It was July of 1961, and the Green Bay Packers football team was gathered together for the first day of training camp. The previous year had ended with a heartbreaking loss when the Packers squandered a lead and lost the NFL Championship to the Philadelphia Eagles. The team struggled to shake the brutal loss, but a new year had finally arrived, and it was time to get to work. The players were ready to elevate their game to the next level. Their coach, Vince Lombardi, had the same idea but an unusual approach to get them there.
“This is a Football.”
David Mariness, in his best-selling book, When Pride Still Mattered: A Life Of Vince Lombardi, explains what happened when Lombardi strolled into the Packer’s camp that year. Lombardi began with the most elemental statement that a coach in that scenario could offer. “Gentlemen,” he declared, holding a pigskin in his hand, “This is a football.”
Lombardi was leading a group of professional athletes who, just months prior, had come within minutes of celebrating the greatest victory that their sports world had to offer. And yet, Lombardi’s spent training camp methodically working through the fundamentals with his team. Players studied how to block and tackle. They opened up their playbook and started from page one. Lombardi’s team would become the best in the league at the tasks everyone else took for granted, and at the end of the season, the Green Bay Packers beat the New York Giants 37-0 to win the NFL Championship.
1961 was the commencement of Vince Lombardi’s reign as one of the greatest football coaches of all-time. Lombardi would never lose another playoff game. Lombardi would go on to win five Championships in seven years, including three in a row.
This pattern of focusing on the fundamentals has been a hallmark of many successful coaches. However, it is not just in sports where this strategy is useful. Each area of life can be boiled down to some essential components or core tasks that must be mastered if we genuinely want to excel in that area. We believe that the same could be said about good leadership—get the fundamentals right, and there’s a good chance the rest will follow. As we anticipate the close of the year, here are few leadership fundamentals that we believe are worth focusing on and mastering.
- Emotional Intelligence. Great leaders move people by igniting their passions and inspiring others to bring their best to the table. This is what growing in emotional intelligence can offer. Being an emotionally intelligent leader means we have the fundamental skills (e.g., self-awareness, empathy, a desire to see others develop, etc.) that help us excel at navigating the complex emotional and relational landscape that lies at the heart of leadership.
- Communication. Communicating well is potentially the most significant opportunity and challenge for any leader. To highlight one aspect of effective communication, strong communicators know their audiences. They know who they’re communicating to, how much they know about the issue at hand, and their intrinsic engagement level. With that knowledge, it’s possible to tailor the message and delivery. That’s why every leader should prioritize becoming a better listener as much as they prioritize becoming a better speaker.
- Perpetual Development. This may seem like a catch-all category, but that’s not our intention at all. From our experience, great leaders often have an obsession with learning and growing. They are perpetual students and most often approach leadership and management topics with an inquisitive, curious mind and a spirit desiring to learn more. This fundamental approach to leadership is the foundation behind other skills, and if you commit yourself to this fundamental alone, you are guaranteed to grow in your leadership.
From Idea to Action: What fundamental will you focus on as we move into 2021?