It’s that time of year again, where excited fans bundle up and take to the stands while players suit up and take to the field. It’s an annual season of players and fans focused on winning. It’s about offense and defense, competition and camaraderie, risk and reward.
You can learn a lot about business from a football game and, in fact, some of the best advice for business leaders has come from football coaches.
As you are considering the fourth quarter in your business, take a few lessons from those on the field.
Always Have a Playbook
Just imagine the chaos that would ensue if the coaching staff showed up with no playbook. There would be no strategy, no plan of action. “Winging it” only goes so far. A playbook provides a ready resource for quick action. Sure, pivots will be needed, and that makes the playbook all the more valuable. It allows for quick changes and winning moves to be re-calibrated quickly throughout the game.
As a business leader, you must have a playbook. The world is full of leaders who are “winging it” – busy doing work but getting nowhere near their goals. Why? They have no strategic plan – no playbook.
Coaches Coach and Players Play
In the game of football, there are many designated positions. The players are in their respective positions because that is where their strengths are. Let’s face it, Peyton Manning was a great quarterback, but he would not have been an effective defensive or offensive lineman. And then there are coaches, who are not the same as players. Think about it. What if you had put Lou Holtz in the game? It would have spelled disaster from every angle, including Lou’s! Even he admits, “I don’t exercise.”
We laugh at the idea, yet business leaders try to play the game every day. We sometimes think we know how to do the work of everyone on the team. The reality is, each person has special skillsets, and a wise leader knows to place his or her people in the right positions in order to create a functional team. A wise leader also knows if he or she is doing the work or micro-managing the work, the work is not truly getting done. A leader must lead. And a leader must have a team with key players in key positions.
Follow the Rules
Football has rules…an ever-growing list of rules. And football has referees to ensure compliance to those rules. Most of us would say we do not like rules. We may resist the constriction of them. But imagine football without rules. It would be borderline insanity!
Rules are simply boundaries. Just as football needs boundaries, so does business. Leaders, do you have your rulebook in place? Do you have your policies and procedures documented? Do you review them regularly? Do you have succession plans in place? Do you have risk management plans in place? Is your budget in place and being used? It might surprise you to know there are large corporations who do not have some of these things in good working order. They are disasters waiting to happen and, in fact, many have fallen prey to those disasters already.
Play to Win
There is a clear objective in football. That objective is to win – to win game by game, and to win the ultimate crown jewel, the Super Bowl. No coach or player ever went into a football career with the goal of coasting or, worse, losing. The truth is, there are those who do end up coasting through on a wave of mediocrity, and those who suffer more losses than wins.
What makes the difference? Three things: (1) Attitude (2) Hard Work (3) Tenacity. Show me a team where every player has those three attributes, and I’ll show you a formidable force.
Is your business team playing to win, or are they coasting? Are you winning deals, winning new business, winning clients…or losing? Are your profits scoring, or are you getting skunked by the competition? Develop a team of players with a winning attitude, who work hard, and who are tenacious enough to get back up every time they get knocked down. Develop a team that plays to win.
Keep Your Eye on the Goal
Have you ever seen a game where the players just ran back and forth across the field and never scored a goal? I dare say that’s a rarity, and certainly not one for the highlight reel. Why? Because getting to the goal must be the singular focus of a team. It’s why the coaches coach; it’s why the defense defends; it’s why the offense pushes through. Getting to the end zone is the goal. They fight hard, they push and pull, they run, they stretch beyond their means, and sometimes they even get injured…and all for one reason: to get to the end zone. Do that more than the opponent, and your team wins.
Is your business team focused clearly on the goal? Are they consistently running play by play, day by day, to help the team get there? Or do they work in such as a way as to sometimes appear they play for the other team? Would they rather sit on the sideline than play on the field?
As a leader, it is your responsibility to help your team see the goal, train them to reach the goal, and help them navigate to the goal. It is not an easy task. It requires motivation, correction, and guidance. It requires a never-give-up attitude of persistence. Be the kind of leader who keeps the collective eye of the team on the goal.
One of the greatest coaches of all time, Bear Bryant, had it right. He said, “You must learn how to hold a team together. You must lift some men up, calm others down, until finally they’ve got one heartbeat. Then you’ve got yourself a team.”
Do you, as a leader, have yourself a team?