Yes, sports are a great metaphor for life, but they are also a reflection of the larger society, and that makes me hopeful after watching the world’s most famous sporting event last night.

With the Indianapolis Colts winning Super Bowl XLI (that’s 41), Colts coach Tony Dungy is being widely extolled as an example of a nice guy finishing first. However, the significance of Dungy’s success is deeper than that, and I think it says something positive about the direction of our society, and there is a lesson in Dungy’s success for managers everywhere.

So what am I getting at? I’m talking about the way that Tony Dungy functions as a leader. First, let me say that sports leadership is decidedly old school, and has typically lagged behind the leadership principles and practices of the rest of the world. There are still a lot of professional coaches who deal with their players as if they were kids in little league or pee wee football. In other words, they function as paternal dictators who rule and motivate primarily through fear – and most of us have probably had bosses that were stuck in that paradigm as well.

Dungy is one of the exeptions, and is part of a new breed of coaches who do things differently. He’s not a yeller and he does not lead or motivate with fear. Instead, he believes in putting the right personnel in place, building a winning strategy based on the strengths of that personnel, and then treating them with the respect they deserve as professionals and human beings. As a result, the performance of his players is not driven by a fear of his wrath. The only fear they have is a fear of letting him down or disappointing him because of their trust in him and their loyalty to him.

Another example of a sports coach that has effectively used this approach is Phil Jackson, who led two NBA franchises – the Chicago Bulls and Los Angeles Lakers – to runaway success over the past two decades. Jackson firmly believes in treating every one of his players fairly but differently (depending on their personality and individual needs), and ultimately treating them all with respect in order to earn their trust.

This is the new model of professional leadership and I’m very pleased to see that it has another example of success in Tony Dungy.