Success in business has always had a lot in common with success in sports. Both have relied on vision, effort, skill, persistence, and values of teams of people. Historically, both have also generally relied on strong hierarchical leaders who coached their teams with well-designed systems. You think of Vince Lombardi or John Wooden in the same way you think of Sam Walton or Walt Disney. To sustain success in business today, you can continue to look to sports teams for clues. The new model for sustained success includes many more players who also serve as coaches on the field. These “player-coaches” are doing the work that it takes to become great. Some teams just figured it out first.
Having grown up outside Boston, MA, I followed the Red Sox, the Patriots, the Bruins, and the Celtics. By my 11th birthday in 1969, I knew what it meant to be a New England sports fan. Along the way I also learned something about success and what it takes to sustain it.
Spring in Boston meant stories of pitchers and catchers arriving in Scottsdale, Arizona and then Winter Haven, Florida ahead of the trip to legendary Fenway Park for the start of the baseball season. Recent fans might not remember that the long-standing drought of championships (starting in 1918 and ending in 2004) defined the frustration of sports in Boston for generations. There was one trip to the World Series during that period, but the “Impossible Dream” (how’s that for optimism?) season ended in 1967 with a loss to the St. Louis Cardinals.
Starting in the fall of 1960, the Boston Patriots began playing football as part of the original group of American Football League (AFL) teams. As with the Sox, the Patriots made it to the Championship game just once in my early years. They were trounced by the San Diego Chargers by a score of 51–10.
Early winter brought the Bruins onto the ice at the venerable Boston Garden arena. During my first 11 years, the Bruins didn’t make the playoffs eight years in a row and were eliminated before reaching the Stanley Cup Finals in each of the other three years.
Salvation came shortly thereafter when the Celtics began playing basketball at the end of the sports seasons, and all was finally right with the world.
By my 11th birthday, the Boston Celtics had participated in 10 NBA Championship series. They won them all. (Actually, the Celtics won the year before I was born as well, with Bill Russell as MVP.) During the period, Bill was MVP four more times. During his last three seasons with the Celtics, he held the title of player-coach. Those who watched the Celtics closely will tell you that Bill was a player-coach long before they gave him the title.
Lesson learned: Sustained excellence requires player-coaches to be on the field, not on the sidelines.
Recently, I came upon a great article by Steve Wulf of ESPN. Steve offered amazing insight on this topic over 3 years ago:
“You watch LeBron James simultaneously cajole and carry the Heat. You marvel at the way Peyton Manning conducts the Broncos’ offense like a maestro. You see Yadier Molina shepherd the Cardinals’ pitching staff while hitting .367. You can’t imagine where the Bruins would be without Patrice Bergeron setting the pace of play and the tone of teamwork.”
LeBron and Peyton both led their teams to championships just last year!
Bottom line: Groups that achieve sustained excellence don’t look to the sidelines for leadership, they look for Chiefs on the field.
Do you ever step up to play the role of player-coach on your “team”? If you have a Chief title, do your team members to step up to be Chief when the opportunity presents itself? What results could your team drive if everyone viewed themselves as player-coaches? Can you see how much more likely it would be to deliver sustained success?
Incidentally, the player who holds the record for most games played in the NBA also won three championships with the Boston Celtics. He was named one of the 50 greatest players of all time. His name is Robert Parrish. His nickname is “the Chief.”