“Even when you have an organization brimming with talent, victory is not always under your control. There is no guarantee, no ultimate formula for success. It all comes down to intelligently and relentlessly seeking solutions that will increase your chance of prevailing. When you do that, the score will take care of itself.”
~ Bill Walsh
When Bill Walsh took over as head coach of the San Francisco 49ers, they were the worst team in the National Football League and had also just completed their worst season in the team’s history.
The immediate future didn’t look much brighter.
After spending a decade in the NFL in various roles as an assistant coach, Walsh had left the league a few years prior to accept the head coaching job at Stanford. During his two years there, he led Stanford’s football program to consecutive winning seasons, two bowl game victories, and a consistent ranking in college football’s Top 25. Yet Walsh’s appointment as Head Coach was greeted with little fanfare, enthusiasm, or expectations. Headlines from the San Francisco Examiner’s announcement of the hiring included such gems as “Few know and fewer care…,” “A day in the life of a franchise…,” and “Bill Walsh era begins with no promises.” In the latter headline, the writer Frank Blackman offered up this observation:
“In addition to being highly pragmatic, this appears to be essential Walsh. No ridiculous promises of Super Bowls in two years.”
It would take Walsh just a bit longer than that.
Exactly three years and two weeks after Blackman’s remark, Bill Walsh triumphantly hoisted the Lombardi trophy into the air following the first Super Bowl victory in 49ers history. He would go on to win two more Super Bowls for the team and retire as not only the greatest coach the San Francisco 49ers franchise has ever seen, but as one of the most celebrated coaches in the history of the NFL.
As Walsh’s quote above suggests, he accomplished it by focusing his attention beyond the scoreboard. Walsh laid out what he referred to as his “Standard of Performance” and used that to define and measure his success, knowing that in time success on the scoreboard would follow.
Here in 2020, as states throughout the country begin the process of slowly reopening and transitioning to a new normal, many businesses leaders face a situation similar to the one Walsh faced when he took over the leadership of the 49ers: tough times in the rearview mirror and no easy victories on the horizon. As such, business leaders today would do well to make note of Walsh’s advice for remaining focused on what really matters during tough times.
This list appears in Walsh’s book, The Score Takes Care of Itself.
1. Concentrate on what will produce results rather than on the results, the process rather than the prize.
2. Exhibit an inner toughness emanating from four of the most effective survival tools a leader can possess: expertise, composure, patience, and common sense.
3. Maintain your level of professional ethics and all the details of your own Standard of Performance.
4. Don’t Isolate yourself. Keep in mind that as troubles mount, your relationships with personnel become even more critical. They are the key to holding the staff together. (Don’t get too friendly, however. Familiarity can be deadly.)
5. Don’t let the magnitude of the challenge take you away from the incremental steps necessary to effect change. Continue to be detail oriented.
6. Exude an upbeat and determined attitude. Never, ever express doubt, but avoid an inappropriate sunny optimism in dark times.
7. Hold meetings with staff educating them on what to expect; teach them that the immediate future may be a rough ride but that things will change under your leadership and with their support.
8. Don’t label some concept or new plan the thing that will “get us back on track.” Keep in mind that simple remedies seldom solve a complex problem.
9. Ensure that an appropriate level of courtesy and respect is extended to all members of the organization. When things are tough, civility is a great asset.
10. Don’t plead with employees to “do better.”
11. Avoid continual threatening or chastising.
12. Deal with your immediate superior(s) on a one-to-one, ongoing basis. Expect betrayal if results are not immediate (you extend the time before betrayal occurs by keeping your superiors in the loop).
Few business leaders ever get to experience the tangible acknowledgement of success the way Bill Walsh did with his three Super Bowl trophies. Yet Walsh would be the first to tell you: it’s not about the trophies. It’s about the excellence created throughout all levels of the organization in the pursuit.
As states and cities reopen and businesses return to their own competitive playfields, how will you and your company define success? Where will you focus your attention when looking beyond the scoreboard? Click To Tweet
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SOURCES AND FURTHER READING:
San Francisco Examiner – Wednesday, January 10, 1979
Bill Walsh, with Steve Jamison and Craig Walsh: The Score Takes Care of Itself