I was born in Manhattan, and on a recent visit back, I found myself struggling to explain to a group of New Yorkers why the Seahawks are special, and why someone like me who has never been a football fan can find myself taking a surprising degree of interest in their games. The answers have little to do with how they actually play, and everything to do with who they and how they handle themselves. They offer lessons any smart leader can use to create the culture that will attract customers and talent to your organization.
Here’s some of what the Seahawks get right:
1. They show appreciation to their supporters.
Seahawks fans are collectively known as the “12th man” or “12s”–the equivalent an extra player on the field who helps boost the team with their enthusiasm, and by cheering really loud. Letting people who support you know how much their support means is a great way to engage with customers, investors, and fans.
It’s also a brilliant marketing move. The people of the region have responded by painting huge number 12s on everything from buildings to Boeing airplanes. Seattle fans have twice broken the Guinness World Record for loudest crowd at a sporting event–and their loud cheering has rattled an opposing team into a false start more than once. The Hawks–who retired the number 12 in honor of their fans back in 1984–keep the love-fest going by raising a giant “12” flag before every home game.
2. They’re respectful and inclusive.
One area where American sports teams have come in for frequent criticism is their lack of respect for Native American peoples and traditions. When baseball’s Cleveland Indians made it to the World Series this past season, it drew attention to the team’s name and prompted renewed calls for them to change it. Back in football, the Washington Redskins have spent years in court fighting lawsuits from Native Americans who object to both the team’s name and its logo.
And then there are the Seahawks, whose gorgeous logo is a nod to coastal tribal art, and seems to have been inspired by this Kwakwaka’wakw eagle mask. Running back Marshawn Lynch beat a native drum during the team’s 2014 victory parade. Local Native Americans have responded by loving the team just as much as everyone else does.
3. They don’t play the blame game.
In 2013, the Seahawks won the Super Bowl for the first time. In 2015, they were in the Super Bowl again, and ahead in the last seconds of the game. But then they suffered a dispiriting loss to the New England Patriots when they passed the ball from the Patriots’ 1-yard line. It was intercepted by Patriots cornerback Malcolm Butler and the Patriots eventually scored a touchdown to win.
What happened afterward was striking. Head coach Pete Carroll and quarterback Russell Wilson both claimed responsibility for the loss. Not only that, they each praised Butler for making a spectacular play.
Two days after that game, Wilson was where you can usually find him on a Tuesday, visiting sick children at a local children’s hospital. Anyone who thought he might want to take a couple of days out of the public eye to lay low and lick his wounds would have been mistaken.
“You stay classy, Russell Wilson,” commented Buzzfeed at the end of its photo essayabout the visit. Without a doubt, he will.