“Damn, that looks good,” I said to myself, after watching the promo for NFL Network’s new series — A Football Life.
The episode in question was a profile of New York Giants’ Coach Tom Coughlin, a man who built one franchise from the ground up (Jacksonville Jaguars) as its first coach, and led another to two Super Bowl victories (the Giants, of course).
As someone who considers himself a student of leadership, successful football coaches have always had an allure for me, especially those who have won the big game more than once. (One time can be a crazy confluence of favorable breaks, but two times means you’ve got the recipe.) The principles they employ to get the best out of their teams, I believe, are easily ported from sports to business, and elsewhere. I’ve been looking for a show like this for a long time.
And while I haven’t caught the Coughlin profile yet, this week I did see the one on former Dallas Cowboys Coach Jimmy Johnson, also a two-time Super Bowl winner, along with being the coach of a college National Champion (Miami Hurricanes). He’s got the distinction of being one of two coaches ever to win a title on both levels. And the series didn’t disappoint — the hour-long program was fantastic, with lots of interviews, vintage footage, and an overview of what made the man successful.
Two scenes stand out.
In the first, Johnson says that rather than pouring over Xs and Os, the head coach’s time should be spent ensuring every single person in the organization — from the starting quarterback to the water boy — is motivated to do their very best, and that such motivation is achieved by the coach personally and continually acknowledging every individual for their contribution to the overall cause. Only if each person in the organization is functioning at maximum capacity, he said, can success be achieved.
“You go up to a guy who thinks you don’t know he exists, and you call him by his name,” says Johnson, “and that goes a long way.”
The second scene was a thrilling speech by Johnson about the importance of players being in great shape. “Fatigue,” he said repeatedly, “makes cowards of us all. Football rewards those who are in great physical condition.” (A note about the clip — when Johnson refers to being on “that show,” he’s talking about his short stint on “Survivor”.)
In the football trade, it’s largely physical conditioning that ensures players bring their best to the field of battle. In many other industries, it’s mental and psychological wellness that allows individuals to put their best foot forward. As a leader, a manager, it’s your job to follow both of Johnson’s tenants — to recognize and appreciate every member of your team and ensure they do not succumb to the burnout that stalks the healthcare IT industry, the result of organizations no longer being in control of the rate at which they tackle new challenges.
So what to do when you’re in charge of making sure the roller coaster stays on track but someone else is controlling the speed? Buckle up and hold on, for starters. But secondly, it’s about knowing when to, somehow, apply the brakes, at least on the individual level. Keep your eye out for team members who are getting that deer in the headlights look, those who are coming in early and leaving late, and probably not seeing their families much at all.
They are the ones that need not just your kindness but your help. They are the ones who need you to pull them from the game for a while, with a forced vacation or at least an order to “get out of here by 6 from now on.” These folks are in your charge, and you must be their number one advocate, their manager, the one who understands that to ask for more than they can give is the height of mismanagement.
“You can only (win) if you are in great shape, and if you’re not sucking for wind at end of game,” Johnson says, “and when you look across the way and that guy is hanging down, he is a coward — he is a coward because he is tired. Don’t be tired.”