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4 Easy Leadership Tips From Coach Bill Walsh

I love to read books on leadership.

The latest one I finished (which I borrowed from the awesome San Francisco Library) was The Score Takes Care of Itself by Steve Jamison & Craig Walsh…about the leadership style of football coach Bill Walsh.

Why should you listen to Coach Walsh: well, among other things, he invented a new offense now widely used in football and turned the worst team in the league (the San Francisco 49ers) into Super Bowl champs (in just two years).

There were four leadership techniques that Walsh shared that I found most useful:

Four Leadership Tips From Bill Walsh

1) Making The Best Of What You Have

“What assets do we have right now that we’re not taking advantage of?”

E.g: Walsh took inventory of his Bengals’ struggling offense which was undersized (meaning running the ball was a big challenge) and not capable of passing for long yardage (quarterback Virgil Carter could not throw very far) (though he could throw decently for short yardage).

Walsh then took stock of what he had to work with in terms of field real estate and had an uh-huh realization that  they had 53.5 yards of width on the field (about half the distance of the length of the field) and the availability of 5 potential receivers.

Thus the West Coast Offense was born: the idea of throwing more often, to more receivers, for short yardage.

2) Good Leaders Give a Healthy Mix of Positive Criticism (not just negative/constructive criticism).

“If you’re growing a garden, you need to pull out the weeds, but flowers will die if all you do is pick weeds. They need sunshine and water. People are the same.

They need criticism, but they also require positive substantive language and information and true support to truly blossom.”

3) Good Leaders Look For These Five Qualities In Their Hires

  1. A fundamental knowledge of the area they’ve been hired to manage
  2. A relatively high — but not manic — level of energy and enthusiasm and a personality that is upbeat, motivated and animated.
  3. The ability to discern talent in potential employees.
  4. An ability to communicate in a relaxed yet authoritative — but not authoritarian — manner.
  5. Unconditional loyalty to both you and other staff members.

4) The Four Most Powerful Words In Leadership

“I believe in you” (or equivalent words of your own).

Walsh writes that even Joe Montana (who already had a bunch of confidence) benefited from his coach telling him he believed in him.

As a student of leadership myself, I strongly agree: providing confidence to your team (or friend or spouse) is perhaps the most powerful lever you can pull to help them optimize their performance.

And Walsh adds: And nobody will ever come back to you later and say “thank you” for expecting too little of them.

Note: If you want to read more about developing leadership, check out my other leadership articles.

1 Comment

  • JB

    nicely done RK: I come to your analysis of Walsh by way of seeking an understanding of Harbaugh’s success in SF, thanks. JB