“The Lessons We Can Learn in Business
But I firmly believe that any man's finest hour, his greatest fulfillment of all he holds dear, is the moment when he has worked his heart out in a good cause and lies exhausted on the field of battle-victorious.” – Vince Lombardi
When I read this quote by arguably the greatest pro football coach in history, I realized it could just as easily be applied to business, as well as life. In any endeavor, when we know we’re paying the price and giving it our all, we fulfill a worthy purpose that celebrates and rewards extreme effort. We win, not just because we expect to, but because our actions have become congruent with our belief. We win because we are supposed to win.
Now how does this apply to business and football? How many of you watched the Baltimore Ravens beat the San Francisco 49ers recently in Super Bowl XLVII? Or the Pittsburgh Steelers’ last minute drive to beat the Arizona Cardinals in Super Bowl XLIII? I’ll bet you’ve seen the Hail Mary pass by Eli Manning in the Giant’s Super Bowl XLII win replayed thousands of times. Most of us- men and women - can go an entire season and not watch a single game, but we will not miss the Super Bowl. Whether we’re interested in the game, the commercials, half-time show, or maybe it’s just a reason to get together and party on a Sunday, millions of dollars revolve around this historic day. This one game dominates TV viewer ratings. Every sports fan, blog and company water cooler club has an opinion. It’s a kid’s game that will pay the players a king’s ransom. Sports is a multi-billion dollar enterprise. But specifically, I believe the game of football parallels principles of business in many ways. Here are a few:
1. It’s a game of inches. Every day is a new day to re-create yourself. No matter what happened yesterday, no matter what your business looks like, if you keep inching forward and improving every day, you’re going to gain field position, score, and score often. The key is to develop extremely disciplined habits and consistency that will predict your success. San Francisco Hall-of-Famer Jerry Rice ran 2.5 mile hill sprints in the offseason, and claimed that if one could master “the hill,” they would be at their best in the 4th quarter, when the game matters most. He proved that theory with 3 Super Bowl rings, and is recognized by most as the greatest wide receiver in history. In your business, how many calls do you commit to every day? How many appointments? Are you at your best with commitments and deadlines approaching? Or do you fatigue and give up, saying “I’ll hit my promotion next month?” Do you have more energy at the end of the day, or beginning? Do you keep fighting towards the end of the month, or do you buy into your excuses for not hitting your goals, and give up? Champions know what they do when nobody’s watching will earn them envied recognition when everybody’s watching.
2. Competition measures performance, and drives world-class achievement. But champions also know that the greatest competition lies within. Coaches tell players all the time, “It doesn’t matter what the other team does, it matters what we do. If we play our game, nobody can beat us.” The mantra of the Pittsburgh Steelers the season they beat Arizona in the Super Bowl was: “It’s a 5-star matchup ‘cause we’re in it.” They simply believed when they were united and played their best, their opponents would have to play a perfect game to beat them. They were clear on their identity, and were not afraid to vocalize their competitive spirit. We are all competitive in some way. However, you are also unique. Nobody can be you. Competition is the essence of free enterprise. It breeds change, progress and success. But the true measure of a competitive spirit is you consistently outrunning yourself. That’s real growth and success.
3. Leadership can make or break you in business. The most successful coaches in football have leadership qualities that get the most out of their players, and set a great example to follow. Giants head coach Bill Parcells had a fiery standard of excellence that compelled his players to continually strive for perfection. Colts head coach Tony Dungy proved you can lead with quiet character and still be taken seriously. Dick Vermeil earned a reputation as a true “player’s coach” because he was so extremely dedicated to his players’ personal and professional well-being. The same can be said for players in the locker room. Peyton Manning, Ray Lewis, and Drew Brees have all unified their teammates in times of adversity and controversy, and won championships because of it. However, a lack of leadership or selfish ambition and ego can also divide a locker room. Anybody remember “ Team Obliterator?”
4. A world-class system breeds consistent success. The Pittsburgh Steelers and New England Patriots have won multiple championships because of a predictable system that is unique to them. The Patriots don’t necessarily draft the best talent every year, but they draft players they can mold into their system. Because of this, they consistently win, and are usually favored to go deep in the playoffs every year. The Steelers have had three head coaches in the last 40 years. They’ve won 6 championships. By comparison, the Browns have had 16 head coaches in the same time period, and they’ve never won one Super Bowl. Think about Starbucks. Walmart. McDonalds. Whether or not you like their coffee, burgers, or products, it’s hard to argue that they have all created an efficient, strategic, duplicatable system that has spurred explosive growth and profitability in their organizations. Some believe that when Steve Jobs retired from Apple, they actually experienced more growth and success than ever before. Why? Their identity and vision was clear to every Apple employee from the top down, and Jobs’ legacy was an idea and a brand that would innovate and succeed long after his death. There is no substitute for stability and consistency in sports, and business. A solid, efficient, duplicatable system will define that.
5. The greater the adversity, the sweeter the victory. A timely example is the Baltimore Ravens. They were not favored to even make it to the Super Bowl a few years ago. Ray Lewis got injured, there were doubts about their QB Joe Flacco’s ability to win “the big one,” the team had to go on the road to beat an inspired Colts team, Peyton Manning’s Broncos, and Tom Brady’s Patriots, and they survived a power-outtage and desperate 49er comeback to win their 2nd Championship trophy. Adversity will polish or pulverize you, but the world-class use it as fuel to overcome insurmountable odds and achieve victory. They condition themselves to actually thrive on overcoming constant challenges. They willfully and consistently put themselves in uncomfortable, overwhelming situations where they have only their faith and instinct to survive. They take bold, urgent, decisive action to conquer their fears and adverse circumstances. In essence, they do before they think. And their capacity to take on more than they believe capable continues to grow. Fear becomes trivial to a champion’s success. They eliminate doubt by consistently facing it head on, and with each new experience, whether loss or gain, they grow stronger and more confident from it. The question is are you using challenges and adversity to fuel winning for yourself and your family, or are you using it as an excuse to underperform? I challenge you to raise the stakes on your business and life, and treat every day like a Super Bowl. You’d be amazed at what you can achieve, and by your attitude and example, how much you end up inspiring and building others.
Football isn’t fair, and neither is business. There are wrong calls, late hits, penalties, blown assignments, and missed kicks. Running a sloppy business or leaving things to chance is like putting the game in the referee’s hands. One wrong call can cost you a Super Bowl.
Some players are true teammates and will do whatever it takes to help their team win, while others are more concerned with stats and paychecks. Your colleagues in business may be more concerned with their own ego, advancement and self-serving ambition. Usually those people only experience short-term gains and vain recognition, while those dedicated to team chemistry, hard work, integrity, and relentless personal growth will eventually build a winning tradition in their own organization that will influence the world for generations to come. My challenge to you is: Are you playing the game of business and life not to lose? Or are you playing to win, and win big? They say the harder you are on yourself, the easier life is on you. The easier you are on yourself, the harder life will be on you. Nobody ever said it would be easy, they just said it’d be worth it.
So the next time you watch a football game, don’t just watch it- study it. It will give you so much applicable insight into business, and life. One thing you’ll surely find…as hard as you’re rooting on that team to win, your family is counting harder on you to win for them. Individual commitment to a group effort-that is what makes a team work, a company work, a society work, a civilization work.” – Vince Lombardi
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