Thoughts on Leadership: Leadership Lessons from Jimmy G

By Gino Blefari

This week my travels find me starting Monday with my typical WIG calls. On Tuesday I traveled to Dallas to attend Pierce Allman’s celebration of life (read a tribute to his leadership and legacy here). On Wednesday, I was back in Orange County to attend Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Lifestyle Properties’ grand opening event and today I traveled to Houston to be a guest speaker at the Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Premier Properties Annual Managers Retreat where I will present The 17 Ways To Win

In A Changing Market, How To Create A Lifeplan and The HomeServices System.

Read more: Thoughts on Leadership: Leadership Lessons from Jimmy G

It was a tough week to be a 49ers fan, despite an earlier victory against the Miami Dolphins. On Sunday, we learned starting quarterback Jimmy “GQ” Garoppolo was out for the rest of the season with a broken foot. (In better news, doctors have since said that he doesn’t need surgery and could return in seven or eight weeks, just in time for the playoffs.) And while that’s not the kind of news you want to hear as a Niners fan, Jimmy G is the kind of leader you’d want to have in any situation. Here are the characteristics that make him such a fantastic leader:

  • Perseverance
  • Confidence
  • Toughness
  • Love
  • Identity
  • Humility
  • Calm
  • Collaboration

Now let’s dive deeper into how those characteristics play out on and off the field for Jimmy G:

  1. Perseverance. Any list of Jimmy’s leadership attributes must start with perseverance. No matter his injuries or his perceived ineffectiveness by the general NFL media, Jimmy just keeps doing his thing. He is not flashy, he does not have gaudy stats, he just wins football games. Jimmy seems to have established the culture of his team. His work ethic is second to none and his attitude is always positive. He’s been through many battles and Jimmy has earned the respect of his teammates. So when the game is on the line, the 49ers often pull through.
  2. Confidence. Jimmy is a winner. His confidence in his winning abilities and attitude have propelled his career. He was 19-7 in his last two years playing at Eastern Illinois and threw for 84 touchdowns. After he was drafted in the second round of the 2014 NFL Draft by the New England Patriots – right in the middle of their dynasty’s glory days – he won two Super Bowl rings playing as Tom Brady’s backup quarterback. At the 2017 draft deadline, the 49ers traded to get him and just one month later, he was the starting quarterback for the Niners, helping the team to five consecutive wins to end the season. He has an overall 39-18 record as a starter and a .684 win percentage, which puts him in elite ranks with the likes of Tom Brady, Patrick Mahomes and Lamar Jackson. 
  3. Toughness. Jimmy is tough and often plays through injury, maybe to a fault. But this toughness also translates off the field. In the offseason, the 49ers had hoped to trade him but shoulder surgery in 2021 prevented them from making the trade. No matter the scenario – good or bad – Jimmy has a linebacker’s mentality while playing a quarterback position. He’s not afraid of contact. He’s what you’d call a “flatliner,” enabling him to perform well even under the most trying of game situations. Whatever you say about Jimmy G (high turnover rate seems to be the most prevailing criticism), you can’t say he’s not tough. Injury after injury, recovery after recovery, he’s returned to show up and win.
  4. Love. Jimmy’s teammates love him and his leadership style, no matter what the media thinks of his abilities. The 49ers’ tight end George Kittle said: “When Jimmy’s rollin’, I think we’re rollin’. He’s a [heck] of a leader out there, and he really inspires us to play our best ball.” Three seasons ago, the 49ers nearly won the championship. Last year, they almost made it into the Super Bowl. He helped get all that done even with painful injuries in his throwing shoulder and thumb.
  5. Identity. Jimmy is the undisputed leader of the 49ers. Key wins last year during the playoffs arguably put him among the franchise’s most significant players, including Ronnie Lott, Joe Montana, Dwight Clark, Joe Staley, Frank Gore and Bryant Young. Somehow, Jimmy’s leadership has a unique ability to consume everything into its orb – his identity is the team’s identity because he leads it. When he shakes off mistakes, the team can shake off mistakes. When he walks into the locker room with confidence, it brings confidence to every single player. When he makes plays that are scrappier than they are superstar-quality, the team plays scrappier, too. He was committed to the team even after Trey Lance was named starting quarterback at the beginning of 2022. He gives the 49ers franchise a foundation and upon this foundation everything else is built. His playing isn’t perfect, but he knows how to put a win together. That’s been the legacy of the 49ers’ success.
  6. Humility. In February of this year, Jimmy delivered a heartfelt goodbye video, knowing his days with the team were coming to an end: “Faithful, thank you very much for everything,” Jimmy said. “It’s been crazy, man. Just all the comebacks at Levi’s, comebacks on the road, ups and downs, it’s been a [heck] of a ride, guys. I love you guys. See ya.” As the story goes, Trey Lance broke his ankle in the first quarter of San Francisco’s Week 2 win against the Seattle Seahawks and Jimmy returned to the team as quarterback. In discussing the incident, Tom Brady said: “I’ve known Jimmy since he was a rookie and Jimmy and I have been friends a long time. And just seeing him, how he’s handled kind of his own adversity, is really gonna prepare him for what’s ahead. It’s interesting in the NFL, you know, when one door closes, I think another one opens … And as tough as it is for Trey to get injured, Jimmy steps in there and does a great job … things have a crazy way of working out. … You never know when that opportunity’s gonna present itself and when you get it, you gotta go out and take advantage of it.”
  7. Calm. When trouble comes, Jimmy G never panics. 49ers defensive end Nick Bosa said: “I’m impressed with his demeanor just as a leader. A lot of people give him [trouble] for whatever. But he’s as cool and collected of a quarterback as I’ve ever had and he’s a perfect guy to lead us to where we need to go.” Kittle said: “Jimmy G, you can’t say enough about that guy. The [bad things] that he takes … Just consistently people try to pull him down and all he does is try to deliver. And he leads this team. He’s the sense of calm in the huddle, he’s the sense of calm in the storm. He allows us to play football at a high level.”  
  8. Collaboration. When Trey Lance was set to replace Jimmy last year, you’d think the quarterback would scoff at any chance to make Lance better. The opposite was true. “He’s been a big bro to me when he came in,” said Lance. “He could have made things [horrible] for me last year and he didn’t. He helped me out with everything. Jimmy might have taken some inspiration on this one from his mentor, Tom Brady, who helped him after the 2014 draft when he joined the Patriots. Former 49ers wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders summed this one up best: “There’s certain people who know who they are. Jimmy G. knows who he is. Jimmy G. plays with swagger; Jimmy G. has his own swagger. He’s not walking around saying it, but Jimmy G. plays with swagger. Jimmy G. is a leader. He’s a natural leader. I’ve played with a lot of quarterbacks. When I tell you this guy is a leader, he’s a leader. He allows guys to follow him, not just by how he works, but when he comes in and he’s running meetings like coaches? He’s a natural born leader.” Bottom line: He helped Lance because he wanted Lance to succeed.

So, what’s the message? While the story of Jimmy G’s leadership was far from straightforward, all this back and forth, testing his toughness, his confidence, and his ability to lead, could very well produce the best version of Jimmy G possible. Coming back from yet another injury, he’ll have nothing to lose and everything to prove – the perfect scenario for a leader as incredible as Jimmy G to shine.

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