Vince Lombardi Dallas Cowboys Vs Green Bay Packers 1967 Morning Future
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The Case 16 October Oct 2020 0700 16 October 2020

The guiding light for America’s future leaders? A football coach

U.S. companies spend over 70 billion dollars a year on training programmes. And they often prove to be fruitless. To turn things around, they have placed their trust in the words of the legendary coach Vince Lombardi

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What has a legendary American football coach got to do with corporate leadership management? Nothing, it would seem. Unless that coach is called Vince Lombardi.

Vince Lombardi, former coach of the Green Bay Packers

The New Yorker was a true legend in American sport in the 1960s and as head coach of the Green Bay Packers, he led the team to win five NFL championships and victories in two consecutive Super Bowls. Such was his decisiveness, that the NFL renamed the Super Bowl Trophy the ‘Vince Lombardi Super Bowl Trophy’.

Among Lombardi’s many iconic quotes, one in particular stands out and has been adopted by the American business world: “Leaders are made, they are not born. They are made by hard effort, which is the price which all of us must pay to achieve any goal that is worthwhile.”

Why have these two sentences become so popular among the white collar community in the USA? It’s sufficient to say that according to the Association for Talent Development, U.S. businesses spend more than 70 billion dollars on training every year, with the majority spent on ‘leadership training’. However, 75% of organisations say their leadership development programs are ineffective.

Organizations clearly see the need to develop their leaders, but many fail to do so. According to Mattson Newell, Director at Partners in Leadership, an American company specialised in leadership training and management consulting, “one major reason organizations struggle is because they treat leadership development and running the business as separate, rather than interrelated challenges. When leaders are sent to be ‘trained’, they are often taken out of their company and their everyday job with the hopes that in the day-long or week-long training they will retain something they can apply. But this does not happen and much of it goes by the wayside.”

Il Vince Lombardi Trophy

A recent report by McKinsey found that "too many training initiatives we come across rest on the assumption that one size fits all and that the same group of skills or style of leadership is appropriate, regardless of strategy, organizational culture or CEO mandate."

“When you isolate leadership development from the rest of the business,” Newell concludes, “you are creating leaders who can operate in a vacuum but not operate in your business and your culture. Obviously, that is not a desired outcome.”

Merilee Kern, Chief Strategy Officer at Ascendant Group

There is one person who has turned the words of Lombardi into a veritable mantra: Merilee Kern, Chief Strategy Officer at Ascendant Group (world leader in CEO branding) and Forbes Business Council member. In her opinion “whichever camp you fall into, sweat equity is ubiquitously required to ascend each rung on the ladder of success. Great leaders become so, in large part, by being molded from their personal experiences — the good, bad and ugly. In fact, many say they're better leaders due to their failures versus successes. Trials and tribulations forced them to dig deep emotionally, muster more innovative ideation, demonstrate inner resolve and grit and situationally adapt to dynamically problem-solve.”

Taking inspiration from the words of Lombardi, Merilee Kern has identified three mindful management practices for tomorrow’s business leaders:

1. Embrace your limitations
Play to the situation, not to your reputation or your ego, and see that others' strengths complement your weaknesses. Understanding that you are not (and will never be) an expert of everything is arguably the most important first mindset paradigm when stepping into a leadership role,” Kern explains. “There's just nothing productive about lamenting things that are beyond your scope. It's best to be hyperaware of your own shortcomings and think comprehensively and holistically in order to lead your team toward sustained success. It may seem like a weakness admitting your limitations. However, without acknowledging what you can and can't do, you likely won't mitigate opportunity loss and, thus, reach your full potential as an effective leader.”

2. Trust your team
If you are new to a leadership role, you might find it difficult initially to trust your team to get the work done in the way you want it done, even when you don't have the requisite expertise. When a managerial role is fresh, it might feel awkward delegating and having team members do work that you are not necessarily hands-on with, especially when it relates to tasks or projects you used to personally execute,” Kern continues. “Whatever the case, always remain aware that trust is a cornerstone of building an effective and cohesive team. Paul J. Zak, a professor of economics and psychology, outlined study findings in the Harvard Business Review that positively correlated trust and productivity/profitability in the workplace. He surveyed employees from varying organizations with different leadership styles and found that those who trusted and respected their teams and leaders had 106% more energy, were 50% more productive and were 76% more engaged at work.”

3. Maintain composure at all costs
Perhaps one of the most difficult functions of leadership is keeping calm when all you want to do is the opposite,” Kern goes on. “Maintaining a level head amid consternation and chaos is a mission-critical character trait that often separates good leaders from great ones. Demonstrating restraint, poise and control during times of crisis will not only likely facilitate a better problem-solving result but also inspire your team. This isn't to say that you shouldn't demonstrate vulnerability when the going gets rough,” she concludes. “In fact, quite the opposite. Being honest and forthcoming, empathetic and humble can also greatly endear staffers during tough times. Just be committed to keeping a level head in hectic situations and when the pressure is on. You will build trust as a voice of reason and amass those all-important votes of confidence. Mindful leadership requires much more than intelligence, astuteness and academic qualifications. It also involves being honest with yourself and putting others ahead of you.”

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