Football lovers are in a frenzy this time of year. The NFL and NCAA playoffs are in full swing, and the Big Game is just weeks away. While most fans focus on the players and their exploits on the field, a lot can be learned from the men on the sidelines who devise strategy and call the plays.
Successful coaches are some of the greatest leaders you’ll ever meet. Not only do they know how to break down the competition and identify weaknesses, they can motivate and inspire their teams to work together toward greatness.
Whether you’re a fan of the game or not, as an executive you can learn a lot about leadership from some of the greatest football coaches in history.
Create a positive culture
Whether you’re leading a football team or a business organization, creating a positive team culture is vital. The San Francisco 49ers went 2-14 the year before Bill Walsh was named head coach. Once Walsh took over and began to address the mental issues he believed were problematic, the 49ers underwent a dramatic transformation and won three championships in the 1980s.
Later, Coach Walsh said part of the credit for those victories and the team’s success went to the cultural changes he and his coaching staff made. He called it a leadership philosophy that had as much to do with core values, ideals, and principles as it did with blocking, tackling, and passing. It was a change in attitude.
Leading is teaching
Vince Lombardi was one of the finest leaders and winners in NFL history. As the coach of the tough 1960s Green Bay Packers, Lombardi also valued the cerebral parts of the game. “They call it coaching, but it is teaching,” he said. “You don’t just tell them [. . .], you show them the reasons.”
Compare that approach with the stereotypical loud-mouthed boss who treats his team members like four-year-olds in a daycare. Executing your assignments is necessary. But teaching the reasons behind a philosophy educates and empowers — both on and off the field.
Tom Landry made the Dallas Cowboys into “America’s Team” during the 1970s. Landry was one of the first professional football coaches to hire a strength and conditioning coach. He was also the first to hire a quality-control coach to study game film and look for tendencies in opponents.
Now all NFL teams have specialty coaches. Landry famously said, “The will to prepare is more important than the will to succeed.”
Change is good
Following a few mediocre years at Alabama, some people wondered if Bear Bryant was cut out to be a coach. Then, in the early 1970s, Bryant shook things up by throwing the “wishbone” offense at the competition. The rest is history; he led the Crimson Tide to eight SEC Championships and three national titles in a decade. Would most of us even know Bear Bryant’s name if he didn’t have the guts to make that change?
If something works really well, stick with it. But never be afraid to shoot the sacred cows within your organization. Doing something for no better reason than it’s always been done that way is the death knell for any organization. Sometimes a new direction, or an infusion of new ideas, is exactly what’s needed.
Patience is a virtue
It took Bobby Bowden nearly 30 years to win his first college football national championship in 1993. Between 1987 and 2000, his Florida State teams were dominant, never losing more than two games in a season. But what would’ve happened if Bowden had let 1976’s five-win season or a six-win campaign in 1981 get him down?
Don’t expect success overnight. Most people at the top of their professions spent 20 years working their tails off — being patient, focused and dedicated — before anyone labeled them an overnight success. In other words, there’s no such thing as an “overnight success.”
These football coaches were the best of the best. Whether they coached amateur players in college or professionals in the NFL, they learned how to get the best from their teams. If you follow their advice, you can get the best out of your team, too!