What Were Bill Walsh’s Secrets of Success?

What Were Bill Walsh’s Secrets of Success?

Bill Walsh is generally considered to be the second best coach in the history of the NFL (after Lombardi). People called him a genius because he concocted novel offenses. As head coach and President of the San Francisco 49ers in the 80s, he won four Super Bowls. He embodied technical expertise, vision, creativity and execution excellence. He communicated directly and without equivocation. He knew what he wanted; he was not demure.

Steven Covey had his “seven habits.” Bill had thirteen. Those follow along with the implications for you!

1. Be Yourself: I know business leaders who try to emulate the “style” of others. Not a good idea. What IS a good idea is to integrate things from your observations of others that coincide with your own personal substance, style, and expertise. Only then will you demonstrate consistency, authenticity and commitment.

2. Be Committed to Excellence: I HATE the word excellence as I feel it is too generic. Walsh used it, so I will here.

During three decades in football, Bill developed what he called his “Standards of Excellence.” Those standards were the explicit responsibilities and accountabilities to which he held EVERYONE in the 49ers organization. They were supported by precise objectives for each person. Obviously, a player had different objectives than a person who worked in Public Relations, but the overall standards were the same. Think of the standards as strategies.

3. Be Positive: Many managerial leaders are hyper-critical. They give very little attention to positive reinforcement. They believe that approval and gratitude will encourage complacency. That’s just bull*#%t. If you believe that developing people is a part of your job, then setting expectations and giving encouragement are two of your primary responsibilities. I’ve found that leaders with whom I’ve worked who rely only on negative feedback are insecure people.

4. Be Prepared (Good luck is a product of good planning): Planning is critical. It translates generalities into specifics, long-term vision into short term targets, reduces complexity and gets people with diverse interests on the same page. However, it doesn’t guarantee preparedness for the unexpected. General George Patton said, “No plan survives contact with the enemy.” He went on to say that you still have to have a plan so that as things change, you can examine which of your assumption were faulty.

As a leader, you have to be constantly asking this question: “What happens when what is SUPPOSED to happen, DOESN’T happen?”

5. Be Detail-Oriented: Per Walsh: “Organizational excellence evolves from the perfection of details relevant to performance and production.” I agree with him TO A POINT. As a leader, WHICH details you pay attention to is extremely important. If you are leading 10,000 people through four layers of management, you cannot possibly be plugged into everything. If you are, you’re a micro-manager. You MUST be acquainted in a specific way, however, with the accountabilities of your direct reports and of the critical initiatives managed by their people.

6. Be Organized: A symphony orchestra wouldn’t sound very good without each musician knowing what to play and when to play it. Your job as a leader is to manage in the “white spaces” by making sure that your expectations of individuals are integrated both in planning and execution. The whole must be greater than the sum of the parts.

7. Be Accountable: “Accountable” is a word that business people throw around A LOT! Real accountability means “consequences for the achievement of planned results.” That doesn’t imply that accountability is a negative concept. When salespeople sell more, they should earn more. When project managers consistently miss cost objectives and target dates… you get the idea.

8. Be Near-Sighted and Far-Sighted: The best leaders understand the importance of getting things done TODAY. Simultaneously, however, they integrate their thinking and execution so that short-term priorities don’t compromise long-term direction, or that their long-term perspective isn’t so abstract, ethereal or impractical that they’re useless.

9. Be Fair: I call this being “values-focused.” Both you and your organization must stand for something. That must be reflected in your short-term decisions and actions. If, for example, your company espouses the value of “openness” and yet your leaders consistently “shoot the messenger,” it amounts to hypocrisy.

10. Be Firm: Successful leaders… successful PEOPLE… know where and when to stand their ground. They also understand that compromise is frequently necessary. One cannot make EVERYTHING a matter of principle. Conversely, core values, standards of performance and important principles shouldn’t be forsaken in the interest of expediency.

11. Be Flexible: I’m a planning nut. I subscribe to the adage “If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will take you there.” One has to be mindful of changing circumstances, however. Great managers don’t continue to “march east looking for a sunset” merely because their egos require them to be right, or their stubbornness makes them myopic.

12. Believe in Yourself: To a large degree, people take their behavioral cues from organizational leaders. Those leaders must demonstrate confidence without arrogance. Leaders must have not only confidence in themselves but also in their people.

13. Be a Leader: One of my favorite quotes: “Managers get people to DO what needs to be done; leaders get people to WANT to do what needs to be done.” Management is an exercise in planning, staffing, organizing and controlling. Leadership, by contrast, involves setting direction and aligning people with that direction. Both are important. People will only align/commit themselves to their organization’s direction if they believe in it, if they are supported, and if they understand in a granular way how what they do contributes to overall organizational success. Commitment cannot be mandated; it has to be earned!

There you have it. Now you know SOME of Walsh’s secrets. As a colleague of mine once said: “Simple, but not easy!”

Rand Golletz is the managing partner of Rand Golletz Performance Systems, a leadership development, executive coaching and consulting firm that works with senior corporate leaders and business owners on a wide range of issues, including interpersonal effectiveness, brand-building, sales management, strategy creation and implementation. For more information and to sign up for Rand’s free newsletter, The Real Deal, visit http://www.randgolletz.com

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