"Individual commitment to a group effort -- that is what makes a team work, a company work, a society work, a civilization work." Vince Lombardi, legendary head coach of the Green Bay Packers
Just as HR executives are responsible for overseeing the functionality and proficiency of their organization's teams, professional sport executives and NCAA coaches are charged with maintaining teams that perform at peak capacity.
These leaders are masters of motivation, have a keen understanding of how to build a successful and competitive climate, and employ methods that may serve to benefit HR executives interested in getting the most out of the corporate teams they serve.
Achievements in the fast-paced world of collegiate and professional sports require a precise and dedicated leadership approach. In working to better understand that approach, we have conducted three distinct studies and nearly 20 interviews with professional franchise executives (i.e., general managers and owners), NCAA Championship coaches, and coaches who have achieved success at the international level.
From the insights of Dan Rooney, owner of the Pittsburgh Steelers, to Dave Pietramala, head lacrosse coach of the Johns Hopkins Blue Jays, there are lessons to be learned about how to drive teams to continually improve. These leaders are methodic in their approach and determined to set an example of commitment, while employing a variety of inspirational tactics and tools.
To the Job -- The individual commitment needed to inspire team success is best articulated as a total investment to the group, an expression of a genuine passion. The coaches and executives we've spoken with love what they do.
For them, the job is life and life is the job. As one national championship coach stated, "I have never been somebody who's tried to separate his job and his life ... . I don't say anything differently to my players that I'm going to say to my son."
To the Team -- Just as these leaders are dedicated to their job, they are also dedicated to the people who comprise their teams. They believe that their attitude is continually being monitored and appraised, and they want to project an air of positivism, confidence, and dedication.
They are devoted to individual growth, demanding the same of themselves that they demand of others. They want to continually improve, learning through conferences, conversations, and hiring younger assistants with fresh ideas.
To the Individual - These leaders are also committed to individuality within the group. They respect the individual parts of the team, acknowledging that everyone is different.
Herein lies a key perspective, as these leaders are not just committed to the group, but embrace the fact that each individual requires a unique level of attention in order for the group to be fully functional. In this sense, these coaches and executives take time to know their players and staff on personal levels, committing to the individual as a means to best inspire team achievements.
From the paint jobs and posters in locker rooms to the stories shared in the huddle, efforts to advance the pursuit of success are seemingly ubiquitous. While these leaders employ a host of inspirational tools and methods, their basic approach consists of four fundamental components: vision, goals, rewards and accountability.
Vision -- Vision is singular, succinct and specific. The vision is the gold at the end of the rainbow, and employed to guide the general path to success.
Stories that relate to the guiding visions of some of the coaches and executives we've spoken with include Bill Tierney's (renowned collegiate coach) famed prediction of winning a national championship on the backs of his first recruiting class at Princeton, and Bill Poilians' (GM and president of the Indianapolis Colts) claim that the Colts were to focus on winning the Super Bowl.
At the time of sharing these expectations, both teams would have greatly improved their records by simply going .500, let alone winning a championship. Yet, both claims became realities, and the initial vision set forth by the team's leader was the guiding force.
Goals -- While vision is critical, it cannot be sustained by itself. Goals act as guideposts for the eventual attainment of a vision. Goals related to the smaller, controllable components of a season add up to the eventual achievement of the larger vision.
Winning league games, practicing certain skills daily, meeting lifting and fitness requirements comprise monotonous components of more celebrated achievements. These goals are often developed and agreed upon by players, coaches and executives alike, and serve to monitor the continual progress of the team.
Rewards and Accountability -- Just as vision is supported by goals, goals are supported by fine-tuned systems of rewards and accountability.
Leaders in the sporting world are quick to give a pat on the back for success, and just as quick at showing disdain when goals are not met. Rewards don't have to be significant and must represent the respected values of the team.
For example, honoring an individual for unselfish play with a sticker is celebrated praise. On the flip-side, team sprints, benching players and one-on-one talks with poor-performers about how they're not achieving their potential are all tried-and-true methods of holding a team accountable.
As HR executives, a great deal can be gained from studying the methods of athletic leaders. Competitive athletic teams are similar to the corporate entities you work with daily, and coaches and sport executives are responsible for maintaining consistently high levels of team success.
While commitment and inspiration are the cornerstones of motivating a team, these leaders never stop pushing. From the T-shirts they issue and community-service projects they lead, to their praise for individual contributions and the legacy each team creates in representing the larger organization, they are continually striving to get the most out of their teams with a never-ending enthusiasm that may also inspire you.
Daniel Leidl, Ph.D. and Joe Frontiera, Ph.D. are managing partners of Meno Consulting, a boutique firm focusing on leadership-development, team-building, motivation and organizational culture. They can be contacted directly at firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.