Leadership

Super Bowl champ Marques Colston says successful people all share one trait: 'Irrational confidence'

Marques Colston is a former NFL wide receiver with the New Orleans Saints whose team took home a Super Bowl trophy in 2010. He's also an investor and entrepreneur who has turned his experiences into an executive education course at Columbia Business School. While aimed at professional athletes, the advice he gives could help all leaders trying to make their mark.

Irrational confidence, says Colston, fueled any success he's had on or off the field. It's a mindset he teaches students in his course that blends risk-taking with old-fashioned consistency and hard work. This approach is one he says can help anyone focus despite nearly impossible odds.

As a player, Colston wasn't a sure bet. He was the 252nd pick in the 2006 draft. For non-football fans, that means he barely made the cut to play at the elite level. "As a seventh-round pick, there was a zero percent chance, maybe a .1 percent chance that I would play ten years in the NFL and have the kind of success that I had," Colston says.

Colston earned the nickname "The Quiet Storm," according to ESPN. Coaches for the New Orleans Saints told stories about how "unimpressive" he was during training, writes ESPN's Mike Triplett. But he improved, and when Colston retired after the 2015 season, New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton said his contributions were key for the team's Super Bowl win.

"His production, consistency, toughness and work ethic were second to none," Payton said. "You always knew what you were going to get from Marques, and that was everything that he had."

For leaders or investors, irrational confidence is a way to play the long-game. "Statistics ultimately become motivation," Colston says.

Key to irrational confidence is putting in the work and research to take informed risks. Leaders and innovators who do this truly understand their odds. It's "putting yourself in a position that you're going to be the one person, the one percent, and everyone else is going to fall by the wayside," he says.

When evaluating companies, Colston looks for leaders who can see opportunities and beat the odds. He looks for founders who can take coaching, knowing they'll best weather the storms ahead. "If you don't have the ability to take an objective look in the mirror or take constructive criticism with your company, you're not going to go too far," he says.

Unsurprisingly, the Super Bowl winner is a firm believer in teamwork, and the adage: "The best teams win championships." He teaches investors to look for entrepreneurs who have built a solid team supporting them and recognize they can't do everything themselves.

Playing the long game — smartly — is advice echoed by top investors. Warren Buffett has said the only risk comes from "not knowing what you're doing." In fact, during the 2008 financial crisis, Warren Buffett kept buying stock in American companies because he knew the economy would recover eventually.

"What investors then need...is an ability to both disregard mob fears or enthusiasms and to focus on a few simple fundamentals," Buffett says.

Reign Ventures co-founder Erica Duignan Minnihan founded the course with Colston and is its program director. She has worked with professional athletes for six years. She says the students evaluate deals with the same focus they use to play their sport. "They're already extremely disciplined people," she says.

"They just get natural deal flow," she says. "As people that are in the public eye, they generally have investment opportunities coming out of the woodwork. So we're helping them understand how to take that amazing asset, which is the deal flow, and refine it and focus in on the companies that have the best potential for financial return."

Like athletes, no entrepreneur is guaranteed a shot at making it big. But those who understand their risks and the building blocks of success will win in the long term.

"It's not about dreaming big," Colston says. "It's more about being able to set goals and putting in the work to attain those goals."

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