Donald T. Phillips has taught me a few things about leadership. He showed me the unique leadership abilities of Abraham Lincoln. He demonstrated the necessary leadership of the United States' Founding Fathers. He summarized the amazing leadership influence of Martin Luther King, Jr.
And now, he's introduced me to the behind-the-scenes leadership characteristics of Vince Lombardi.
In his book, Run To Win: Vince Lombardi on Coaching and Leadership, Phillips combines biography with commentary to demonstrate the foundational impact that Vince Lombardi had on the Green Bay Packers and on professional football. Vince Lombardi is a man whom many consider to be "the greatest football coach in the history of the sport...being both a household name and an icon."
Phillips divides the book into four categories: Starting Out, Building Trust, Routine, and Character. One of the things that I love about Phillips style is that he gives great real-life content. Every chapter is full of snapshots of Lombardi's life. Phillips has really done his homework, even going as far as getting the endorsement of the daughter of Pete Rozelle, Anne Marie Rozelle Bratton and Lombardi's son, Vince Lombardi, Jr.
In the chapter titled, Sell Yourself, a Lombardi quote opens the theme (quotes are plentiful in this book, and there are always a couple of key ones at the beginning of each chapter):
"You have to sell yourself to the group. And in order to sell yourself to the group, there is no way you can be dishonest about it. Therefore, what you sell has to come from your heart, and it has to be something you really believe in."
Then the chapter breaks into a story by one of Lombardi's players, Forrest Gregg, about the first practice that Lombardi had with the Green Bay Packers. Coaches in the past had let certain slackers slide and loaf through practice, but not Vince. When one of the receivers, who had a history of taking it easy, didn't run a route to Lombardi's liking, the coach was in his face all the way back to the huddle.
Phillips does a good job of summing up each chapter at the end by including a box entitled: Lombardi Principles. Phillips has tremendous insight as to what makes for good leadership practice and does a great job of pulling practical, transferable, wisdom from Lombardi's life. For example, at the end of the chapter entitled, Keep Things Simple, the Lombardi principles include:
* Listen to the members of your team - and then simplify your system so it can be easily rememberd and implemented.
* Wherever possible, reduce your explanation of complex matters to two fundamental things.
* For more complicated subjects, present a visual image for the team to concentrate on.
* Don't encumber your players with a lot of rules. Give them the freedom to act on their own under game situations.
One of my favorite chapters is probably one of the shortest: Learn, Teach, Practice. The chapter seems to sum up what made Lombardi great. One of the comments from Lombardi's wife says it best:
"When Vin gets one he thinks can be a real good ballplayer..., he will just open a hole in that boy's head and pour everything he knows into it."
I enjoyed the book's honesty. What I mean by that is you saw a clear picture of Lombardi - both on and off the field, the good and the bad, the good times and the bad times. Lombardi was far from perfect, and over time, the memory of Lombardi's stature can become more myth than reality. Phillips does a good job of showing us the areas where Lombardi struggled and the demons he wrestled with. He had a ferocious temper, he would often rub people the wrong way, he was abrasive, and he wore his emotions on his sleeve. But Lombardi was always quick to apologize whenever he realized that his darker side had gotten the best of him.
Most young people today don't have the privilege to have seen Lombardi coach, to see him win Super Bowls, to recognize his impact on the NFL. Phillips has given us a wonderful glimpse into the life of a special man who exemplified tremendous leadership in his field (and on his field for that matter).
Near the end of the book, another Lombardi quote offers motivation for those of us striving to be the best that we can be...
"The quality of a man's life has got to be a full measure of that man's personal commitment to excellence and victory, regardless of what field he may be in."