Whether you’re a football fan or not (and in case you’re wondering: I fall squarely in the “NOT” category), this an intriguing conundrum:
How did one man take the NFL’s (arguably) worst team and, in the space of two years, produce Super Bowl champions?
In The Score Takes Care of Itself: My Philosophy of Leadership, Bill Walsh shares the secrets to his impressive success as the head coach of the San Francisco 49ers.
He talks honestly about his struggles, successes, and the principles that allowed him to achieve great things. By laying out the guidelines he himself followed throughout his career, Walsh, along with Steve Jamison — the originator of the book, provides the reader with an excellent protocol for success in both leadership and life.
The Score Takes Care of Itself
This was a remarkable book, with far more wisdom than I could pack into any one blog post.
The following are some of the concepts that really hit home for me:
Let others know exactly what you expect from them.
Bill Walsh had impeccable standards for all members of his organization — be they ticket-takers or superstar quarterbacks.
Immediately upon his arrival as head coach, he made his requirements crystal clear. He called this set of requirements the Standard of Performance.
Instill in yourself and others the desire to perfect the daily habits and practices that lead to success in your field.
Walsh understood that Super Bowls aren’t won by players riled up by a fiery and inspiring locker-room pep talk, moments before the big game.
Super Bowls are won by players who have practiced, day in and day out, their individual skills with utmost precision and care, by players who have drilled to perfection their part in each of the team’s plays, and by coaches who have prepared not only a strategy for the game, but multiple contingency plans (for weather, unruly crowds, injuries, etc).
In short: you can’t be an “overnight success” in the Super Bowl — even if it looks that way.
You have to show up, every damn day, and put in the grueling work. And you have to learn to love that process.
Then, the score will take care of itself.
Treat everyone equally, and well.
Walsh didn’t buddy up to the superstars, and he didn’t talk down to the hourly workers.
In his mind, every member of the 49ers organization was crucial to their success, and deserved respect accordingly.
THE HARD EDGE
Don’t tolerate disrespect.
Walsh didn’t hesitate to boot great talent from his organization, if that talent proved disrespectful.
If anyone on the team showed disregard for what the organization stood for, or chose to ignore the Standard of Performance, he strongly believed that attitude was both poisonous to the entire team’s success and highly contagious.
Even when he knew it would be hurtful for the individual, or a significant loss for the team, his commitment to the long-term success of the 49ers was his guide.
He was willing to take a temporary loss for the ultimate greater good.
Take the high road.
Among the bosses Walsh had in his football career, two stand out in the realm of integrity.
Earlier in his career, the first of these two bosses passed over Walsh for an important promotion, for which he had ostensibly been groomed, while also spreading negative untruths about him to other teams’ managers, to prevent him from advancing his career elsewhere.
The second of these bosses, later in Walsh’s career, showed integrity. An opportunity arose for Walsh — on another team — and even though it would cost him Walsh’s talent on his own team, that boss told him to go for it, and gave his glowing recommendation.
Walsh never forgot that example of integrity. Despite pouring his energies into training and teaching his assistant coaches, with all of the dedication and effort due his Standard of Performance, Walsh still always encouraged those coaches to follow opportunities elsewhere, if it would advance their own careers.
“While you were 49er, you are expected to give it your all, but Bill was very enlightened in the way he supported the lives and careers of employees beyond just what they could do for his team.” – John McVay (P35)
In fact, as a testament to both his integrity and his skills as a teacher, no other head coach in the NFL has had as many assistant coaches go on to become head coaches in their own right as Bill Walsh has.
In the darkest of times, keep focusing on the daily practices of success.
In one of my favorite passages, Walsh shares a brutally humbling experience.
After two seasons of hard work and improvement, he was expecting to bring the 49ers “Roaring Back!” (the third season’s official slogan) to success.
Instead, they encountered an eight game losing streak and lost the confidence of many.
It’s important to remember here that — NFL head coach or not — Bill Walsh was still a human being. This defeat was crushing, and made him doubt everything he had accomplished, as well as the methods that had gotten him there.
But instead of letting the emotions take him, he began to evaluate all the components of the season’s defeat. And what he found was striking.
In fact, they had won more games in that one season than in both of the previous seasons combined. Five of those eight defeats were lost by a mere five points or less. And after the brutal losing streak, the 49ers still won three of the season’s remaining five games – showing great strength of will, and a refusal to give in to a “why bother” attitude.
The data also reminded him that two critical team members had been injured early in that awful season, and thus the 49ers had been playing at a handicap without them. Thankfully, both would be returning healthy and ready for the following season.
Lastly, he identified areas of weakness that contributed to their eight losses, and made plans to rectify them for the next season. Electing to use the early draft pick (one of the few benefits of having a lousy season) on a controversial-but-ultimately-well-chosen player, he was able to shore up their weakest position.
And several months later, the San Francisco 49ers were Super Bowl champions.
How easy it would have been, after their grueling and exhausting efforts garnered such disappointing results, to succumb to the frustration and disappointment. To buy in to the rhetoric that the 49ers were an “unsavable” team, and let the Standard of Performance slide into laziness and apathy.
Instead, Walsh was committed to the process. He dug into the facts and realized that his team was steadily improving; that his methods were working.
And he kept moving forward with precision and dedication, and succeeded in leading one of the greatest turnarounds in NFL history.
Bill Walsh’s legacy is well earned. This book was truly inspiring.
I will leave you with Bill’s own description of his Standard of Performance:
“My Standard of Performance–the values and beliefs within it–guided everything I did in my work at San Francisco and are defined as follows: 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; be fair; demonstrate character; honor the direct connection between details and improvement, and 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; take pride in my effort as an entity separate from the result of that effort; be willing to go the extra distance for the organization; deal appropriately with victory and defeat, adulation and humiliation (don’t get crazy with victory nor dysfunctional with loss); promote internal communication that is both open and substantives (especially under stress); 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; and make sacrifice and commitment the organization’s trademark.” (P16)
Non Fiction Bingo 2018 Progress
The Score Takes Care of Itself: My Philosophy of Leadership was my selection for the “Leadership” category of #nonficbingo2018:
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