If viewing patterns hold steady, over 100 million people will tune in to Super Bowl XLVIII to watch some of the nation’s finest athletes attempt to outdo each other on television’s largest stage. While the cameras may be trained on players like Richard Sherman and Peyton Manning, the success of those stars has been cultivated by the people on the sidelines. Behind every winning team is a winning coach, and Pete Carroll and John Fox — along with other successful NFL coaches — have a thing or two to teach executives about effective leadership.
The ultimate goal of an NFL coach is to lead their team to a Super Bowl trophy. As a business leader, do you have the tools to help your team earn its own hardware? Regardless if your professional Super Bowl looks like hitting growth, hiring, or sales targets, defeating the competition or changing the world, if you want to win the big one, then I’d recommend taking a page out of the playbook of a successful NFL coach. They. Never. Stop. Coaching.
Think about a post-game interview you’ve seen with a good coach. Whether following a victorious blow-out or loss in overtime, behind the reflective and “we”-focused language there’s a look in their eyes that’s almost a wistfulness. Why? No matter how good the latest outcome, they are already thinking about the next game.
The average NFL game lasts roughly 3 hours. For the other 125 hours each week, coaches like Carroll and Fox are in the transformative world of pregame and postgame — in other words, the “not-game.” This world of not-game focuses on strategy and team building. This means watching endless tapes of opponents, digging into lessons from past games, and building relationships and team dynamics. It means forming new plays and defenses and testing them out on the practice field. It also means long blocks of meetings with individual players to talk about successes and failures, target metrics, and future goals. Starting to sound a little bit like any other workplace?
All of this preparation can help you win the game, but it can’t actually win you the game. You still have to play ball, and winning the game comes down to what happens during it. Now, that might sound like a John Madden quote, but there’s more to it than you might think.
We have a tendency to focus on the players and what happens on the field, but remember: Good coaches aren’t spectators or bystanders to some piece of theater they’ve orchestrated. From the wings, they are communicating with specialty coaches, analyzing real-time stats and trends, and interfacing directly with individual players. They are exploiting opportunities to change the game, calling audibles to react to in-the-moment changes and designing new strategies — ones that were never rehearsed in the pre or postgame environment. When they see things aren’t going well, they are calling timeouts to assess the issues and change directions. They are coaching; Business borrowed the word “pivot” from sports, right?
In leadership, this strategy would look like learning and tuning into employees, giving in-the-moment guidance, and being able to re-prioritize based on actual performance: It would look like live coaching, not performance review catch-up coaching. From building strengths to understanding weaknesses, coaches like Carroll and Fox develop their players during every moment of every day. Your leadership style will have to keep up with that pace.
After the final whistle is blown on Sunday, Carroll or Fox will have helped their players play their best and truly earned their Gatorade bath, their shoulder-top ride, and their trophy. It will be a moment that culminates years of work — but most importantly, 3 hours of precise execution and coaching. And, while replicating their coaching style might not send your winning players to Disney World, you too can coach your way to business Super Bowl victory: Just don’t forget about the next game as you dry off from your Gatorade bath.Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images