Lombardi’s lessons in leadership (and not the super-obvious ones)

Drawing up a game planVince Lombardi is synonymous with teamwork and success, so much so that the winner of every year’s Super Bowl hoists a trophy named after him. He was also an early master of the vague but inspirational sports quote. Vague but inspirational quotes, as you may be painfully aware, lend themselves exceptionally well to business meetings and PowerPoint decks.

Via Lombardi, you can learn to throw out the playbook and write your own. Hard work pays off. With commitment and teamwork, you can be a champion of [insert your industry here]. By pursuing perfection, you can achieve excellence. So on and so forth. “Winning isn’t everything—it’s the only thing” (OK, he may not have ever said that, but it’s a snappy line, if a little nonsensical.)

By taking a step back and considering the man behind the inevitably exaggerated myth, we can learn less-discussed lessons about leadership, collaboration and championship mindsets. They don’t look as good on plaques or posters, but they may be easier to translate to actual action.

He who works longest is not he who works hardest

Lombardi’s practices were highly demanding and intense, but they weren’t marathons. A great 90-minute practice produced better results on game day than three unfocused hours of endurance testing. Don’t log time for the sake of logging time. Now excuse me as I go back in time and deliver this message to my JV football coach.

Read cookbooks and clean closets

Find a way to reliably clear your mind. Even if you love-love-LOVE your work, find something else you enjoy. “[Lombardi’s] favorite method of easing tension at home was cleaning closets,” writes David Maraniss in When Pride Still Mattered. “He also enjoyed reading mathematics books and was an ardent collector of cookbooks, accumulating scores of them… It was an escape into fantasy for him.” This strategy is supported by studies that stress the benefit of ambient awareness; yes, distractions and cat pictures can be good for your productivity.

Go ahead and put the “I” in “team”

He’s hailed as the ultimate team guy and his “we can accomplish anything together” platitudes about teamwork are plentiful, but Lombardi also analyzed and rewarded individual effort. He stressed the importance of everyone working toward a shared goal, but he also believed in stars – and even adapted his own management style (a little) to accommodate them.

Don’t believe the hype: it’s OK to be liked

More than anyone, Lombardi furthered the romanticism of a gruff head coach hellbent on victory at all costs. It’s a persona that’s been embraced by countless coach-dictators – but it isn’t quite accurate. He was perfectly willing to be an antagonist and make unpopular decisions, but Lombardi also had a sense of humor and talked often about loving and respecting his players (and it wasn’t just lip service).

Mind the details others dismiss as frivolous

He wasn’t just about x’s and o’s. Lombardi spent time tinkering with his team’s uniforms to make them look and feel more like champions. Future Packers fans have attached great significance to decisions like “should the numbers have shadows?” Bottom line impact? Packers jerseys, which haven’t changed significantly since the Lombardi era, are the 3rd highest sellers in the league.

Know when to log off

By his own account, Lombardi’s record as a father was checkered as best. Some who knew him said he should never have had children because his mind was always on the game. Technology is now creating a perfect storm for workaholics; just imagine if Lombardi could have watched game film on a smartphone. As we’ve discussed previously, 24/7 connectivity can be a great thing for your business life, but it should be empowering, not enslaving.

Post by Adam McKibbin

Adam McKibbin is the content marketing manager for iMeet Central. His writing has been featured in Adweek, the Chicago Tribune and The Nation, and he’s produced content for some of the leading tech brands on the Fortune 500.