Coaches are honored in the football Hall of Fame (college and pro) because, during their careers, they created a work environment that allowed their team to win. In business, effective bosses employ many of the same strategies and tactics, to lead their teams to victories in the boardroom and on Wall Street.
Throughout my own NFL and collegiate coaching career, I’ve worked with, and consequently, learned from, Hall of Fame coaches from Chuck Noll, Bud Grant, Tony Dungy and Bo Schembechler, to Jack Christiansen, John Ralston and Terry Donahue. I was also fortunate to have a close relationship with legendary basketball coach John Wooden during my tenure at UCLA; and I display his Pyramid of Successprominently in my office.
With my coaching days behind me, I now work on the firing (and hiring) line -- advising sports franchises and organization searching for such game-changing leaders as commissioners, CEOs, head coaches and general managers. This has given me the opportunity to connect the best practices and key leadership attributes of the business world to sustainable, winning organizations in professional sports.
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Here are some of the X’s and O’s I've learned from these legendary coaches:
John Wooden (UCLA): Take responsibility for your career.
Having a locker across from John Wooden's for six years, I found out early during our weekly breakfasts that passion and hard work are critical to success in any job. If you don’t like what you do, you'll find that the chances you'll work hard at it are slim.
On the flip side, if you’re working hard, you probably enjoy it. These two characteristics-- passion and hard work --are mutually inclusive. That’s why both are cornerstones of Wooden's pyramid, which has success as its apex.
John Ralston (Stanford): Be the cheerleader.
John Ralston built a culture that was distinctive in allowing individuals to perform to their full potential. Ralston, the long-time coach of the Stanford Cardinals, was extremely positive. He was Dale Carnegie trained, believing that, "Every day is the best day of your life and tomorrow will be even better.”
That attitude permeated every meeting Ralston led, whether he won a game or lost it, or had a bad practice: He always accentuated positive values. Perhaps that’s why our quarterback, Jim Plunkett, won the Heisman Trophy in 1970.
Bo Schembechler(Michigan): Passion and loyalty are fundamental.
As tough and demanding as the University of Michigan's Bo Schembechler could be, he also cared about his players as much as anyone could. I once witnessed him go face to face with a player at practice, screaming through his face mask; and, later in the locker room, there Bo sitting next to that same player.
When he knew you were working hard for him, he was the first to make a phone call to help you in whatever way he could. If a player lost someone in his family, Bo would be the first one at the funeral. He did such things famously for, “The Team. The Team. The Team.”
Infusing an environment with that depth of empathy and support lets your employees know that you have their back. If you’re tough and critical, as Bo was, you need to have a heart to match those aspects of your personality.
Bud Grant (Vikings): Accountability breeds responsibility.
In his locker room Coach Bud Grant, the boss, set a true tone of professionalism. He taught each of his players to understand that as members of his team, they were part of a business. When you needed to perform, it was your responsibility to execute. If you didn’t do that, you were held accountable.
And where many coaches will blame other coaches if players underperform, in Bud's organization, the players were the ones accountable for their mistakes. Your employees need to know that they’re responsible for their actions (or lack of), because you’re holding them accountable.
Chuck Noll (Steelers): Focus on improving yourself.
If you ever talked to any athlete who played for Chuck Noll, he would tell you that improvement begins from within oneself. On Chuck's team, each person’s job was to be the best he could be and have the type of resolve he needed to be successful. Whether the team won or lost, it was never about the person next to you, but about a self-examination on how to enhance your performance to contribute to the team’s overall success.
Noll said, “Champions are not champions because they do anything extraordinary, but because they do the ordinary things better than anyone else.”
As the leader, examine your strengths and weaknesses daily -- it’s your practice in becoming a hall of fame boss.
All the coaches I worked with helped me understand the value of passion, culture, empathy, and accountability -- all essentials in the business world and in life. Many challenges we face day to day revolve around having the right attitude and, regardless of circumstances, the self-control to handle the situation at hand.
Whether the setting is the practice field or the boardroom. if you approach each opportunity with a positive mindset, your chances of succeeding are significantly enhanced.