“When it’s grim, be the Grim Reaper.”
Those words were the last words Kansas City Chiefs head coach Andy Reid said to his quarterback Patrick Mahomes as he took the field in the final 13 seconds of the fourth quarter of the AFC championship game Jan. 23 against the Buffalo Bills. He had 13 seconds in regulation play and a championship on the line.
We all know how the game ends, of course. Mahomes takes those 13 seconds and connects to Travis Kelce, thus setting up the 49-yard field goal that tied the game and sent it into overtime. And then, with one advantageous coin toss, and another connection to Kelce, the Chiefs win with a touchdown in overtime.
You might say Mahomes earned his reaper’s scythe.
Fight or give up
Now I’m no sports uber-fan. And, yes, I am aware the Chiefs would go on to lose their next game and be kept out of the Super Bowl in a cruel twist of fate.
But I will say there’s a leadership lesson to be learned here that applies to our families, our farms, our ranches, our agribusinesses and beyond.
You see, we all have those metaphorical 13-second moments that crop up in our lives. Mother Nature throws a tantrum and blows away a lifetime of work. A child is diagnosed with a life-threatening disease. We lose a section of rented ground to another farmer. We’re hip-deep in spring calving, the PTA needs four dozen cupcakes for the fundraiser by morning, and you forgot to get eggs on your 50-mile round trip to the grocery store.
There are major 13-second moments and more trivial 13-second moments. But how we choose to meet them is the difference between winning and giving up.
Know the teammates you can trust to come through when the game is literally on the line. No farmer or rancher completely farms without the help of a team. Whether that team is family or service providers or a group of peers you can lean on, everyone needs that teammate who will help you get the ball over the line. The best teammates bring out the best in us. They challenge our conventional wisdom, and they share their own.
The game isn’t won if you don’t look to the play after the next and build a strategy to use all of the resources you have. Now, you can keep the ball and try to run it through the strongest defensive line, or you can pass it to your teammate and set your team up to score on the next play. Both are valid choices, but only one results in a potential win.
Farming is a long game and isn’t won with just one play. You strategize not just this crop year, but the one after it, and the one after it and so forth. That’s how you set yourself up for success in the future, and how you respond to adversity today.
Practice and prepare
Without the hours of drills, without the years of playing the game and watching game tapes, without the mental fortitude to calm his nerves, Mahomes wouldn’t be in a mental place to win. He was prepared to make the most of those 13 seconds because he’d practiced the moves and mentally prepared for years.
We prepare for our 13-second moments by taking every opportunity to learn from field days and reading updated research. We have years of planting and harvesting experience under our belts. We have daily conversations with our Creator to center ourselves.
Mahomes went out there ready to be the Grim Reaper for the Bills. He did not give up, even though conventional wisdom had so many in the stands giving up and heading for the exits.
That’s maybe the most critical component of successful people: Whether they’re farming or they’re working in an office in town, the successful person will not give up, even if conventional wisdom says they should. As long as there’s a chance — no matter how slim — they’re going to go out on the field and give it all they’ve got.
When your 13-second moment comes, you have the same choice Mahomes had. You can give up and give in to certain loss. Or you can fight to the end and give yourself a chance to win.
I know which one I’ll choose.