Blog Episode

What Makes Bengals QB Joe Burrow a Hi-Po?

(Photo credit: All-Pro Reels,


If you’re a football fan, you know that the Cincinnati Bengals clinched the AFC North title with a 34-31 win over the Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday (1/2/22). Second-year quarterback Joe Burrow completed 30 out of 39 passes, throwing 446 yards and four touchdowns. According to and NFL Research, he is the first player this season to have consecutive games where he threw for at least four touchdowns and 400 yards.

Many of us at Leadership Excelleration are Cincinnati natives, so we might be a bit biased, but we think that Joe Burrow is on fire. He is as high potential as high potentials come. We say this not to put more pressure on a high-potential leader, but to acknowledge a high performer, and to call out exceptional leadership when we see it. (None of us knows Joe Burrow. It’s just fun to call out a great leader in our Cincinnati Bengals team.)

A hallmark of a high potential is to demonstrate composure under pressure. And Burrow felt the pressure on Sunday, when the Bengals had to overcome three 14-point deficits, the first being in the earliest moments of the game. In the first half, the Chiefs led 14-0, 21-7, and 28-14, and by halftime, they were ahead 28-17. A lesser leader might’ve succumbed to defeat – but not Burrow.

Burrow considered the big picture – there was still half a game to play. He came back in the third quarter with a 69-yard touchdown pass, making the score 28-24. High-potential leaders are good at seeing the big picture. It’s a lesson for leaders to be able to step back and look at the situation they’re in, even when the odds seem to be against them, and they’re under tremendous pressure to perform.

While most of us aren’t hitting the football field, we are heading back to work after a long holiday and feeling renewed pressure to perform at optimum levels and achieve optimum results. Looking at the big picture and seeing the entire game, including the play in front of you, is what it takes to lead a team to achieve exceptional results. Burrow has the confidence to master this, as he showed with the most spectacular play of the game. It was 3rd & 27 at the Chief’s 41-yard line with the score tied at 31, and Burrow threw a 30-yard pass. This set the Bengals up to burn time off the clock and get a 20-yard field goal for the win.

While this one game is a great example of a high potential leader in action, Burrow has been demonstrating his affinity to lead since he arrived in Cincinnati. With a solid start to his first year, Burrow was sidelined by the injury that no quarterback wants to see – a torn ACL and MCL, and a partially torn meniscus and PCL. That’s a devastating injury for the (then) 23-year-old. Instead of calling it quits, he put all his energy into rehabbing, and was able to show up for training camp this year.

Tenacity and endurance in the face of hardship – this is something that high potentials do. They pick themselves up, and they look at the big picture, and diligently work harder than anyone else to get to where they need to be to succeed.

One last area where Joe Burrow excels as a high-potential leader is his ability to trust his team. It’s the concept of servant leadership – that it’s not all about you. It’s about working in service of the team. When the team truly believes that 100% of your efforts are in service to the team, they will follow the leader anywhere. Take, for example, the relationship between Burrow and rookie Ja’Marr Chase, who together, allowed Chase to get 1,429 yards and 13 touchdowns in 16 games.

It typically takes high potentials a long time to develop a servant leader mindset, with a focus on the team. High potential candidates tend to be so focused on achievement, but it’s often their own achievement, rather than the team’s achievements. It’s a significant milestone when a leader transitions into a servant leader, with focus on the team.

At such a young age, Joe Burrow has emerged as a high potential leader, and he’s leading the Bengals to achieve a level of success they haven’t seen in years.

Whether it’s in football or in the office, the traits we look for in a high-potential leader are the same. We want high potentials to:

  1. Inspire confidence under pressure
  2. See the big picture and take action to get results
  3. Show tenacity and endurance in the face of hardship
  4. Choose servant leadership over individual achievement

This blog kicks off a month of looking into high-potential leadership. We’ll be talking about how to recognize high-potential candidates, how to grow high-potentials, and how to keep high-potentials throughout their career.


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