Low-ego leadership in the NFL

In these post (?) credit crisis times, there is a growing fashion for low-ego leaders who quietly go about the business of creating successful organisations. For them, gone are the grandiose cover story profiles and massive media conferences.

I happen to have picked up for my summer reading a biography of a leader who could serve as an excellent role model for these aspirationally modest leaders. It’s Bill Belichick, considered by many to be the most successful American Football coach of the modern, more relentlessly competitive era. Belichick coached the New England Patriots to four Super Bowls. He achieved victories in Super Bowl 2001, 2003 and 2004 and second place in 2007. He was named the NFL Coach of the Year for the 2003, 2007 and 2010 seasons.

Here are a few nuggets I’ve picked up so far, some of them particularly relevant to leaders considering how best to communicate via the media.

…He did not do particularly well with the media, lacking the desire and the skill to create the artificial intimacy that worked so well for many others. Some very good, hardworking reporters thought he was unacceptably rude to them; as much as he wanted respect, he did not, in their view, treat them or what they did with proper respect. He was not good at challenging reporters and did poorly in dealing with the media and keeping them on the defensive as one of his mentors, Bill Parcells, had done…

… Bill Belichick did not do small talk well. He did substance much better. To those reporters genuinely interested in football, he could be exceedingly helpful, giving an immense amount of his time, drawing up the plays his teams had run… He was not a man of charisma, as one expected of coaches, but rather a quiet man of chalk….

…He was uneasy about and distrustful of the world of modern media and public relations precisely because he saw it as a world of people wanting to know the wrong things about him and his players. It wanted him to be more charismatic. There was a great contradiction here: He was ferociously driven, and his drive had made him a singular success, and his success had made him a celebrity, but he had little interest in the excessive rewards of fame…

He dressed as simply as he could – his attire was as grey as he could make it, with the greyest of sweatshirts… his lack of sartorial elegance was a favourite subject with journalists…

…The voice on his phone message – “Sorry to have missed your call” – was singularly flat, as if he might be apprenticing to be an undertaker, and it seemed not at all sorry to have missed your call, and he might in fact be delighted to miss it once again.

From: The Education of a Coach, by David Halberstam