Using sports metaphors in business situations can be useful but are used too much. Imagine the scene of a sales meeting; the leader urging his sales force on, telling them this is it, “it’s fourth and goal from the one and it’s time to punch it it in…” it’s such a cliche we can picture it… and it’s meaningless.

Sports-metaphor cliches aside, we can learn a lot about leadership, and creating a culture of trust from New England Patriots’ coach Bill Belichick. I won’t review his entire resume or litany of successes, instead, I’ll focus on one key personnel approach that we can all adopt for impressive outcomes. This approach has never been more visible than at the start of the 2016 season. Star QB, Tom Brady, the focal-point of the Patriots’ offense since 2001, is out for the first four games of this season. Brady’s backup was injured mid-game of week two and with only three days to prep, the third-string rookie QB came out and lead the team to a solid win against a divisional opponent. How? Coach Belichick.

Coach Belichick’s magic lies in his ability to identify players’ key strengths and adapt “the system” to maximize those strengths. He doesn’t rigorously maintain the integrity of the system and expect players to fit; the system is flexible, moldable to each individual’s strengths. We have seen the coach use this approach year after year and the results are now legendary.

By focusing on strengths and letting players succeed with their strengths; Bill has not only coached wins when losses were expected, he has developed a culture of trust. Players trust that they will not be asked to do the impossible and ownership trusts their coach to make the right decisions. Too often in the business of football, like all business, we see extreme dysfunction at all levels (Google it), but not on Belichick’s team.

Let’s bring it off the field and back to the workplace. How can we use Bill Belichick’s management style in our organizations?

I think the first thing we need to do is be flexible. It’s great to develop systems and processes, and for routine, non-dynamic tasks they often work. But in situations where nuance and human touch are central, we need to help employees develop their own personal approach. We need to focus on each individual’s unique strengths and build our game-plan to maximize those strengths.

Think about it. What’s one of the worst things we can say as parents or employers, or husbands, or wives, or friends: “Why can’t you be more like ______?” Nobody likes to hear it, but when it comes to work that is often the hidden message, that is often the subtext.

When we allow our teams to develop around their personal strengths, we send a clear message that we have trust and when we give our trust we will get trust back.  We still need to coach and set the conditions for employee strengths to be realized, but asking an apple to be an orange will never work (too many mixed metaphors here?).

So let’s lead like Bill. If we follow his example of personnel management, our teams might just win as much as his have.

Why can’t we all be more like Bill?


This post originally appeared on LinkedIn on September 26, 2016

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