The Score Takes Care of Itself: Lessons from Bill Walsh Part 1

Before the genius of Bill Belichick, there was Bill Walsh.  Today, Belichick has won 5 Super Bowls as head coach of the New England Patriots since the early 2000’s.  In the 1980’s, Bill Walsh, the former head coach of the 49ers, built something similar to what the Patriots enjoy today; a powerhouse that no other team looked forward to playing.  I’ve recently been listening to “The Score Takes Care of Itself”, and would recommend it to anyone who is in leadership, or just someone who wants to know more about Bill Walsh.  Below are my thoughts on some of the main takeaways from the book.

1. Responding to Failure

The first section of the book describes a very specific failure for Bill Walsh.  He and the 49ers had just lost a close game, their eighth loss in a row.  He says he cried on the plane ride back to San Francisco, that he considered resigning as coach.  During moments of abject failure, it is difficult to feel anything other than despair.  And yet, after several hours, Walsh was able to pick up the pieces of a bad loss and focus on the next game and the rest of the season.  A year and a half after a tough professional moment, Walsh and the 49ers were Super Bowl champions.

We’ve all had hard moments of failure, whether professionally or personally.  I remember mine vividly.  Losing almost every football game in high school for two straight years, making a critical mistake as an assistant manager, and ending a relationship that was supposed to result in marriage.  Failure, according to Walsh, is important, and I believe we do ourselves a disservice if we try to avoid it.  The next time you feel you’ve failed, allow some time for grieving.  Don’t dwell on it, but don’t move on too quickly either.  I believe the end of my relationship with someone I cared deeply for was a critical part of my growth to become the person God wanted me to be for my wife.  My failure as a manager taught me to be more attentive to detail.  Losing games for two years straight took me a long time to deal with.  As a teenager, I didn’t have the tenacity to deal with that.  Now, I believe if I could go back, I would have focused on encouraging my teammates and the younger players during those hard times.

I believe the end of my relationship with someone I cared deeply for was a critical part of my growth to become the person God wanted me to be for my wife.  My failure as a manager taught me to be more attentive to detail.  Losing games for two years straight took me a long time to deal with.  As a teenager, I didn’t have the tenacity to deal with that.  Now, I believe if I could go back, I would have focused on encouraging my teammates and the younger players during those hard times.

2.  Organizational Expectations

This thought comes from a chapter called “The Walsh Way: The Organization Man”, and is written by John McVay, who was the Vice President for Football Administration for the 49ers while Bill Walsh was the head coach.

During this brief chapter, McVay spoke about how Walsh sat down with each employee of the 49ers so that everyone would be clear on what their job was, and what was expected of them.  Have you ever been in a job where unclarity and uncertainty exist?  How does that make you feel as an employee?  I’ve had one job where even after training for several weeks, I wasn’t sure what I was supposed to be doing.  I felt frustrated, and without purpose.  Managers should always make expectations and job roles clear to employees, and remind those employees that they are serving a bigger picture; they are a small representation of the whole organization.

When I worked at Blazer Electric Supply, a locally owned electrical distribution organization, there were certainly times of frustration.  But we were fortunate to have a great leader, Steve Blazer, who reminded us that even when going through times of being short-staffed or tired, our goal was to provide excellent customer service, which would set us apart from larger corporate organizations.  During the course of my time at Blazer, I was fortunate enough to move from the warehouse to warehouse management, and eventually, to counter sales.  And because of our core commitment to making our customers happy, we excelled as a company.  From the outside salesmen fostering relationships and obtaining large projects, to the inside salesmen working with electricians in the field to write orders, to the warehouse accurately filling those orders, we all were clear on our roles and how we each contributed to making Blazer Electric the best it could be.

During the course of my time at Blazer, I was fortunate enough to move from the warehouse to warehouse management, and eventually, to counter sales.  And because of our core commitment to making our customers happy, we excelled as a company.  From the outside salesmen fostering relationships and obtaining large projects, to the inside salesmen working with electricians in the field to write orders, to the warehouse accurately filling those orders, we all were clear on our roles and how we each contributed to making Blazer Electric the best it could be.

The respect John McVay has for Bill Walsh can be felt by the reader.  Walsh respected and wanted to work with people who would buy into his philosophy, and he sought out talented individuals who wanted to be excellent.  According to McVay, fifteen of the assistant coaches brought in by Walsh would eventually become head coaches elsewhere.  At Blazer, I saw a similar pattern.  Today, many of those who are outside salesmen or management started at Blazer in an entry-level job.  One of my favorite parts of company meetings would be when Steve would ask everyone who had started working for Blazer in the warehouse to stand.  90% of those in the meeting would stand.  Even Steve, president of the company, had been a driver at one point.  This visual exercise showed those who had just started working that they could excel and graduate to bigger and better roles.

Of course, not everyone loved working with Bill Walsh, and not everyone loved working at Blazer.  The takeaway here is that when employees understand their role and embrace it, many will feel empowered and perform at a higher level, whether it be a football team or a warehouse.  A good manager isn’t intimidated by talented employees, but rather, is excited by their potential to take on new challenges. Surround yourself with the best employees you can, listen to their ideas, and help create a good workplace where those talented employees can help your company in the long run.  It is a business model with proven success.

 

 

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