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3 Lessons in Leadership from the NFL

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by Susan Briggs in Blogs
February 9, 2017

“It must be nice to be a New England Patriots fan”.

That sentiment was shared with me more than once this football season. I’m a huge professional football fan. Not only do I have season tickets for the Texans I’ve been a fantasy football team owner for over 20 years. So like much of the world I watched the super bowl on Sunday and cheered for the Atlanta falcons. After the game my contempt for the Patriots converted to full respect. As a student of great organizations I believe the Patriots offer three important lessons in leadership. These lessons are ones we can implement in our own businesses.

First is the importance of building a team based on shared values. Coach Belichick has his pick of players and his screening process focuses on their fit to the team’s values. Team comes first and the past 15 years has proven that good people can achieve great results. During the super bowl, Tom Brady was the only star on the field for the Patriots. Every game in the playoffs had a different player most had never heard of step up and make big plays.

Does your hiring process focus on team fit and shared values?

The next lesson is creating a culture of accountability. The historical come-from- behind win in the Super Bowl illustrates the impact that being accountable to your teammates to just “do your job” can have for an organization. As a leader this is an even tougher task than building a team on shared values. It requires a strong intention and clarity in your systems. Your culture holds individuals accountable to do their job with full effort and to not let down the team.

Do you constantly hold the same staff performance conversations? Ready to shift the focus to being accountable to the team versus you?

This leads us to the last lesson which is spending time as leaders to strengthen the core systems in our organizations. Winning 5 Super Bowls and making the playoffs in 13 years out of 15 depends on strong organizational systems. The one system with the weak link will keep you from maximizing your business results. You can’t just focus on providing quality pet care, you also have to offer exceptional customer service and manage finances to ensure strong profits.

Do you have a weak link? Where do problems tend to occur?

Any organization can become the Patriots of their industry. It starts with the leaders, we must spend our time on the “right jobs”; ones that only we can perform. How much time have you spent in the past year talking about your organization’s values or culture? Have you worked on your systems to improve consistency and productivity?

As leaders we tend to get drawn into the daily fire fights and grind. We must stay intentional and focused on the bigger picture. In the long-run systems will prevent the fires from happening. This is the real value of becoming system-focused and prioritizing this work in your business.

Regardless of the stage of your business there is value in focusing on your systems.

  • Young businesses with rapid growth will avoid the “growing pains” that happen as your team expands and the verbal sharing of policies and procedures no longer seems to work
  • Mature businesses have the opportunity to strengthen the weak links which allows the business owner more time away to enjoy your lifestyle and prevent burn out
  • Prospective businesses just getting started obtain clarity on the structure required for success and get off to a head start

Working on your business systems is a marathon, not a sprint. It requires a long-term focus and many steps. However, you can make steady progress and your business will benefit with each step you take.

Do you have questions on how to get started with systems or changing your culture? Post them in the comments and let’s start a conversation. I’m betting your question is on the minds of many other business owners.

I just hope the Texans organization is also having this conversation.


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  1. Al Bowman says:

    Susan, I hope the Cardinals are also having this same conversation! We both were sadly disappointed this year, and like you, I was rooting for the Falcons yet admire the Patriots for what they are and continue to be! We actually used the Super Bowl as a springboard with our staff to discuss where we have come from, where we are and what we are going to do going forward. Fortunately, the majority of our staff are huge football fans so the comparisons almost immediately came out (Belichick, Ryan, Brady, Edelman and so on)…yes, even the Floyd situation. It all applies and anything that gets staff motivated, gets us motivated! Thanks for sharing this article! No one puts two and two together like the accountant from Houston!

    1. Susan Briggs says:

      Al, I love hearing that you used the Super Bowl as a business development session with your team. That is awesome! Any tips for others on the key points that worked well?

      1. Al Bowman says:

        Susan, even though our discussion was precipitated by the Super Bowl, others joined in as well. As owners of our facility, we are much like Kraft in that we need to put together a good management team that embraces our values and character. We are also in charge of monitoring what is going on in our industry so that we can give our “coaches” every tool to succeed. Our management (think Belichick) is in charge of putting together a team that embraces the mission as well as holding each other accountable. Yes, we put the hiring/firing decisions in the lap of our managers and lead techs (although we are in the loop). Our managers and lead techs ensure that everyone is working together and are “working out” to ensure they are in top shape. Working out is our training (ie. Knowing Dogs, IBPSA, etc.). We are systemized so every player knows what their job is at any given time during the day. Our opponent isn’t our competitors (mostly), but rather our own actions. The Patriots did not play their game in the first half, actually the first 3 quarters, and the Falcons didn’t play their game the fourth quarter on. They defeated themselves more than each other. Any one of our staff can have that incredible Edelman catch and be the star. Think catching an ill guest as they are simply beginning to go clinical. We caught a bloat case within minutes and saved the dog’s life…per the veterinarian. That’s a star performance..that’s MVP material! All of us need to be prepared to step in when a key member (they are all key members) is down (sick, off day, etc) and it is expected of everyone from the owners down to the water boy! We adapt, not just at half time, but during the day depending upon what the day is throwing at us. For example, a “yellow” dog is having a “red” day with half the group. Do we cut the “yellow” dog and send them packing? No, we divide our groups down further so all of our guests succeed.

        Our staff are indeed champions and we don’t take them for granted. They are diversified and cross trained. Some are stronger in some areas while others are better in other areas…we put them in positions where they will most likely succeed! We reward them with incentive pays, awards, bringing in lunches, taking them and their families out for dinner and even an on the spot “Super Bowl ring” in the form of a $100 bill. Our staff loves what they do and they know there are few places they can work in which they truly make a difference not only in the families’ lives whom we serve, but in their own lives in how they live their lives. We are blessed…by design!

        1. Susan Briggs says:

          Al, you’ve done an awesome job team building! Thanks for sharing the details.

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