Pats Football: a Lesson in Leadership

Justin Brodeur / April 20, 2017

NFL fans, Patriots’ opponents, and the media “know” Bill Belichick (BB) as the gruff coach who only talks about the current opponent, the three phases of their game, and the task at hand. He doesn’t give up much information in the fear that it can give his opponents an edge. He’s as paranoid as Steve Jobs was when it came to new product releases.

In January 2015, after winning the AFC Championship against the Indianapolis Colts, BB held his weekly radio interview with sports radio WEEI’s Dale Arnold, Michael Holley, and Jerry Thornton. The questions ranged from DeflateGate to his decision to put in Tom Brady for one play so that he could get a standing ovation from the crowd.

Michael Holley asked one question that was especially intriguing.

“Guys who have played for you have all talked about how you don’t only coach the players, but you coach the coaches. How do you compare coaching the coaches as opposed to coaching Tom Brady or Chandler Jones?”

Maybe it was the Moet from the previous night’s hat and t-shirt celebration that had him feeling right, but the gruff coach gave us roughly two minutes of gold that company builders should take note of.

Be on the same page

“The most important thing for all of us is to be on the same page, as a football team, is to have everybody on the same page. So when you have a coaching staff of 14-15 assistant coaches, part of the challenge as a headcoach is to have all of the coaches on the same thing so that we’re not giving cross messages or we’re not emphasizing things that somebody else is demphasizing. Part of my job as a head coach is to get everybody on the same page, whatever page that is. “ — BB

As a company builder, I know that nothing drives my staff crazier than getting cross messages about projects, tasks, processes, or initiatives. How can we move in the same direction successfully if one partner is demphasizing something that another partner is emphasizing? We can’t.

The Patriots keep everyone on the same page by having meetings according to their position. At Pidalia we hold short and focused meetings built around small working groups (kind of like how quarterbacks, o-line, d-line, linebackers, kickers, etc have their own positional meetings).

By compartmentalizing the meetings to specific groups like partners, or sales and business development, or engineering we can get all of the individual components of the company on the same page so that when we come together at an all-hands meeting we are really all moving in the same direction.

When we’re not physically meeting we stay in unison by using tools like Hipchat and Solve360.

Take input and apply it towards the team’s goal

“I take a lot of input from them [the coaches], a lot of times they suggest we need to do more of this or approach something that way. I take that input and regurgitate as to, this is a team goal for us — this is what we have to do.” — BB

Any good manager knows that it’s important to listen to feedback, critique, and ideas, but its necessary to pick and choose what gets implemented.

We keep an open culture and solicit feedback. The feeling is that each member of our staff has a unique perspective and something to offer. In turn, everyone feels vested. The trick is to balance that feedback against what we’re trying to do as a company.

The question to ask oneself is simple, “does this piece of information help us reach this organizational goal.” If everyone is on the same page the answer should be just as easy to answer as the question is to ask.

But hey, your mileage may vary.

Staff size matters

“I think it’s always hard, with really big staffs, just too many people to manage to try to get a consistent message. We always tended to be on the smaller size relative to other teams in the league. Part of that is just an effort to get a consistent message.” — BB

We’re small and we use it to our advantage. Yeah, there are advantages to being huge, especially from a resources perspective, but there are also huge drawbacks. Being big means that you need to spend more time keep everyone on the same page and working towards the common goal. At some point you’re working to organize instead of being organized to work.

With having a small staff, it becomes super important to get good at hiring. In BB’s case, he’s been around for forty-some-odd years in football, so he knows a good coach from a bum.

In our case, we’ve made some hires that haven’t worked out. We’ve made other hires that have paid dividends. It’s one of those things where you have to gain the experience first-hand to be good at it.

Culture inside and out

“It’s not telling the coaches how to coach, it’s just getting everybody on the same page — the coaching staff, the players, the leadership on the team, the younger or newer players who may not be familiar with certain things. It’s just trying to get everybody together and pulling the rope in the same direction.” — BB

Everyone pulling the rope in the same direction — that’s culture in a nutshell. It’s not about the ping pong tables in the kitchen, the office beer club, or casual Fridays. Those are nice comraderie things, but they’re not culture.

Culture is being accountable. Culture is doing your job. Culture is responsibility. Culture is seeking feedback and synthesizing it all down. Culture is to always strive and prosper. Culture is shipping.

Closing thoughts

It’s amazing what Bill Belichick has accomplished in his 40 years in the NFL. He’s helped to build something truly successful in New England, and can teach any company builder a thing or two.

It’s all about people throughout the organization being on the same page, emphasizing and de-emphasizing the same things. It was interesting that he said that he found it harder to organize larger coaching staffs. With that said, the economy that he employs with football business operations and coaching players and coaches is amazing.

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