Everything I needed to know about business I learned from football
Every year in this country we have “the big dance,” otherwise known as the Super Bowl and the most recent game was watched by 97.5 million viewers making it the second most watched show of all time, next to the series finale of “Mash.” In that game the New York Giants, who had a regular season record of 9 wins and 7 losses, knocked off a seemingly unbeatable 16-0 New England Patriots.
What are the main aspects of a championship football team? What qualities must one possess to win a game or championship? Are the same things applicable to creating a winning culture and team in business? Let’s see…
Football is a team sport. The most important aspect of a winning team is that everyone works together to achieve the desired result. In football, it’s executing the game plan to result in a victory and in business it’s executing a defined strategy to make money.
Need an example, ask Keyshawn Johnson author of “Just Give me the Damn Ball!” what happens when you think you are bigger than the team. I’m sure the now matured NFL analyst has learned a thing or two about hogging the ball after being cut twice, traded twice and suspended for over half a season in his prime. Certainly you want to get the ball to your playmakers but it is a team sport and to succeed you need to stay within your game plan.
In order to ensure that everyone is on the “same page” it is imperative that you have a good game plan. To develop a winning game plan you need to learn about the competition, study their weaknesses and look to exploit them, study their strengths and develop schemes to overcome them. In business we call it a business plan.
The most important part of a game plan is the proper execution of that plan or playing how you were coached. This means playing your position according to the individual play called while keeping the big picture in mind. While executing a game plan or business strategy it is important to be mindful of the score (or budget) and communicate any challenges or surprises so that the team knows if they need to make adjustments.
Communication may be the most important aspect of any business or team across all facets of the game. The best strategy in the world can’t be carried out if the quarterback doesn’t talk to his receivers or if marketing doesn’t talk to sales.
Effective communication happens when players are comfortable talking to coaches and leadership is able to speak to their team. If you can’t talk to people the right way you are not a true team player. Vicious emails in all caps with exclamation points are akin to unnecessary roughness in football – that’s a 15 yard penalty which really hurts your team. Too many penalties and you won’t win in football or the office.
If leadership is the one that fails to properly communicate they will get fired. The player has to remain with the team until their contract expires and they become a free agent and are able to go to another team. In real life everyone is a free agent.
Penalties like unnecessary roughness are caused by a lack of discipline. Discipline is at the very foundation of every great performing team or individual. The coach of the New York Giants, Tom Coughlin has been criticized throughout his career for being too much of a disciplinarian until the Giants beat the previously unbeaten and anointed greatest team of all time, the New England Patriots in the Super Bowl. You can see here that in almost every facet of the game the Giants were among the least penalized teams in football http://2008playoffs.nytimes.com/matchup/NYG_NE/penalties .
My coach always talked about the little things and that is what discipline is all about, at work it is getting there on time, showing up for meetings, attending conference calls, getting your reports in on time and filled out properly. The little things, or discipline, can be the difference between mediocrity and excellence.
Tiki Barber, who thrived under Coughlin’s tutelage, may have been the most outspoken critic of Coughlin’s tough style. Tiki decided to take his opinions outside the locker room and retire early for a career in broadcasting. His departure resulted in the team becoming more coachable and winning the Super Bowl. The Giants had the same team and the same coach as the prior season proving that both coaches and players are accountable and it doesn’t matter how great your coach is if you are not coachable.
It doesn’t matter how great your leadership is if not surrounded by great people and it doesn’t matter if you have great people if you don’t provide them with great leadership.
Last but not least is passion. Brett Favre, Quarterback of the New York Jets will go to the Hall of Fame for his numbers but he will be remembered for the way he played the game, with great passion. Obviously we can’t pick up our office mates and carry them across the room and jump and down at work like Favre has been known to do, but we can show some enthusiasm. Perhaps no player in NFL history is a better role model for the modern employee who works in a team environment than Favre.
Be like Brett; work hard, do your job the right way, have some enthusiasm and you’ll be able to achieve a “hall of fame worthy” career of your own!
***This was initially published prior to the 2008 football season