Winning is not an accident

As many of you already know I’m a bit of a sports enthusiast. Baseball & football are the sports I know the most about and I use many analogies, even with my clients who don’t care a lick about sports. After watching my local Baltimore Ravens team get their backsides handed to them by the New England Patriots, I couldn’t help but give credit where credit is due. Therefore, below is an excellent article by management consultant John Baldoni from the WHARTON CENTER FOR LEADERSHIP AND CHANGE MANAGEMENT about the winning formula developed by Bill Belichick of the New England Patriots. Unlike baseball, there is a salary cap in the NFL so you can’t buy championships. In the NFL you need solid leadership to win back to back championships as the Patriot’s have done and a third may be on the way. Check this article out and apply these concepts to your business and see for yourself the difference it makes. If you’re interested there is more commentary after the article.


By John Baldoni

One of the most heralded coaches in American professional sports today is a man who does not shout, scream, or intimidate his players. His coaching style is more in keeping with middle managers than celebrity executives. In college he studied economics; he uses logic and reason, backed by a system of his own creation, to fashion a winning football program. He is Bill Belichick of the New England Patriots, head coach, personnel director, and chief operating officer.

A graduate of Williams College, Belichick is a cerebral coach. In contrast to Vince Lombardi or Bill Parcells, two successful coaches whose powerful personalities brought discipline to their teams, Belichick is low-key. He has won players to his way not by shouting but rather thorough preparation, clear communication, and recognition of team effort. Here are five distinctive features of his coaching style that have implications for managing and leading any high performance team:

Develop a system. Belichick ruthlessly exploits his opponents' weaknesses and methodically places the right players in the right positions. He makes the most of the talent he has at the moment by dissecting opposition weaknesses and teaching his players how to capitalize on them.

Teach and adjust the system. Belichick devotes hours to learning what aspects of his system worked in past games and what did not. He then conveys his insights to the team, emphasizing the competitive threats and the team's strengths against them, and adjusting the system to fit the reality.

Instill discipline. Belichick traded Lawyer Milloy, a defensive back, to the Buffalo Bills in 2003. Although Milloy had been a key ingredient in New England's defense, his demands for more money were disrupting team cohesion, and despite an outcry from media and fans, Belichick removed the player from his team.

Recruit the best within the budget. The mission statement of the New England Patriots states, "We are building a big, strong, fast, smart, tough and disciplined football team that consistently competes for championships." Belichick looks for the best talent -- within his budget. "What I respect about Bill," says owner Robert Kraft, "is we have a system in place, and it's not dependent upon what the marketplace has to offer."

Support the team. Belichick was fired from his first head coaching job at Cleveland after several losing seasons. He took the blame upon himself and offered only public praise for his players. End

More commentary:

In the first paragraph of the article Baldoni mentions Belichick’s style as “ in keeping with middle managers” – I don’t think it’s as much about that as it is in keeping with 21st century corporate America. Today’s managers have to deal with a very different mindset than what we have had in the past. It’s the mindset of workers rights and HR departments and litigation and in sports, big fat multi year contracts. You play the “scream and yell” role and you’re liable to end up being sued for verbal abuse! We also have found in the masterful research done by Jim Collins and published in his book “Good To Great” that some of our most successful corporate CEO’s do not fit the Charismatic celebrity profile that we read about in the papers, but instead the quiet driven type that really cares about his or her people and acknowledges them accordingly and not just in the pocketbook, but on a consistent basis in regularly scheduled one on one meetings.

Belichick also is well known for placing the right players in the right positions and again this conforms to the research of Collins in getting the right people on the bus and then getting them in the right seats. And let’s not forget, that includes getting the wrong (weak) players off the bus to make room. So many of my leaders in smaller organizations put up with so much because they think there is only one guy in the world that can do that job. Granted it’s harder to recruit for smaller companies than large, but give me a break, if you set the system up properly as did Belichick it’s not as hard to replace poor performers or chemistry killers. Chemistry killers are tough to get rid of when they are extremely talented. But, if that talent exceeds that of the energy and force of the rest of the team then you have a lousy team and lousy leadership. Get rid of the chemistry killer as did Belichick with Lawyer Milloy.

The article mentions several times making the most of the talent given and focusing on strengths. Again, if you check out the research (Gallup organization’s “What makes for the best managers in the world”) you will find that we get a whole lot more bang for the buck this way than by trying to fix the weaknesses. “People don’t change that much, it’s hard enough to get out what was left in” is the great managers mantra.

Patriot’s owner Robert Kraft mentions that they have a system in place and it’s not dependent upon what the market has to offer. Think of this in terms of INFRASTRUCTURE If your infrastructure is overly dependent upon you or that star player --- you don’t have a leadership/management system, you have a mess.

And finally Baldoni mentions their mission. If You think vision/mission is not of the utmost importance then you need to check out the research and think again.


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