Lessons from 2 great coaches

Walsh and Belichick show us that the key is creating the desired culture

It’s that time of year again, which got me listening to a podcast by Michael Lombardi, author of “Gridiron Genius: A Master Class in Winning Championships and Building Dynasties in the NFL.”

Lombardi spent 30 years in the trenches, working for some of the top NFL teams, including Bill Walsh’s San Francisco 49ers during the 1980s and, more recently, Bill Belichick’s New England Patriots, so he clearly knows what he is talking about.

Lombardi embraces the obvious (if underappreciated) truth that quality leadership at the top is foundational for organizational success, and he delves into the leadership styles of “the two coach Bills.” He postulates that the biggest reason for the 49er and Patriot successes is that both Walsh and Belichick embraced the same key approach: proactively focusing on organizational culture and relentlessly driving that culture every day to bring together players to achieve a common goal.

Both focused on the process rather than the scoreboard, based on the belief that, if the culture is properly managed, the scoreboard will take care of itself.


Accountability is a key element for creating a positive culture, including treating everyone the same. Simple is best, says Lombardi, adding: “Culture is something you have to work on every day and it can’t be complex.” He identifies four key areas:

  • Management of attention to maintain focus and control distractions
  • Management of meaning — clear explanations of what you want the team to do and why
  • Management of trust
  • Management of oneself

The best coaches, Lombardi observes, are good at all four, and leadership authenticity is key. The players are quick to see through someone who is not fully honest with himself or others. This demotivates players and undermines performance — no matter how much people are paid!

Rather than just collect talent, the best coaches build a team, Lombardi observes. They coach each player to understand their role and how they contribute to clearly defined team goals.

Belichick is notorious for planning every detail of his operation to align them all with the desired culture. Through his knowledge of the game and mastery of culture, Belichick understands how to maximize team success by using his players in clearly defined ways that maximize their strengths.

Players learn to focus on the name on the front of their jersey, not the name on the back.


As for the quarterback, how he carries himself is critical to an NFL team’s success, says Lombardi. The best QBs, such as Joe Montana and Tom Brady, make other people better and give them confidence.

Reflecting on leading his teammates, Tom Brady has said, “Once I develop the trust, I feel like I can be tough on them. But I can’t be tough on them before I develop the relationship and trust.”

What does this mean for leaders in business and other organizations? Start by taking a close look at your organizational culture. Is it what you want or set out to achieve? Does everyone understand and embrace the vision or mission statement on the wall or business website? Do employees perceive a connection to their daily work, or do they see the mission statement as something that collects dust on the wall or simply gets lip service?

Does every staff member have a clear sense of their role and how it fits into the company mission? Are their inconsistences between leadership words and actions/behaviors that undermine employee trust? Are leaders so focused on the scoreboard (aka the bottom line) that they lose sight
of strengthening processes that could improve it?

Digging deep into culture is a challenging process and may require some outside help to get an accurate assessment and develop a plan to move forward, but failing to understand and embrace these concepts is a recipe for mediocrity, whether on the football field or in business. Being the best requires us to continuously learn, assess, grow and improve.

For further thought: What specifically are you doing as a leader to drive the culture you want to see in your workplace? How does your behavior in the work environment reinforce (or undermine) your mission or business goals? List three specific actions you could take to strengthen your workplace culture.

We each have an extraordinary opportunity to make a difference in people’s lives (including our own). Don’t underestimate your impact!

Douglass P. Teschner, founder of Growing Leadership LLC, can be contacted at dteschner@GrowingLeadershipLLC.com


Categories: Business Advice