Leadership over playbooks & pedigree By Ted Sundquist
After every NFL regular season cranks down and the playoff picture begins to become clear, so too does the thermostat crank up underneath those teams on the outside looking in. Rumors run rampant as to Head Coaches and General Managers that might soon be part of the federal government’s monthly unemployment report. And as hot as the names on the “to be fired” list are, there are an equal number of lists beginning to speculate who their replacements will be.
I’ve been down both sides of this road. While GM of the Denver Broncos many in the media would call me to search out and speculate as to who was next in line. They’d want to know the “hot candidates” in hopes of being the first to pump out a Top 10 list. This pool was filled with a name from here, another from there. Most GM’s and club Presidents aren’t looking to lose their own talent and steer clear of publicly promoting someone off their club’s staff (unless otherwise asked to).
Names on “the list” are generated from recent successful clubs or even as favors for a snippet of information released during the season. Sort of a “You scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours” arrangement.
The Football Educator wrote an article last season about the perils of “buying the binder” and how many in NFL Management hire front office executives and head coaches in the hopes of replicating the success created in another organization. Their focus is on the results of the team they’re looking to raid and not on the candidate they’re raiding.
“Come make my team the Packers, the Patriots, the Giants, or Steelers. We want to be just like them.” The interview begins to shift away from how the individual qualities of the candidate and more on the playbook or process they were privy to.
Copy cats don’t always win
Danger, danger, danger. Certainly the most successful leaders and managers come from past successful experiences. You’d be hard pressed to find many great coaches and executives with a sub .500 resume. But be wary of trying to Xerox another dynamic. It truly doesn’t work that way. Having participated on both sides of the table, I’m amazed at how much the INTERVIEWER doesn’t know about what they’re looking for and or how to ask for it.
There are some outstanding X & O men in the assistant coaching ranks and an equal number of “cracker jack” scouts. But the skills built over an entire career, or for that matter a shallow one, used to formulate a game plan or put together a player evaluation aren’t the same ones necessary to lead a team to the top.
Find the right fit
In fact leadership ability and so-called “executive presence” can’t be manufactured in this manner. My friends Beau Morgan and Dr. Stephen Long of Roscoe Martin Executive Search & Consulting like to focus on “goodness of fit”. Some organizations might be looking for a “strategist”. Others might be in need of an “executor” or well skilled “recruiter”. Still others may need an ultimate “team builder”. Unless the very decision makers looking for leadership answers understand “who they are and what they need”, they’re most likely going to fall victim to their own ignorance and try to cram a square peg in a round hole.
It seems self-evident and to a degree it is. But most of those in the football industry have convinced owners, presidents, athletic directors, and other top level management that they “Don’t know what they don’t know”. Football is a complicated game and should be led by only those that truly understand it. The very principles that put these men/women in the corner office are thrown out the door when selecting club leadership. The core characteristics of what makes a good Police Chief, Bank President, Military Officer, or any other high level leadership position should be first and foremost considered when choosing a Head Coach or General Manager. Success, in all aspects, is generated from the same place.
Problem solving, crisis management, communication techniques, flexibility and “big picture” thought processing should always trump spread formations, all-conference players, years on the road, recruiting, or coaching trees. You might ask, “How else do you learn without first being given the opportunity?” Fair point, but in today’s NFL and major college football programs OJT doesn’t play well to the “win now or else” mentality of the very people making these selections.
So as you develop your own Top 10 lists of future executive candidates, focus less on where they’ve been and more on the manner in which they intend to get there.
Ted Sundquist is a U.S. Air Force Academy graduate, a 2-time Super Bowl Champion & former General Manager of the NFL’s Denver Broncos, and author of the new book Taking Your Team To The Top – How to build and manage great teams like the pros. Follow him on Twitter @Ted_Sundquist and on TheFootballEducator.com