True leadership in sports, particularly among coaches, can be found across a wide spectrum of personalities and demeanors.

True leadership in sports, particularly among coaches, can be found across a wide spectrum of personalities and demeanors.

“Player’s coaches” as well as “hard-nosed coaches” can each find success. Loud mouths as well as stoics can motivate teams. No one particular coaching style is universally effective. But there are numerous business lessons that can be learned from winning coaches, especially those who achieve consistently by adhering to fundamental leadership principles.

Tom Landry was the head coach of the Dallas Cowboys from 1960-1988, compiling a 270-178-6 record, winning 2 Super Bowl titles, and winning more playoff games (20) than any coach in NFL history. Before that, he was a player and a coach for the New York Giants. During World War II, he served as a bomber pilot in the Army Air Corps, completing numerous missions within the European Theatre. From a young age, Tom had a passion for football with a focus on the strategic and innovation aspects more so than the brute force aspects.

As a player and a coach, he would win by outthinking and outmaneuvering his opponents.

He created complex offenses and defenses, found players able to work within his disciplined schemes, and valued consistent performers over prima donnas.

Landry’s keys to success were relatively simple. He once said, “I don’t believe in team motivation. I believe in getting a team prepared so it knows it will have the necessary confidence when it steps on a field and is prepared to play a good game. Players can sense this and they respond to it.” 

On another occasion he said, “A measure of a great football player is his ability to concentrate. This is why any team in the NFL can win any game if a superior team isn’t concentrating.”

Landry won football games with these fundamental aspects, but how can they be translated into the business world?

n Preparation. Do you stay current on the dynamics affecting your particular discipline? Do you read management books and find ways to implement relevant ideas? Are you committed to employee training – and providing regular feedback/coaching to help them improve their skills? Effective leaders think about “what if” scenarios, but have an equal focus on “how to” issues. The great military leaders in history always focused on their supply lines. They valued engineers, messengers, and cooks as much as soldiers. Just like football coaches, they knew that success came from detailed preparation for the battles that lie ahead.

n Concentration.  Success comes from knowing what to do, and then doing it with passion. Do your co-workers and associates think of you as a person who gives 110 percent every day? Do you spend your time solving problems, or just moving problems to others? Do you look for ways to help employees become more productive? Leaders must set the example in little details such as being on time for meetings, taking notes, and ensuring proper communication. There is an epidemic of hypocritical managers in today’s business world. Tom Landry spent more time watching game film and drawing up plays than any of his coaches and players. He was the most passionate and most dedicated person on his team. Are you?

n Integrity. Landry was a man of high morals. He had incredible patience with players. But he did not condone the wild behavior that was so prevalent during the1970s. He was always honest with players, coaches, and the media. He never bent the rules to win. He was not ashamed of his Christian beliefs and often applied biblical principles in his daily actions. He lived and coached by a higher standard than most of those around him.

At Landry’s memorial service in 2000, former star quarterback Roger Staubach summarized the feelings of the entire Cowboy organization by saying, “He was our rock, our hope, our inspiration. He was our coach.”  I wonder how often these sentiments would be said about business leaders in our community. Are you the inspiration to your teams? Do you care about them as people? Do they see you as a rock of integrity? Landry won a lot of football games by creating a culture of superior preparation and concentration.

Landry won the respect of his players and coaches through his outstanding integrity.