A Leader’s Mentor

Hilary Sutton Foresight, Leadership Leave a Comment

Ahmad Nassar, Executive Vice President for National Football League Players, Inc, recounts the three valuable leadership lessons he has learned from his mentor.

I can’t think of a person I’ve spoken with who is more passionate about NFL football players than Ahmad Nassar. Nassar is the Executive Vice President and General Counsel for the National Football League Players, Inc (NFLPI), the for-profit licensing and marketing subsidiary of the NFL Players Association. His enthusiasm is infectious. It’s clear after just one conversation that Nassar cares about his job and wants to do it well. Much of his approach to his work has been heavily influenced by DeMaurice Smith, the Executive Director of the NFL Players Association (NFLPA) who is perhaps most well known for playing a major role in helping the NFL owners and players come to terms on a collective bargaining agreement to end the 2011 NFL lockout. Smith took Nassar under his wing early on and has continued to provide inspiration and insight to him over the years. Here are three lessons that Nassar gleaned from Smith.

Three Insights from DeMaurice Smith

1. Perspective is key. “The first time we worked on something together, I was sitting in his office when he got a call from a panicked associate, a younger lawyer. After re-reading a draft, that lawyer realized he had sent a document to De with a minor grammatical error. De was bewildered. De hung up the phone and rolled his eyes, smirked and said, ‘This guy emailed me and said it was an urgent issue, this grammatical error. I come from a world where an urgent issue is a call from the morgue to bring a family member to identify a body. That’s an urgent issue.’ We shook our heads and went back to work.”

2. Use the “Advance Game Theory.” “Think of it as chess versus checkers—thinking two, three, four moves ahead and gaming out how your own actions will cause someone else to react. De taught me that back at our law firm, and he’s most certainly carried that over to the NFLPA. Examples include our approach to the NFL lockout and our licensing and marketing business strategies.”

3. Balance makes better employees. “Balance is a constant struggle for me. I have to remember: I’m not a surgeon, I’m not on call. De does a great job of balance. He coached his children in different sports while he was a law firm partner. I’ve been able to coach my kids in baseball and soccer. I know that’s important. It does me no favors to have my team under lock and key from 8 am until midnight. I want them to take vacation. It makes them more well-rounded employees in the long run and healthier people in the short run.”

There is much to be gleaned from a mentor who is a few steps ahead of you in your field. Nassar has clearly learned a great deal from his friendship with Smith. What’s the biggest lesson a mentor has taught you?

Hilary Sutton is a freelance journalist, actress, and principal of HSL Creative in Lynchburg, VA.

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