“I know that I’ll be evaluated in Seattle with wins and losses, as that is the nature of my profession for the last thirty-five years. But our record will not be what motivates me. Years ago I was asked, ‘Pete, which is better: winning or competing?’ My response was instantaneous: ‘Competing. . . because it lasts longer.’”
A manager’s role at a company can often be compared to that of a coach in sports. A coach’s job is to get the best results out of your team, to improve them, to direct them, and to focus them. In college, coaches take on the additional responsibility of recruiting and being the public face of the team. Similarly, engineering managers recruit, hire, fire, determine strategy, and then work with their team to execute on the strategy.
The following excerpt, from former USC football coach Pete Carroll’s book Win Forever, was for me an insightful study in the mentality of coaching – the why’s, and the how’s. I wonder if one day we will see translated into the workplace. Apologies for the length, but it’s that good.
“A head coach’s primary objective is to orchestrate the overall mentality of his team. Great teams commonly display an air of confidence that separates them from others. They have earned the right to be confident through their hard work and success. The best teams utilized that confidence to share a feeling where they not only expect to win, they know they are going to win. That knowing is what allows a team to play in the absence of fear.
In my time as a coach I’ve learned that possibly the greatest detractor from high performance is fear: fear that you are not prepared, fear that you are in over your head, fear that you are not worthy, and ultimately, fear of failure. If you can eliminate that fear-not through arrogance or just wishing difficulties away, but through hard work and preparation-you will put yourself in an incredibly powerful position to take on the challenges you face.
I am a firm believer in the idea that more often than not, people will live up to the expectations you set for them, and when it comes to our players, we set those expectations extremely high from their first day in the program-often even well beyond what the player himself thinks he can achieve-and we make sure they know it. High expectations are one of the most powerful tools we have. But we also understand that, if those expectations are unrealistic, inappropriate for the individual player in question, or so overwhelming and long term that players don’t have the opportunity to enjoy smaller accomplishments along the way, then we are just setting our players up to fail.
Ideally, we want to create an atmosphere or a culture where our players can perform in the absence of fear. It is my job to orchestrate this “knowing we are going to win” mentality. Achieving that means finding ways to prove to players that they can rely on themselves and their teammates to perform at the highest level in the face of any challenge-even losing.
While the Win Forever philosophy sounds great when things are going well, what happens when things go wrong? How do you Win Forever given that everyone loses sometimes? The reality is that, no matter how well you practice, how fully you develop your philosophy, or how effectively you recruit, you will lose now and then. What separates those who have a true Win Forever outlook from those who don’t is the ability to approach that challenge of losing with the same competitive spirit with which they approach everything else. When I say that “everything counts” or that every challenge in life is a chance to compete, I mean it. I don’t’ mean “everything except losing.”
- from Win Forever
- What is “Winning Forever”? It’s shifting the game from wins and losses to process and competition… and making sure that you are competing well.
- In startup terms, I would define the method as finding your focus and being the best at it. Whether it’s having defect-free software, better customer service, an awesome recruiting pipeline, or a more delightful experience, define the game that you want to play, and then nplay the heck out of it, every single day.
- Unlike football, “effort” doesn’t have the same meaning as it does in engineering. In football, everyone’s on the field for 60 minutes of game time, so putting forth a lot of effort in those 60 minutes is the difference between playing well and playing poorly. In contrast, with engineering, working smart is superior to working hard, since the game is never over, and the list of things to do never ends. Still, just as effort can be coached up, working smart can similarly be coached up if it is emphasized.
- Fear is just as poisonous in the workplace as it is in sports. Fear leads to analysis paralysis, to blame games, and to politics (and to the dark side ). Hard work and preparation truly is a good antidote to fear.
- Well-placed confidence is one of the best feelings in life.
What do you think? Does a football coach really have much to teach us about management?