Bill Walsh was coach of the San Francisco 49ers in the 80s. He made the 49ers THE 49ERS. He drafted and nurtured players like Jerry Rice, Steve Young, and Joe Montana. Iconic NFL players. He led them to 3Super Bowls, they were absolute sh*t before he arrived.
How I Avoid Becoming A Victim of Myself
- Have you noticed, however, that great players and great companies don’t suddenly start hunching up, grimacing, and trying to “hit the ball harder” at a critical point?
- Rather they’re in a zone in which they’re performing and depending on their “game” they’ve mastered over many months and years of intelligently directed hard work.
- I might do even less strategizing for the “big game”, because in the midst of the extreme pressure I placed a premium on fundamentals.
- There’s only so much thinking you can isolate and focus on during that big moment or big game.
- It has to be tactical more than conscious effort to really “try harder”.
How To Know If You’re Doing The Job
- If you’re up at 3AM every night talking into a tape recorder and writing notes on scraps of paper, have a knot in your stomach and a rash on your skin, are losing sleep and losing touch with your wife and kids, have no appetite or sense of humor, and feel that everything might turn out wrong, then you’re probably doing the job.
- There’s a significant price to pay to be the best. That price is not something to laugh at.
Coaches Aren’t Supposed to Cry: Survive One Minute At A Time
- Emotional shock never leaves you and acts as both a positive and negative force, spurring you to work harder and harder while also creating a fear that it might happen again.
- Absorbing and overcoming this kind of punishment engenders a sober, steely toughness that results in a hardened sense of independence and a personal belief that you can take on anything, survive, and win.
- Bill Walsh taught us to want to be perfect and instilled in the team a hunger for improvement, a drive to get better and better. We saw his own hunger for perfection, and it was contagious.
- Bill didn’t jump on you for a mistake; he came right in with the correction: “Here’s what was wrong; this is how to do it right.”
Specifics Of My New Standards
- Our coaching staff was meticulous and tenacious in analyzing and then teaching the requirements of each player’s position
- One very small example - After careful analysis, they identified 30 specific and separate physical skills - actions - that every offensive lineman needed to master in order to do his job at the highest level.
- Coaches then created multiple drills for each one of those individual skills, which were then practiced relentlessly until their execution at the highest level was automatic - routine - “perfection”
- Our practices were organized to the minute
The Prime Directive Was Not Victory
- I directed our focus less to the prize of victory than to the process of improving - obsessing about the quality of our execution and our attitude.
- During this early period of being GM and coach I began hiring personnel with 4 characteristics I value most highly:
- Functional intelligence (the ability to think on your feet, quickly and spontaneously)
- An eagerness to adopt to my way of doing things, my philosophy
- I sought intelligence in employees
- A dull-witted staff member who’s aggressive causes anarchy
- When you have one of those who think he’s intelligent in your midst, look out. The bull-headed know-it-all is a destructive force on your team.
- In that regard I sought individuals who had the ability to work with others.
The Top Priority Is Teaching
- He had written a series of lectures for each department detailing what he expected in all ways - appearance, attitude, performance, and more.
- He had it written out in detail for scouts, assistant coaches, equipment men, groundskeepers, and trainers.
- He would take an hour or 2 with every employee so they knew exactly what he expected of them, what he wanted them to do and how he wanted them to do it.
- His primary leadership asset: his ability to teach people how to think and play at a different and much higher, and, at times, perfect level. He accomplished this in 3 ways:
- He had a tremendous knowledge of all aspects of the game and a visionary approach to offense
- He brought in a great staff and coaches who knew how to coach and how to complement his own teaching of what we needed to know to rise to his standard of performance
- He taught us to hate mistakes
Connection and Extension
- Leaders sometimes wonder why they or their organization fail to achieve success, ever seem to reach their potential.
- It’s often because they don’t understand or can’t instill the concept of what a team is all about at its best: connection and extension.
- Everybody was connected, each of us an extension of the others, each of us with ownership in our organization.
- I taught this just as you should teach it in your own organization.
- We are united and fight as one; we win or lose as one.
- Combat soldiers talk about who they will die for. Who is it? It’s those guys right next to them in the trench.
- Somebody they had never seen before they joined the Army or Marines has become someone they would die for. That’s the ultimate connection and extension.
- In my opinion, of any great organization - that willingness to sacrifice for the team, to go the extra mile, the extra 5 or 50 miles.
Winners Act Like Winners (Before They’re Winners)
- Champions behave like they’re champions before they’re champions.
- They have a winning standard of performance before they are winners.
- People want to believe like they’re part of something special, an organization that’s exceptional.
- The culture precedes positive results.
- Malcontents, underachievers, and the unmotivated were being rooted out and replaced.
- There was a minimum of whining, complaining, and backstabbing.
Seek To Be Near The Summit
- My high standards for actions and attitudes within our organization never wavered - regardless of whether we were winning or losing.
- Initially, it meant I had to drastically change the environment, raise the level of talent, and teach everyone what they needed to know to get to where I wanted us to go.
- It comes down to details. The intense focus on those details cements the foundation that establishes excellence in performance.
Standard Of Performance and Beliefs
- Standard Of Performance - the values and beliefs within it
- Exhibit a ferocious and intelligently applied work ethic directed at continual improvement
- Demonstrate respect for each person in the organization and the work he or she does
- Be deeply committed to learning and teaching, which means increasing my own expertise
- Honor the direct connection between details and improvement. Relentlessly seek the latter.
- Show self-control, especially where it counts most - under pressure;
- Demonstrate and prize loyalty
- Use positive language and have a positive attitude
- Be willing to go the extra distance for the organization;
- Deal appropriately with victory and defeat, adulation and humiliation.
- Promote internal communication that is both open and substantive
- Seek poise in myself and those I lead
- Put the team’s welfare and priorities ahead of my own
- Maintain and ongoing level of concentration and focus that is abnormally high
- Make sacrifice and commitment the organization’s trademark.
- Of course, for this to happen the person in charge must exhibit the principles he or she is asking others to emulate.
Establishing Your Standard Of Performance
- In implementing your own version of the Standard of Performance, the following guidelines are a good reference point:
- Start with the specific actions and attitudes relevant to your team’s performance and production.
- Be clear in communicating your expectation of high effort and execution of your Standard of Performance.
- Many decent individuals will seek lower ground if left to their own inclinations.
- In most cases you are the one who inspires and demands they go upward rather than settle for the comfort of doing what comes easily.
- Push them beyond their comfort zone, expect them to give extra effort.
- Teach “connection and extension”
- Make the expectations and metrics of competence that you demand in action and attitudes from personnel the new reality of your organization.
Bill’s Final Lecture on Leadership
- Bill Walsh loved lists, viewed them as a road map to results.
- A resolute and resourceful leader understands that there are a multitude of means to increase the probability of success.