Winning the Super Bowl: Leadership and Management Working Together

iStock_000001066525XSmallWith Super Bowl LXVII fast approaching, it made me wonder about what makes a group of individuals perform as a superb team.

Tom Landry, famed coach of the Dallas Cowboys, said “A coach is someone who tells you what you don’t want to hear, who has you see what you don’t want to see, so you can be who you’ve always known you can be.”  And the equally famous Vince Lombardi of the Green Bay Packers said “Coaching in its truest sense is giving the responsibility to the learner to help them come up with their own answers.”

Clearly, both of these eminent men thought coaching mattered to the success of the individual and thus to the entire team.  Out of the separate efforts of each player came a team that worked together to achieve prominence.

Further, in the Financial Times of January 29th an article entitled “Can Coaching Make The Difference” attributes Andy Murray’s success in winning the US Open tennis championship to the coaching he received from former champion Ivan Lendl, ‘who has helped [Murray] to pace his performance and stay calm.’

Coaching provides caring of the highest degree, helping leaders ‘develop self-awareness and recognize blind spots in their [i.e., client’s] approach.’  Clients like Murray develop confidence to ‘…handle better the challenges that come with leading complex organizations in a rapidly changing operating environment.  Coaching helps leaders [italics added] think collectively.’

Which brings me to the age-old question of Leadership vs. Management, at the heart of why good teams, I believe, excel.

John Kotter of The Harvard Business School recently blogged about this subject in “Management is (Still) Not Leadership,” and I think reviewing his points will help us understand why men such as Landry and Lombardi were such superb coaches and leaders over the long-term.

Leadership and management are radically different and not interchangeable terms.  The two perform vitally different functions, though both have critical roles to play.

Leaders are not necessarily at the top of an organization or individuals with charismatic and endearing personal characteristics.  Likewise, managers do not always play a worker or specialist role.  Using these attributes to categorize someone as a leader or manager is a dangerous mistake.

Management is best described as adhering to or executing a ‘set of well-known processes….which help an organization to predictably do what it knows how to do well.’  It is about producing promised products and service consistently across time.  Because it is about execution, management is a difficult task.  “We constantly underestimate how complex this task is, especially if we are not in senior management jobs,” writes Kotter.  Management is crucial he says, but it’s not leadership.

Leadership is entirely different.  “It is associated with taking an organization into the future, finding opportunities that are coming at it faster and faster and successfully exploiting those opportunities.”  Kotter believes that leadership is about vision, ‘about people buying in, about behavior.’  And because we operate in a world moving at a heady pace, leadership is needed more and from more people, ‘no matter where they are in the hierarchy.’  Assuming that a ‘few extraordinary people at the top can provide all the leadership needed today is ridiculous, and it’s a recipe for failure.’  We need superb management; we need superb leaders.  One cannot exist without the other.  ‘We need to make our complex organizations reliable and efficient.”

And so we return to football, both an elegant and brutal sport.

A football team is composed, as is any organization or team, of both managers and leaders – you have offensive and defensive team leaders, you have the head coach, and you have the quarterback.  Each of them must read the fast-moving changes and adaptations of the opposing team, meting out instructions and directions in real-time to their team mates, who we can say ‘manage the play.’

The team that wins this coming Sunday will be the one that has superb leaders making fine adjustments, empowering the men on the field , and managers who execute brilliantly in the face of constantly changing conditions.  It’s a beautiful thing to watch.

Enhanced by Zemanta


  1. Frank — I enjoyed the extended metaphor likening management and leadership to football. Question: Do you think managers can, over time, become leaders? Does it take a special set of skills and indescribable qualities to make a leader that managers just don’t have?

    • Frank Faeth says

      Hi Jeannette,

      I do believe it takes a nearly indescribable set of qualities and skills to be a leader, but I think the traits can be learned if someone is open to it and has great mentoring along the way or works under very special circumstances and individuals. They say leaders are born, not made. But I don’t believe that. While there are examples of super-leadership (e.g., Lincoln, Eisenhower, Martin Luther King), these people are ultra-special from the start. It doesn’t mean that someone with the right emotional and mental make-up can rise-up from the daily tasks and exhibit leadership traits. My view is that people aren’t generally stuck doing what they’re doing — we can all reach further by thinking and acting differently. What do you think?


      • Frank, the simple answer is I’m not sure but I’m inclined to agree with you. I learned early on that I’m a big picture person and not a detail person. Understanding that, I worked at becoming really good at the details. We need to understand our deficiencies, or to put it more positively, learn what we need to improve to reach our goals. After all, people aren’t born CEOs, so I lean more towards believing that managers can acquire the skills to become leaders.

        • Frank Faeth says

          Hi Jeannette,

          Plus all CEOs are not leaders. The way Kotter describes leaders makes them quite rare. At the same time, there’s nothing wrong with being an excellent manager. I think we see the term ‘manager’ as being pejorative and the term ‘leader’ being one that should be held in high esteem. We need both.


  2. Leaders optimise upside, Managers minimise downside. In many ways, leaders are offence and managers are defence. But in football, leaders and managers can work both squads. On defence, the leader finds ways to sack the quarterback, the manager makes sure he doesn’t slip through your seam. On offence, the leader marches the ball down the field, the manager prevents turnovers and missed plays.

    • Frank Faeth says

      Hello Bruce,

      Thank you for reading my blog and commenting. I agree that on a team — any team — managers and leaders need to work together. Getting the balance correct and the right people in the right roles is the real tough part.


  3. Frank Faeth says

    Hello James,

    Take a look at John Kotter’s blog:

    He says, and I agree, that management is a set of well-known processes, like planning, budgeting, structuring jobs, staffing jobs, measuring performance and problem-solving, which help an organization to predictably do what it knows how to do well. Leadership is associated with taking an organization into the future, finding opportunities that are coming at it faster and faster and successfully exploiting those opportunities. Leadership is about vision, about people buying in, about empowerment and, most of all, about producing useful change. Leadership is not about attributes, it’s about behavior.

    Making the transition successfully is a result of character, drive a large degree of emotional intelligence and your desire to focus on what can be versus what is.

    Hope this address your question.


  4. What’s the right leadership style for this? To get the most out of your team, you have to adjust your leadership style to match what each different team member needs. Treat everyone fairly, but treat them as individuals.

    • Frank Faeth says

      Hello John,

      When it comes to leading a winning team, the manager has to know how to combine his/her resources in a way in which they produce optimal results on a consistent basis. I always believe in treating everyone fairly; but I think when it comes to a team, you need to be very adept at knowing each person’s strengths and weaknesses and how the combination of all players will result in a win. From a human perspective, treat them as individuals; but as a team manager, treat them as a group. Of course, this means the manager has to know the capabilities of each player, which brings us back to understanding everyone as a person, for good or ill. The players then have to subsume their personal egos to those of working as a team for the good of the win.


Speak Your Mind