The senior executive and the NFL general manager have to balance the needs of many different parties, including investors, customers, committees, and regulatory bodies. No NFL manager or CEO gets it right 100% of the time, but the stakes are high. The high-profile CEO, like the high-profile GM or NFL coach may even face a certain amount of press scrutiny and public interest in their top talent.
Executive coaching can take many lessons from the NFL – lessons that apply broadly to just about anyone in any organization. Here are 6 executive coaching lessons inspired by the NFL.
1. Non-Motivated Teams Don’t Win
Few things are as sad and frustrating as great talent going to waste. Yet that’s what happens when a business or sports team lacks motivation. However talented team members are, they can get to the point of asking themselves, “Why bother?” if they don’t believe their performance matters in terms of organizational success or making the organization better and more effective. When executive coaching works on motivation, positive results can cascade throughout the organization.
2. Communication and “Clubhouse Leadership” Are Paramount
Executives that don’t communicate through the leaders that report to them or directly with team members can drain motivation and make the team wonder exactly why they’re making the effort. But when vital team members are able to communicate well, show a positive attitude, and make the “locker room culture” enthusiastic and forward-looking, the team is better informed and more motivated to deliver. Top executives, like top coaches, shouldn’t be sequestered away from the team.
3. Silos: Not Good for Teams, Not Good for Business
Maybe you have a great research and development team. And maybe you also have a great marketing team. Separately, these teams can deliver impressive results, just as the NFL team that has both strong offensive and defensive players can. But what happens when R&D and marketing communicate and learn about each other? Just like the offensive and defensive teams that communicate and learn from each other, the results can be taken to a level that’s greater than the sum of its parts.
4. Data Can Inform a Winning Strategy
It’s not always easy to “listen” to data, but high quality data doesn’t lie. While you have to be careful not to conflate correlation with causation, you have to be willing to analyze what the data tells you, because it’s packed with insights. For an NFL team, data may dictate an unorthodox play in specific circumstances. For a business, data may show that when you have done things contrary to “the way it’s done” in your industry, you have achieved surprising success. Let the data tell its story, rather than trying to impose your narrative on the data.
5. Sometimes Small, Manageable Goals Are the Right Goals
Like football teams, business teams can enter a slump. Maybe it’s due to a key person leaving the organization, or perhaps some outside influence (like a natural disaster or theft) strikes a blow. While you always have your overarching goals in the back of your mind, there will be days when the small goals are the ones that matter most. Say a flood in your data center wiped out a significant cache of data. Today’s goal is going to be something like communicating with your cloud backup provider to make a plan to restore the data and help rebuild everyone’s confidence. Conquering the business world can come later.
6. Honesty Is Indispensable
The executive or coach who isn’t honest with team members won’t get results. Yes, sometimes the truth is painful, but sometimes a painful interaction is the one path to making positive change. The great players want to know what they’re doing right and doing wrong, fortunately. The players who are resistant to even the most constructive criticism may ultimately be better off playing for someone else. Without honesty, communication and motivation don’t mean much, as any executive coaching expert will attest.
The elements that work together to make a winning NFL team are similar to those that work together to make an outstanding business team. It’s not a mystery why executive coaching has become so popular among CEOs. I invite you to check out my books on leadership and corporate culture. You’ll notice many parallels between running a great business and running a winning athletic team. Both can require astonishing effort on the part of leaders and team members, but when it works, the results can transcend anything you imagined.