even if that means they’re going somewhere else eventually to be successful, that’s okay. At the end of the day, it’s not all about the here and now—it’s about the future too. Yeah, all that’s so important.
Yeah, 100%, Shaun. I always, you know, just me personally, I’ve always felt the most value out of my own career whenever I was able to help someone else. And that’s a mentality that, you know, as you gain experiences, I think everyone can take something away from.
Shaun, one thing we like to do as we wrap up each of our episodes, is to leave our audience with a takeaway, and many of those will be around like books, podcasts, things that have influenced you. But I’ve got a slightly different question, because I see so many parents out there that they have kids that are playing sports, some very competitively some just, you know, playing to get their kids out and exposure. What advice would you give to parents that may have kids growing up playing sports? And not just about their skills, but about how to shape their leadership, even at a young age, because I think kids are very impressionable. So what advice would you give to parents that have kids playing sports?
Well, the first piece of advice I’d give is, don’t be “that” parent. Do not be that parent. We’ve all seen the YouTube videos, right? These parents that—listen man, they’re kids. Let them be kids. They’re not in the pros right now. But you know, let them go out and have fun, enjoy sport.
Also, don’t be in such a hurry to specialize sport. I’ve talked about that—I kind of did an interview around some locker rooms, around some guys that I’d played with. And I just kind of asked them all, “Hey, when did you know football was your sport?” For me if I was 18 years old, when I figured it out. I grew up, baseball was my best sport and basketball was my love. And then by the time I was 18, you know football’s what it ultimately became. But most everybody in those NFL locker rooms played multiple sports all the way through high school. So it’s not something that was forced upon them, they were just playing multiple sports.
And that’s what tends to happen, that restricts us athletically is we get so specialized in a sport at a young age, we don’t develop some of these other athletic skills that other sports can do and can bring. So I think it’s very very (important)—I had a parent come up to me and say, “Hey, you know, my kid, he really likes soccer, but I think baseball’s gonna be his sport.” And I say, “Well, how old your kid,” he’s like, “He’s nine.” Who cares at this point, what you think? Let ‘em play them all.
So I think that’s the main thing: let them get out there, let them have fun, let them fail. That’s one thing we’re struggling with our oldest, is he has a hard time trying things that he knows he’s not real good at right away. And that’s a struggle. He’s seven. So we got some time. But you know, he’s not one that’s just gonna jump right in. So we have to explain to him that, “Hey, failing’s okay.” And then there’s also times where if he gets beat, we’ve got an attitude, man.
So these are things that we’re working on with him. Luckily, that one, I’ve got experience with. I was a little bit too competitive as well, as a young guy, and I told him, I said, “Listen,” I said, “this is a good thing. This is a much easier fix than to have to install competitiveness into somebody. But what this is, is just being a sore loser, we can get that out of you, man, we can work on that.” So every kid’s different. We’ve got a seven and a five and a three year old, all boys. And man, it’s fun, but they are different.
Parenting is quite a ride that I compare it a lot to coaching. It’s not everyone’s meant to be a coach, not everyone’s meant to be a parent—not everyone wants to be a coach, not everyone wants to be a parent. But it is definitely a journey. And Shaun, well, it’s funny, you said that, you know, you mentioned baseball—I always told people when I was talking about your career, I said, “I always thought if he’s gonna go pro in anything, it’d be baseball, not football.” So it’s kind of funny to hear you say that.
But Shaun, I appreciate your time and sharing your insight, your journey. I know it’s hard to squeeze a whole 15-year career into, you know, roughly 30 minutes, but I think there was a lot of good takeaways. There’s a couple of notes that I jotted down, that were impactful for me. One, just the thought around failure and how you react to that, how you respond to that. Coaching and receiving feedback—you know, it sounds like throughout your career, you were on both sides of that fence, and you were willing to give and receive feedback, and that’s what impacted your career and kept you in the NFL for as long as you were. So I think that that’s a great point.
The skill versus will—you know, maybe I lean on that because I don’t think that I was always the most skillful in any area. But I was also, you know, I learned from that. And that builds that character and that will to not give up and to keep trying new things very similar to your son. So it’s taking that passion and putting it in the right direction.
So once again, I want to thank you for your time, Shaun. It was great catching up and enjoy the conversation. And I hope we’ll talk again soon. Thank you.
Yeah. Thanks for having me. That was a blast.
Take care everyone. Thank you.