College football season reached its pinnacle (Roll Tide) last month, with Alabama's 45-40 win over Clemson. And, now, as we draw closer to this Sunday's Super Bowl, the nation's biggest media and sporting event, I thought it would be fun to examine what lessons football can teach entrepreneurs and business leaders alike.
Professional athletes, after all, are passionate about what they do. They’re fully dedicated to conditioning, eating the right things and staying in shape year-round. Long gone are the days where you’d show up to camp to get in shape, in order to be ready for the season. Like entrepreneurship, athletics is a 24/7 job. There’s no quitting time, and if you’re not fully into it, you’re in the wrong business.
So, if you’re asking yourself what Cam Newton, Jerricho Cotchery or Peyton Manning can teach you about business, stick around and think outside the box with me. Here are five things entrepreneurs and football players have in common.
As your company’s CEO, you are the quarterback of your operation, and like an NFL quarterback, you need to know the entire playbook by heart in order to know when to pass, when to rush and when to run the ball yourself for yards. All of this happens under extreme duress.
To be a strong leader, you need to demonstrate consistency, patience, adaptability, communication, decisiveness and confidence. And, you have to do your homework.
To properly execute the plays, however, you need a team you can rely on to fully implement your playbook, spearhead new projects and manage the process without direct and constant instruction. No matter how much pressure you’re under, you must remain patient, adapt to circumstances and remain confident, as well as be organized, well informed and willing to take the initiative.
If you delegate and lead by example, your leadership lessons will trickle down to the rest of the team. Pretty soon, you’ll all be drinking the same Kool-Aid.
2. Work Ethic
Let’s start with the basics: No one’s perfect! Some have more natural ability than others, but there’s no such thing as perfection -- not in sports or in business. Hall of Fame coach Vince Lombardi once said, “Perfection is not attainable. But if we chase perfection, we can catch excellence.” Lombardi got it. If you’re busy searching for perfection, you might miss a lot of opportunities along the way.
Both athletes and entrepreneurs strive to achieve perfection -- or something as close to it as they can achieve. And in order to do that, they need to have the highest possible work ethic in order to beat the competition, retain clients and provide the best service possible.
Lasting success is achieved by hard work, even when no one’s watching. After all, if football -- like baseball and business -- were easy, everyone would be doing it.
A football team is made up of multiple individuals, all playing a different role/position. A coach’s job is to organize these multiple units and turn them into one cohesive unit, capable of moving in the same direction and executing all of the playbook flawlessly.
It’s the same in business. You have to constantly manage a great number of tasks -- from sales and invoicing, to customer service and even trash removal. Not to mention that you need to take a slew of different personalities and turn them into a well-oiled machine.
Entrepreneurs wear many hats, but they need to align their goals and strategy and have their employees do the same. As an entrepreneur yourself, you should take advantage of every possible business solution offered to you in order to streamline the processes and organize your departments.
Once you align all your objectives, as your business grows, you and your team will be in a better position to succeed.
4. Plan B
Stuff happens . . . or so the saying goes. A deal gone wrong, or someone saying the wrong thing at the wrong time or a hurricane canceling your meeting -- you name it, it will happen. What’s your plan? If you want your business to survive, you must be adaptable and flexible. This entails always having a "plan B" in your back pocket, since no one is able to predict the future and fully safeguard your business from setbacks.
This past football season, the Dallas Cowboys lost their star player, Dez Bryant, for a while. And while the rest of the NFC East wasn’t shedding any tears over that one, the Cowboys had to adapt, and adopt a new game plan in order to try totread water.
Sadly, for Cowboys fans this loss was too big to overcome. On the other side of the equation, Patriots head coach Bill Belichick has been able to not only adapt to unforeseen circumstances, but also maintain a high level of play year after year without major drop-offs.
He has achieved this by teaching his players not just plan A, but also plans B, C, D, E and F -- everything from best- to worst-case scenario. By implementing this approach, Belichick's players can adapt to every potential situation and proceed accordingly without causing major disruptions. This tactic should be part of your business plan, too.
Entrepreneurs and football players alike eat, sleep and breathe their craft. They are passionate about what they do and how they do it. By giving your business or your team your "all," day in and day out, you'll see the fruits of your labor realized, and displayed for everyone to see. The rush of adrenaline that results will remind you why you became an entrepreneur -- or a professional athlete -- in the first place.
The man known by his fellow analysts as “Coach,” Jimmy Johnson, once said, “The only thing worse than a coach or CEO who doesn’t care about his people is one who pretends to care. People can spot a phony every time.” He’s right!
If the CEO of the company is passionate about what he or she doing -- but the employees aren’t -- a massive disconnect may result that can put the business in peril. Instead, every individual should have a hand in the company's success; and to achieve this, one of the many hats the CEO has to wear is "motivator-in-chief."
This doesn’t have to be a massive endeavor (you’re not running a daycare), but it could be a quick lunch, a coffee run or any other just-as-mundane opportunity to meet, to find out what makes your employees tick and what’s the right approach to get them motivated.
Jimmy Johnson was able to identify what inspired each and every one of his players and used that information to get them excited in order to guarantee their best performance. I agree with Coach Johnson; the proof is in the pudding.
Whatever you do to motivate yourself and your employees to thrive in this uber-competitive world, you must remember the following: You will screw up. You will fumble the ball (literally or figuratively) and that will be okay. Remember? No one’s perfect. You must define your vision and have a plan of attack -- or several plans of attack. Also, success will come more as a result of gut instincts and preparation than of luck.
Whether you run a business or run a football, you'll see plenty of similarities between the two. (Of course, only one of you has the big signing bonus, the huge fan base and that super-lucrative shoe deal.) Be sure to learn from them.
In the spirit of impartiality -- GO BRONCOS/PANTHERS! You pick the winner.