Tuesday, January 1, 2008

What Makes the Patriots Great?

As all 3 of you who semi-regularly read this blog know, I am a soccer (AKA football) fan. Even though I was pretty scrawny as a kid, I played American football in Middle School and in my freshman year in High School, and I was a Philadelphia Eagles fan in college. But since leaving college, I really haven't followed the sport.

However, my relatives in Worcester (pronounced Wooster), MA are HUGE Pats fans (and Red Sox fans and Bruins fans and...) and so I've been paying some attention lately, especially this season since they went a perfect 16-0.

As it happened, we were in New York this past week visiting my sister and her family for the season-ending NY Giants v. Patriots game in New York. A Pats win would induct them into an elite undefeated club with only 3 other teams.

My sister, brother-in-law and I stayed up to watch the game Saturday night. And it was a great game. Not just because the Patriots won, but also because how they won. The Giants led most of the game, but in the 3rd and 4th Quarters, the Pats staged a beautiful and totally unstoppable comeback, ultimately winning 38-35.

So, what makes the Patriots great? Well, football fans may be inclined to list a fearless and talented QB, awesome receivers, a decent running game and a great coach among the sources of their greatness. While I'd agree that none of this is untrue, I'd add that, in my opinion, none of these assets is the root source of their greatness. Rather, I think the true source of their greatness is the Patriot's Level-5 leadership.

For those of you who haven't read Jim Collins' book Good to Great, you can get a taste of the concept on the author's website. Collins writes:

Level 5 leaders are a study in duality: modest and willful, humble and fearless. To quickly grasp this concept, think of United States President Abraham Lincoln (one of the few Level 5 presidents in United States history), who never let his ego get in the way of his primary ambition for the larger cause of an enduring great nation. Yet those who mistook Mr. Lincoln’s personal modesty, shy nature, and awkward manner as signs of weakness found themselves terribly mistaken, to the scale of 250,000 Confederate and 360,000 Union lives, including Lincoln’s own (Shelby Foote, The Civil War: A Narrative: Red River to Appomattox (New York: Random House, 1975), 1040; James M. McPherson, Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (New York: Ballantine Books, 1989), 854.).

While it might be a bit of a stretch to compare the good-to-great CEOs to Abraham Lincoln, they did display the same duality.

The Two Sides of Level 5 Leadership

Professional Will Personal Humility
Creates superb results, a clear catalyst in the transition from good to great. Demonstrates a compelling modesty, shunning public adulation; never boastful.
Demonstrates an unwavering resolve to do whatever must be done to produce the best long-term results, no matter how difficult. Acts with quiet, calm determination; relies principally on inspired standards, not inspiring charisma, to motivate.
Sets the standard of building an enduring great company; will settle for nothing less. Channels ambition into the company, not the self; sets up successors for even greater success in the next generation.
Looks in the mirror, not out the window, to apportion responsibility for poor results, never blaming other people, external factors, or bad luck. Looks out the window, not in the mirror, to apportion credit for the success of the company—to other people, external factors, and good luck.

Here's one example of this from the Giant's game: After the game, a reporter grabbed Patriot's QB Tom Brady before he darted into the locker room for a quick interview. I was struck by the sincere modesty Tom displayed in the interview. When the reporter asked why Tom went back to Moss with a long pass that resulted in a TD right after Moss had dropped a pass in the previous play, Tom instantaneously, and with a surprised tone in his voice, said "He didn't drop that pass. I under threw it." Well, I saw that play, and my take is that both the reporter and Brady were correct. The ball was under thrown, but it bounced right off Moss's hands as if they were made of stone. Point is that Brady could have easily said something like "well, I wanted to give him another chance," or "we all make mistakes," and that wouldn't have been a dig on Moss, it would have been pretty accurate. But he didn't - he was self-effacing, he took responsibility and he went back to Moss on the next play because he was open and because they had connected on similar passes dozens of times during the season. And when asked what he would remember most about the season, it wasn't any personal record, it was the team achievement - all Brady said was "16-0!"

This kind of humility and sincere and complete dedication to team only comes from one place - the top. Brady is a total Level-5 leader on the field because Belichick is a Level-5 leader on the sideline.

What about the IT industry? Who are technology's Level-5's?

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