In business, leaders often use sports analogies to reinforce their messaging and important points. And why not? In sports, the scoreboard at the end of the game is void of subjectivity.
I recently had the opportunity to sit down with Philadelphia Eagles Head Coach Doug Pederson, whose team was victorious in Superbowl LII. Our 90-minute discussion ranged from his approach to leadership and culture to the critical role values and faith play in success. (Full disclosure: I’m a Broncos fan living in the heart of Eagles country.)
Pederson shared a sentiment at the end of our conversation that summed up a philosophy and approach that prioritizes the human side of leadership: “I get a feeling sometimes that people are searching for magic, as if there’s some magical salt and pepper shaker that they can sprinkle like pixie dust.”
Pederson inherited a team that had infamously never won a Super Bowl, lost a starting quarterback and still found a way to defeat the mighty New England Patriots, whose coach and quarterback together hold the most wins in NFL history. To him, leadership is about cultivating relationships and building a high-performance culture.
Earth shattering? Hardly. And yet, in our hyper-paced, short-attention-span, big-data world, prioritizing relationships requires a level of patience, consistency and leadership presence that is often in short supply.
According to Pederson, healthy relationships are rooted in transparency, directness, openness and honesty. “Understanding people individually, you have a diverse group of men in the locker room, they come from different backgrounds, cultures, lifestyles. How do you tie all that together to play a game on Sunday?”
His solution is to lead with a consistent, tough-love approach: “I demand excellence, so often, I’ll take the coach hat off and put the dad hat on to let them know that I care about them. They’re going to give me everything they’ve got because they know I care.”
In your business, how much time have you prioritized to getting to know your people as unique individuals? For many leaders, “I don’t have the time” is the most common justification. However numerous studies show mentoring and one-on-one employee coaching improves retention and performance. For Pederson, the person comes first, then the player.
Focus On Communication
“The key is listening,” says Pederson. “As opposed to top-down thinking, as an organization, we meet in the middle.”
Pederson established a “Player’s Council” of 11 men selected by their peers to provide a unified voice. During the regular season, Pederson and the council meet each Wednesday to discuss needs, changes and ideas that will help the team win: “Strong communication allows for us to know when to push harder or when we need to back off. Essentially, on game day, it isn’t about the plays on my sheet. Our players can sometimes decide game plans. We listen to them.”
How much does Pederson trust his players’ judgment? Super Bowl LII featured a trick play called “Philly Special,” in which the quarterback, Nick Foles, caught the touchdown thrown by another player. Who called the play? Not Pederson, but Foles himself.
Does your organization encourage employees at every level to offer their best thinking, or does leadership come up with most of the ideas? It has been often indicated that idea-driven organizations (those that prioritize feedback from front-line employees) significantly outperform leadership-centric companies.
Foles was the backup quarterback for most of the season, but in the most important game of their lives, the coach trusted the player.
“Coaches can complicate the simple,” says Pederson. “I believe in the KISS philosophy, (keep it simple, stupid). A lot has to happen before the snap. How can I expect clarity from them if they’re not seeing it from me?”
That’s why Pederson is hyperfocused on understanding and alignment. He explains the “why,” so that everyone understands the purpose of each decision and initiative.
If you randomly asked employees what your company’s mission is or how their role contributes to the success of the organization, would they respond with clarity and confidence? If so, that’s a significant achievement of communication. If not, there’s work to be done.
Culture Of Accountability
“The teams I’ve been part of that spend time cultivating culture have been the places that have won and sustained success. I asked the players up front: ‘How far do you want to take this? How do you want this season to go?’ I put the accountability on them. I don’t have all the answers. I have smart assistant coaches, and we figure it out. I want to hear from the bottom up.”
There are four principles that Pederson consistently drills into the culture:
1. Create energy every day
2. Eliminate distractions
3. Fear nothing
4. Attack everything
In your organization, is the word “accountability” synonymous with “blame?” If so, don’t be surprised if people avoid being held accountable.
In healthy organizations, there is shared ownership for collective success. As such, “attack everything” means get better every day, seeing mistakes and setbacks for what they are, and coaching toward greater collective success.
When asked about bold decisions he has made that have backfired, Pederson replied: “Quite honestly, I don’t care. If I let it consume me, then it affects the team and I can’t do my job. We’re human, and we’re going to make mistakes. I just don’t have enough time to worry about that kind of stuff.”
A commitment to cultivating relationships, focusing on culture, communicating with clarity and defined leadership principles are the keys to creating a winning organization, no magic necessary.
Article via Forbes