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Thursday, December 15, 2011

What It Takes to Be #1 : Vince Lombardi on Leadership

David A. Zimmer
David A. Zimmer, PMP
Chief Business Strategist
American Eagle Group

What It Takes To Be #1: Vince Lombardi on Leadership
by Vince Lombardi, Jr.

Vince Lombardi is a legend to many who are professional football (American football) fans and to many other leadership students. He is best known as the head coach of the Green Bay Packers during the 1960s. He took an under-achieving team full of very talented players and created champions who won numerous championship games. Most notably, he created an attitude of winning.

Lombardi is known for his dogmatic approach to life, the desire to win through preparation and dedication to the cause. Some may see him as a tyrant, but after reading this book, I'm firmly convinced his dogmatic approach came from conviction.

The book describes his leadership approach. It explained many common quotes attributed to Lombardi, such as "Winning isn't everything, it's the only thing." I never really liked that quote because it eliminates the "win-win" situation we project managers try to achieve during conflict resolution. I learned the quote really was, "The will to win isn't everything, it's the only thing." That is a major difference and one project managers can leverage.

Overall, the book did a great job of describing Lombardi's approach to leadership: conviction and dedication to the "goal." Every fiber of his being was focused to align his team to the goal of winning - the performance measure of football teams. For us, the goal might be something else, but the overall theme is intently focusing on the goal. Align our thoughts, attitudes and actions to achieving the desired outcome.

After reading the book, I had two reactions: these principles apply to today, but the approach must change. We no longer live in a world of command & control of the 1960s. I don't mean we live in a world of the manby-pamby, wishy-washy, decisions are made by votes. Leaders need to lead, but leaders must create an environment where decisions and leading take into consideration feedback.

Lombardi used a very top-down style of coaching. It was his way or the highway. Either the players did what he asked, or they were asked to leave. Players had a limited amount of say in how plays were run, practice was conducted, or how the game was played. And it worked back then, but certainly doesn't work in corporations today.

But something has happened since that time. Society has changed over the 50 years since then. Particularly, during the 1960s, we started to question authority, understand leaders have limited views of situations, and those on the ground have important information necessary to make the decisions necessary for success. Dictators are regularly overthrown and despots fall.

That is not to say that leaders shouldn't lead. It doesn't mean we run democracies. It means we must understand our team, its individuals' talents and mannerisms, the members' needs and concerns to factor in the best methods of achieving the goals, to reaching the destination.

This book has some very good points and ideas. I have pulled much from it for use with my teams. But what I have done is to take its principles and tailor them based on my experiences, research and reading other leadership experts information and update it for today's society. Leading people today, especially the younger generations takes skill and understanding that Lombardi did not need or have. So, take the points established by the book and fit them to today.

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