Game-Changing Leadership Lessons I Learned from a Super Bowl Winning Coach

How do we develop leaders who are A-players when there’s barely enough time to get the day’s work done? This question poses a dilemma business leaders view as an insurmountable problem inherent to being in business. Solve that dilemma, and you change the game. A game-changing opportunity requires looking in a different direction than your competition. One place to look for solutions is in a disparate field such as sports, where a coach’s top priority is developing an elite performing team.

I’ve been privileged to learn leadership development lessons from Super Bowl winning Head Coach Pete Carroll of the Seattle Seahawks. When Carroll coached the USC Trojans in 2006-2009, I immersed myself in coaching clinics and watching team practices. Over the next five years, I’ve adapted the best principles from his player development process to help my clients build all-star leadership teams. I’ve field-tested my adaptation, called the Learning-While-Working Process, in year-long leadership development projects with corporate clients. In this blog, I will share two vital lessons I learned from Coach Carroll and describe how business leaders can employ them in developing elite talent. read more →

LESSON 1: COMPETENT PERFORMANCE IS NOT AN OPTION. SET STANDARDS THAT DEFINE ELITE PERFORMANCE.

Coach Carroll says, “If I was writing down the keys to our success, I would write one point: we’re going to do things better than they have ever been done before. We are going to teach, practice, recruit, counsel, analyze, and do everything better than it has ever been done before.”

At first, I considered Coach Carroll’s outrageous “best-it’s-ever-been-done” standard as the ranting of a Baby-Boomer coach who never met a positive-thinking course he didn’t like. College jocks who aspire to NFL careers may drink the Kool-Aid, but seasoned business executives never would.  As time went on, I discovered that the best place for business leaders to learn about developing elite performers is from sports champions who can’t accept simply competent performance.

I came to realize that when business leaders can conceive elite standards then their team’s performance capacity will transcend their industry’s customary role descriptions. For instance, what if the supermarket pharmacist wasn’t just a prescription processor? Elite pharmacists could reinvent their roles as cross selling specialists who recommend purchasing fruits, vegetables, and supplements which remedy the depletion of vital nutrients caused by pharmaceutical drugs. What if sales reps weren’t merely pitch men offering up boilerplate presentations to extol their company’s brands and capabilities? Elite sales professionals detect their customer’s strategic blind spots, unsatisfactory compromises, and neglected growth opportunities. Ultimately, they offer unique solutions buyers would never think to ask for. The goal is for customers to say, “I got so much value from that call, I would have paid for it.”

Practice drill: Re-conceive every role in your organization to discover how it can be redesigned to deliver increased value to internal and external customers. One of my coaching clients, Chuck Lindner, grocery store owner of Doug’s Markets, requires every employee on the sales floor to track their daily add-on sales generated from offering extra service and suggest relevant products to shoppers. Besides being respectful and friendly, Doug’s employees engage customers in a way that results in add-on sales.

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LESSON 2: LEADERS ORCHESTRATE ELITE HABITS.

Some football analysts disparage Pete Carroll’s coaching style as “over-the-top positive” and “new age.” Actually, he is old school—like ancient Greece. Coach Carroll frequently refers to a quote from Aristotle: “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.”  Habits are reinforced patterns of behavior that are repeated regularly and occur subconsciously and are hard to give up. So habits occur effortlessly–for better or for worse, for excellent or for watered-down decent performance.

In Pete Carroll’s coaching style, practice plays a vital role in instilling excellent habits. Any enduring habit consists of a triggering event, which activates a routine, which ultimately leads to a small win. So the formula is simply:

Trigger → Routine → Small wins

A trigger is a cue to focus attention to the task at hand. In Coach Carroll’s Win Forever philosophy (which he still uses with the Seattle Seahawks), one primary trigger is the day of the week which calls for a specific practice routine. The practice regimen gets choreographed into a rhythm of varying intensity of physical and mental effort so the team’s performance peaks on game-days.

“Tell the Truth Monday” calls for players and coaches to rigorously study game film and take accountability for problems and successes in their game plan execution to improve the next week’s performance. “Competition Tuesday” focuses on  re-energizing players’ competitive instincts to bring ferocious engagement to the drills and scrimmaging. “Turnover Wednesday” casts attention on one single factor that contributes to winning or losing—ball control—to prevent the offensive team’s mistakes (like fumbles and interceptions) while  the defensive team aims to cause opponents’ turnovers. “No Repeat Thursday” emphasizes flawless execution of the game plan. “Walk Through Friday” drastically slows down physical effort so players conserve energy while engaging in confidence-building rituals in final preparation for Saturday’s game. This weekly rhythm insures that learning the game plan, physical conditioning, and honing position-specific skills gets accomplished with no wasted effort.

Small wins reinforce the value of practice routines. Each impeccable repetition of an agility drill reflects increased athletic prowess. The coaching staff devises metrics to analyze practice and game film to measure players’ praiseworthy efforts and spot areas for improving movement and split second decision-making. Players get recognized for modeling the team’s unwavering beliefs: no whining, always protect the team, and always compete.

When Coach Carroll endorsed my ability to translate his player development process to business, he referred to my Learning-While-Working Process, which instills a rhythm for building capabilities while real work is getting done—during phone calls, giving presentations, even during breaks between meetings. The Learning-While-Working Process alters the habitual cadence of work from “getting tasks done efficiently” to “engaging customary tasks as learning occasions.” Excellent habits for leadership, like focused attention, systematic preparation, and delegation, can become as automatic as efficiency-driven habits like multi-tasking, winging-it, and micromanaging.

The rhythm to drive the Learning-While-Working Process comes from five triggering cues, called the 5Ps. Each of the 5Ps signals team members to choose from a number of time efficient, job-imbedded-development routines. In turn, each P triggers the next one, so there’s a rhythm to direct full engagement with potential learning opportunities emerging during the work day.

P1) Prepare: Move from presuming that basic leadership skills are already sufficiently mastered, to requiring ongoing refining of basics.

P2) Practice while real work gets done: Move from getting tasks done expediently, to consciously designing and improvising deliberate practice drills in the midst of daily tasks.

P3) Perform in game-on situations: Move from simply going through the motions in getting a task done, to bringing second-nature proficiency to high-stakes situations (e.g. strategic planning, performance reviews).

P4) Perfect the process: Move from briskly proceeding to the next task to scrutinizing the just-completed process, in order to extract every bit of learning possible.

P5) Publicize fresh learning: Move from absorbing learning for your own consumption, to sharing learning generously with co-workers, trade association colleagues, LinkedIn group members, even customers.

Practice drills originated by my clients:
Turn update presentations into occasions for skill practice. There is a huge difference between talking about an account’s status and practicing to sell more effectively. Blue Bunny’s regional managers condense their formal key account updates to succinct five minute presentations, and then proceed to role play the pivotal sales issue for their upcoming call with a specific buyer. Afterwards, each regional manager receives feedback from senior sales executives on strengths and areas to improve. The role play and feedback round gets videotaped so the regional managers leave with valuable input to prepare for their ensuing sales efforts.

Invite instant practice to Re-Do ineffective behavior. Re-Do is like giving a golfer a mulligan to replay a bad shot. It is a triggering mechanism that calls for immediate practice to stop an ineffective behavior (e.g., delivering angry attacks when team members report lousy results) and simultaneously replacing it with a more skillful response (e.g. inviting team members to take accountability for unwanted outcomes). Re-Do produces behavior change because it is a public acknowledgment that everyone can do better, and the team will no longer tolerate bad habits.

Andy Tysler, Vice President of Sales for Deschutes Brewery, requires his team to use Re-Do in their individual development plans (IDPs), which are incorporated into their yearly performance plans. Everyone in a region knows their colleagues’ Re-do protocol–both the ineffective behavior to change and the replacement response. When an ineffective behavior occurs, any team member can signal for a Re-Do practice, and the individual called out then offers the replacement response. Re-do is extremely time-efficient—it often takes less than a minute.

GAME-CHANGING INNOVATION

Any business leader who aspires to stage a game-changer innovation eventually discovers there is no choice but to seek an uncommon perspective and accompanying work process to leapfrog what’s already being done. In the same way that Pete Carroll’ coaching style is called un-football-like, a truly game-changing work process will look un-businesslike since every possible minute isn’t devoted to getting work done efficiently.

If sports champions employ a world-class talent development process, I invite you to make them a source for adapting liberating models, mind-expanding beliefs, and novel best principles.  And learning from a Super Bowl-winning coach is a great place to start this journey.

Here’s Pete Carroll’s endorsement of my book, Competent is Not an Option…

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“Do what you do the best it’s ever been done’ is a core belief of my WinForever philosophy. Art Turock does a tremendous job of taking the concepts he learned at our coaching clinics and translating them to the business world. Competent is Not an Option is a fantastic resource to help develop your talents and maximize your abilities.”

Pete Carroll, Head Coach, Seattle Seahawks.

To order his book from Amazon.com, click on the book cover.

FREE DOWNLOADABLE TOOLS.

For managers who want to assess your process for developing an elite leadership team, download the tool “Conditions for Elite Leadership Development.” For sales managers who want to assess your team’s ability to deliver sales calls customers would pay for, download “Provocative Selling Proficiency Audit.” For both tools, click on the button below.