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Lessons from American Football: Culture and Commitment

American Football

Lessons from American Football: Culture and Commitment

While I don’t follow college football like many of the people around me, I can’t help but notice all the talk about 2021 coaching vacancies, candidates, and hires. Apparently, a lot of coaches were fired this season, leaving many institutions scrambling to secure the services of highly regarded replacements. As I publish this, two coaches recently inked contracts valued at over $10 million a year. For football? Are you kidding me? (clearly, I’m not an American football fan lol)

I may not be interested in the game, but I am intrigued by how athletic administrators describe their programs to would be suitors. The leading descriptors? Culture and Commitment. While these “2Cs” must have nuanced meanings within specific athletic departments, they are universally relevant to any conversation about leadership. The leaders we hire for our organizations, as well as the leaders we aspire to be, must be attuned to the 2Cs.

Leadership is contextual. The way one leads in organization X may be quite different than how one leads in organization Y. Further, some great leaders are just not great fits for either X or Y. Could the head of sales for a small local car dealership, as talented as they may be viewed in this setting, lead the sales team for a large global technology company? Would the Chief Commercial Officer for a large global technology company be a good fit at the small local car dealership, even if they could match compensation? Diverse environments and cultures demand different skills, leadership gifts and deliverables. When it comes to recruitment, it’s vital to discern whether a particular leader fits the environment, the expectations for the role AND the culture. As I stated in a much earlier article, the candidate who looks great on paper may be a terrible fit in the culture. A key way to determine fit is to bring a cross section of your culture and employees into the interview process. Many can sniff out a bad fit in just one interview.

Are you an aspiring leader? It’s your role to understand your culture and lead from within it. Employees who feel understood and appreciated by those who lead them are going to be happy, productive employees. Do your best to learn the stories of the people who work for you. Get to know the company’s story too, including significant historical events, legacy leadership styles, and the leadership and drive of those progressing the organizational vision. You may even find that your leadership era will be defined by the cultural shifts you initiate for the sustainability of the organization.

A few weeks ago, the football coach of a prominent university received a better offer from a competitor. He took the job while eating a meal with a prospect he was recruiting for the team he’d been coaching the previous decade. The hire was announced by social media before the coach had even informed his previous employer and team. The conversation with the former team, announced via the coach’s Twitter feed, lasted all of 3 minutes.

Business is cutthroat at times. Sadly, we all know this. However, our commitment to the organizations we serve and the people we lead demands a certain level of decorum and humility. If you’ve been hired to lead within an organization, it is your job to be fully committed to the organization’s vision and mission from the day you start the work until the day you hand in your building pass. If you’re not sure you can muster your full commitment to the organization when the offer comes, don’t take it. Like it or not, leaders model commitment for the members of the team. The people who work for you need to see that you are committed to the organization and to them, personally. If your commitment wavers, then you need to ask why. If it’s time to take the job that offers a better situation, it’s important to end the current work well. If possible, thank those who brought you to the previous organization for the opportunity (read my two prior articles on this very topic). More importantly, let those who went into the trenches with you – your team – know that their work, their commitment, and their friendship have been invaluable.
Culture and commitment. Simple descriptions of significant leadership keystones. Know your culture, choose to thrive in it, or change it, if necessary and ensure your committed to it.