You don't have to be a football fan to get a lot out of this story from the New York Times Magazine about an unusual coach at Texas Tech that has taken a team full of B players and set records.
I'm not a football fan, but this is a great read, and had some good lessons for business and leadership. Here are a few of the lessons I saw:
Don't do what the big guys are doing
Texas Tech can't attract the calibre of player that the elite schools can. So they can only win if they play a different kind of game, using a different strategy. They play a passing game, with more receivers than most teams. They spread out their offense so the Quarterback can see what's going on. They spend time on the field studying their opponent's reactions to various plays. Then they use that learning to advantage.
If you run a business and you aren't the best funded, don't have the best locations, and aren't the market share leader, you'd better have a different plan than the big guy. Because you can only lose playing the big guy's game.
Change the nature of competition
This is a major strategy in negotiation, and clearly it works in football too. Don't accept the conventional wisdom about how to win -- change the game to your advantage.
This is much easier said than done, of course. But you can do these things if you think carefully about your customers, the competitors, the dynamics of your market space, and your own areas of strength. Can you design better products that make your competitor's distribution advantages irrelevant? Can you provide customized service that makes your competitor's pricing irrelevant?
Give your staff the room to use their own judgement -- they're the ones on the field watching the action
Managers act as if you need to give front line staff full latitude or no latitude, and often seem to ignore the middle ground. Coach Leach calls the main play, but the QB customizes it each time, based on what he sees happening in front of him. They don't have as many plays as other teams, but they customize them a lot based on local conditions. Players don't have to memorize a giant play-book -- they memorize the main formations, and the variations.
When we limit the ability of staff to respond to what is in front of them, we reduce the chances that we will succeed. We also remove most of the fun and intrinsic rewards from the job.
Have you found the balance between too much direction and not enough?
You Don't have to be a Great Player to be a Great Coach
Leach played football only in high school. He studied law at Pepperdine. Then he decided he wanted to become a football coach.
A lot of people in business excuse themselves from coaching because they don't think they are better at -- say selling -- than the people working for them. That's not what good coaching is all about. It's about observation, strategy, direction, focus and feedback.
Motivational Speeches and the Importance of Tempo
What are you saying to people at your daily huddles before the start of play?
Here's what Leach says to his players:
One - Do your job. DO - YOUR - JOB!
Two - Play together with great tempo
Three - Your body is your sword. Swing your sword. SWING - YOUR - SWORD!
The last bit comes from an ongoing pirate ship analogy that Leach has developed. The tempo thing is interesting too: Leach thinks that teams that are winning and teams that are losing fall off tempo and slow down. He thinks the team with the best tempo wins.
When you are in a restaurant and the service is great, look around you at the wait staff. They are usually moving in a rapid motion ballet, scanning the room, bending around corners, everyone working at a high tempo together.
A trading desk that's having a hot day on the markets looks just like this.
Tempo counts. How's the tempo in your shop today?