Coaches on How to Win at Work

With the big game upon us, we’re turning to some of the greatest coaches in football history for management advice. It turns out that locker-room wisdom can be as useful in the office as it is on the field.

Diving catch of football

“Champions behave like champions before they are champions.”
— Bill Walsh, former head coach of the San Francisco 49ers

Lesson: Perform for the role you want, not the role you have. If an ambitious promotion or project is on the horizon, demonstrate how seamlessly you’d take over relevant responsibilities. Give decision-makers—and yourself—the opportunity to envision you in that role.


One football player in focus, a group in the distance

“So many times through the course of a season you are defined by your backups.”
— Bill Cowher, former head coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers

Lesson: Don’t just manage junior employees; mentor them. You never know who’ll one day step up and play a pivotal role in your success.


Quarterback about to throw the football

“The great ones don’t come cheap.”
— Mike Holmgren, former head coach of the Seattle Seahawks and the Green Bay Packers

Lesson: Invest in your employees. Professional development programs, team-building activities, a pleasant workspace, and, yes, competitive salaries go a long way to retaining valuable talent.


Football in kickstand

“Coaches have to watch for what they don’t want to see and listen to what they don’t want to hear.”
— John Madden, former head coach of the Oakland Raiders

Lesson: Effective leaders know what’s going on in all corners of their business. Regular communication with management has been shown to improve employee engagement, but it can also create a healthy environment where issues are raised — and resolved — before snowballing out of control.


Football teams playing on the field

“If you want to win, do the ordinary things better than anyone else does them, day in and day out.”
— Chuck Noll, former head coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers

Lesson: Hold yourself to the same standards for all of your work—even the mundane tasks you hope to someday delegate to someone else. Tedious responsibilities often lay the unglamorous groundwork for monumental professional victories.


Football sitting on the field

“Failures are expected by losers, ignored by winners.”
— Joe Gibbs, former head coach of the Washington Redskins

Lesson: Even the greatest leaders have stumbled on the road to success. Pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and file those missteps under “motivation.”


Offensive and defensive players about to start a play

“Leadership is a matter of having people look at you and gain confidence, seeing how you react. If you're in control, they're in control.”
— Tom Landry, former head coach of the Dallas Cowboys

Lesson: Lead by example. Great role models inspire with action, so seize the opportunity to develop exemplary employees by being one.


Offensive line players about to start the ball

“There can be no separation in your organization. You win as a team, you lose as a team.”
— Mike Shanahan, former head coach of the Washington Redskins

Lesson: Cultivate an environment where everyone is accountable for successes and failures. Singling one employee out for praise or blame is a quick way to extinguish employee engagement.

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