Authors – Bill Walsh, Steve Jamison, Craig Walsh
Overview: This book is about Bill Walsh and his coaching career, which is mostly focused on his stint while he was with the 49ers. Walsh was the creator of the famous west coast offense and took over a team that was one of the worst in the league, and won a super bowl with them just two years later. He credits his success to the philosophy that he worked to instill within every layer of the 49ers organization, which is called the Standard of Performance.
His Standard of Performance has ideas and principles that can be applied to life as well as business, and throughout the book the 49ers team is compared to a corporation.
It is a great read about one of the greatest coaches in the history of the NFL, how he achieved his success, and what was sacrificed on his rise to the top. Top levels of the NFL and business can be brutal, and no matter what level of success you attain, you are still subject to that brutality.
Lesson: When a set of healthy guidelines are well established within an organization, the organization can together reach heights that no one could have foreseen. For Bill Walsh, it was his Standard of Performance that propelled the 49ers to be one of the best teams in the NFL during his coaching career.
Important Passages (Per Sean):
You might think that trying to meet his extremely high expectations would tighten you up, but Bill didn’t jump on you for a mistake; he came right in with the correction: “Here’s what was wrong; this is how to do it right.” Over and over, without getting all upset, he taught the smallest details of perfecting performance.
Perfection was his acceptable norm, and he got us thinking we could achieve it by teaching us what perfection was and how to reach it—not just how to locate a receiver, but every other aspect of doing your job at the top level, whatever that job was in the organization.
We are not maintaining.” He told me this addressed his concern that most people simply go through the motions at their jobs, just putting in time—existing—with a “business as usual” attitude. Not if you’re on his team.
He was unpretentious, forthright, no BS; his composure and presence were so unique and appealing. As Joe Montana told me, “You knew immediately there was something special about him.”
However, a resolute and resourceful leader understands that there are a multitude of means to increase the probability of success. And that’s what it all comes down to, namely, intelligently and relentlessly seeking solutions that will increase your chance of prevailing in a competitive environment. When you do that, the score will take care of itself.
My comportment would directly affect the attitudes and performance of everyone who looked to me for answers and direction. I had to do what I was being paid to do: be a leader.
When the inevitable setback, loss, failure, or defeat comes crashing down on you—losing a big sale, being passed over for a career-making promotion, even getting fired—allow yourself the “grieving time,” but then recognize that the road to recovery and victory lies in having the strength to get up off the mat and start planning your next move.
Failure is part of success, an integral part. Everybody gets knocked down. Knowing it will happen and what you must do when it does is the first step back.
MY FIVE DON’TS: 1. Don’t ask, “Why me?” 2. Don’t expect sympathy. 3. Don’t bellyache. 4. Don’t keep accepting condolences. 5. Don’t blame others.
Instead, I arrived with an urgent timetable for installing an agenda of specific behavioral norms—actions and attitudes—that applied to every single person on our payroll.
Regardless of your specific job, it is vital to our team that you do that job at the highest possible level in all its various aspects, both mental and physical (i.e., good talent with bad attitude equals bad talent)
Exhibit a ferocious and intelligently applied work ethic directed at continual improvement; demonstrate respect for each person in the organization and the work he or she does; be deeply committed to learning and teaching, which means increasing my own expertise; be fair; demonstrate character; honor the direct connection between details and improvement, and relentlessly seek the latter; show self-control, especially where it counts most—under pressure; demonstrate and prize loyalty; use positive language and have a positive attitude; take pride in my effort as an entity separate from the result of that effort; be willing to go the extra distance for the organization; deal appropriately with victory and defeat, adulation and humiliation (don’t get crazy with victory nor dysfunctional with loss);
I would tolerate no caste systems, no assumption of superiority by any coaches, players, or other personnel. Regardless of the size of an employee’s check or the requirements of his or her job, I made it clear that he or she was 100 percent a member of our team, whether he or she was a superstar or secretary, black or white, manager or maintenance man.
From the start, my prime directive, the fundamental goal, was the full and total implementation throughout the organization of the actions and attitudes of the Standard of Performance I described earlier. This was radical in the sense that winning is the usual prime directive in professional football and most businesses.
During this early period I began hiring personnel with four characteristics I value most highly: talent, character, functional intelligence (beyond basic intelligence, the ability to think on your feet, quickly and spontaneously), and an eagerness to adopt my way of doing things, my philosophy.
The key to performing under pressure at the highest possible level, regardless of circumstance, is preparation in the context of your Standard of Performance and a thorough assimilation by your organization of the actions and attitudes contained within your philosophy of leadership.
Is it right there in front of you, unseen because your thinking is rigid and resistant to originality and change? How effective are you at turning nothing into something, something into something that changes everything?
The traditionalists—rigid and resistant in their thinking—who sneered at the new passing system I was creating were soon trying to figure out why it was beating them and how to copy it.
Unfortunately, too often we find comfort in what worked before—even when it stops working. We get stuck there and resist the new, the unfamiliar, the unconventional.
I defy you to think as well—as clearly—under great stress as you do in normal circumstances. I don’t care how smart or quick-witted you are, what your training or intellect is; under extreme stress you’re not as good. Unless, that is, you’ve planned and thought through the steps you’re going to take in all situations—your contingency plans.
My observation is that two leaders—coaches—looking at the same information will not see the same thing. The one who’s a more skilled analyst, who digs deeper and wider, will benefit more. It is an endeavor to which I allocated as much energy as my preparation for every game and opponent.
Others follow you based on the quality of your actions rather than the magnitude of your declarations.
Declaring, “I am the leader!” has no value unless you also have the command skills necessary to be the leader.
The leader who will not be denied, who has expertise coupled with strength of will, is going to prevail.
In my years as a head coach, I wanted a democratic-style organization with input and communication and freedom of expression, even opinions that were at great variance with my ideas. But only up to a point. When it was time for a decision, that decision would be made by me according to dictates having to do with one thing only, namely, making the team better.
The difference between offering an opinion and making a decision is the difference between working for the leader and being the leader.
A leader must be keen and alert to what drives a decision, a plan of action. If it was based on good logic, sound principles, and strong belief, I felt comfortable in being unswerving in moving toward my goal. Any other reason (or reasons) for persisting were examined carefully. Among the most common faulty reasons are (1) trying to prove you are right and (2) trying to prove someone else is wrong. Of course, they amount to about the same thing and often lead to the same place: defeat.
“There’ll be plenty of time for pencils, parties, and socializing when I lose my job, because that’s what’s going to happen if I continue to avoid the hard and harsh realities of doing my job.”
The knowledge that there is this hardness inside you can have a very sobering effect on those who might otherwise be sloppy—those who occasionally need to be reminded of your policies and practices.
Joe Montana is one of the best examples I have ever seen that proved you don’t need to shout, stomp, or strut to be a great leader—just do the job and treat people right.
The real damage occurs when you start to believe that future success will come your way automatically because of the great ability of this caricature you have suddenly become, that the hard work and applied intelligence you utilized initially are not as crucial as they once were. That’s when you get lazy; that’s when you let your guard down. When that happens, you’re not a genius—you’re a genuine fool.
Constructive criticism is a powerful instrument essential for improving performance. Positive support can be equally productive. Used together by a skilled leader they become the key to maximum results. Most of us seem to be more inclined to offer the negative. I don’t know why, but it’s easier to criticize than to compliment.
In my experience, this is what it takes to be a good teacher: passion, expertise, communication, and persistence.
Both were so fulfilling for the same reason—teaching, helping people achieve higher and higher levels of performance in the context of competing (and often prevailing) in my profession. I suppose you could conclude that for me the process of getting to the top was much more gratifying in many ways than the process of trying to stay on top.
If you don’t love it, don’t do it. I loved it—teaching people how to reach in deep to fulfill their potential, how to become great. And when you do that with a group, you, as the leader, enjoy the thrill of creating a great team. For me it was like creating a work of art. Only instead of painting on a canvas, I had the great joy of creating in collaboration with others.
The most important attribute of any organization is the way it treats its people, its commitment to the individuals on the team.
The highest-paid, most talented people that you can go out and hire will not perform to their potential unless they feel as if they are part of something special—a family that treats them right.
Commitment and sacrifice are among the personal characteristics I value most highly in people.
Be conscientious in evaluating the effectiveness of the steps you take in connecting the role players on your team to the team itself. Helping them understand that they make a difference can be the difference in making it to the top.
Frankly, I care a lot more about how we lose than if we lose. Gentlemen, in the second half you’re going to find out something important; you’re about to find out who you are. And you may not like what you find.”
As a leader you must have the strength to let talented members of your organization know you believe in them—nurture their belief in themselves, teach them what they need to know, and then watch what happens. It’s amazing and one of the things I love most about leadership—teaching a person how to reach higher and higher, to achieve great things with his or her talent.
Some are lucky and find themselves blessed with a mentor who truly makes a difference throughout their life. But you can make the biggest difference of all by yourself.
You never stop learning, perfecting, refining—molding your skills. You never stop depending on the fundamentals—sustaining, maintaining, and improving.
Achieving success in a competitive environment requires solving a very complicated puzzle. This is true in all big-time competition. The winners know how to get more pieces of the puzzle in place than the losers.
Everyone must have an attitude of helping one another. Are you teaching that to those you lead? Do you teach that being on your team includes sharing their knowledge? That an employee strengthens himself or herself when he or she strengthens another member of the organization?
I believe that character-based leaders tend to seek and attract character-based employees in sports, in business, or anywhere else.
It’s important to understand a person’s response in the context of his or her state of mind, where he or she might be emotionally; this often connects directly to his or her answers and actions.
You’re gone if good is the best you can do. Good just buys you time; great buys you a little more time. And then you’re gone.