The New York Giants are playing the San Francisco 49ers this weekend in the NFC Championship Game. I'm rooting for the Giants... hey, I'm from New York, and although I consider myself a Jets fan (OK, Rex has a big mouth that he needs to zip), that hometown thing has a strong pull. But I acknowledge that I'm drawn to people and organizations where strong leadership and management approach show unmistakable results. The Niners are just such a team this year. The Niners, the darlings of the NFL in the 80s and 90s, have not lived up to their reputation and standards more recently. Even last year, they were a 6-10 team. But this year, they excelled at 13-3 in the regular season and decisively beat the powerhouse Saints in the first playoff round. Yet the roster this year is almost identical to last year... so what's different? Football fans knew the punchline before I wrote this: it's Jim Harbaugh as Head Coach. Harbaugh took over from Mike Singleterry, who everyone knows is a great football man with a passion to win.
Bob Ryan of the Boston Globe described it this way in his appearance on ESPN's The Sports Reporters: the team wasn't buying what Mike was selling, but they're buying Jim's brand of leadership: "Who's got it better than us? NOBODY!" Jim is selling belief in their ability, and he demonstrates how that ability is equal to any challenge.
Interestingly enough, on the other side of the ball this week, Giants Head Coach Tom Coughlin tells (and tells, and tells again) his players that "the only way to win is if you believe in each other". In fact, there is a case to be made that every NFL team has enough talent to be a winner, and many enough to be champions. The difference in most instances is the team's chemistry and commitment to excel, stoked by the leadership.
For most of us, work is a team sport, so lessons from sports teams can provide valuable lessons. I know that turns off some people, but learning from wherever is always a good thing. I'm not big on selling, but prefer enrolling, so that a commitment to achieve something creates a breakdown for everyone if it's not happening. But you also know that I believe that the other success factor is deployment, putting the commitment into action. The team that does that best this weekend will win.
I'm expecting a great game from both teams, so enjoy the game, have some fun, but appreciate how both teams got here… and what it says about winning.