What Bill Belichick Knows About Hiring That We Don’t

I’m no football fan. I don’t claim to even really understand the game. Any time I try to make a sports analogy to a client, it’s inevitably a fail. (Like the time I said we were achieving some “impressive base runs.” Said client was like “um, you mean “base hits”? I do, however know that this IS a baseball and not a football analogy. But I digress.

What does interest me about sports is the leadership and “winning” characteristics of successful teams. Living in Boston for the past 20+ years, I’ve become somewhat spoiled in the sports department. I mean, how many victory parades can you go to before they blur? I always thought this Patriots franchise was a winning group because of the once in a lifetime pairing of Belichick and Brady. I remember that first game when Brady went in for Bledsoe. But after last nights smearing of that Houston team, I think something else is at play here. And the common denominator seems to be Bill Belichick.

What is it about this guy that makes for a winning team? He’s admittedly not the most charismatic leader and generally considered a bit of a curmudgeon among local sports media. What is he doing that we can learn from and apply in the insanely changing workplace to build our own winning teams?

Hire For Aptitude and Attitude, Not For Skill

I’ve never been one to hire because of a specific skill set or category experience. What I’ve mainly hired for is attitude and evidence of good judgement. I’ve made some great hires and made some really, bad awful hires too. And so has Belichick. (Aaron Hernandez anyone?) But generally the guy seems to be able to see raw talent and bring them into the franchise and build them into successful Patriots, who are incredibly loyal and know what their job is. Which leads me to number two…

Be Relentless In Reminding Them Why They Are There

“Do Your Job”

I don’t remember what Super Bowl that rallying cry applied to but I loved it. (I liked it much better than that “Cowboy Up” nonsense from the Red Sox World Series team. Never liked that). That’s the thing about Belichick. He just expects his players to do their job. Each of them was hired to do a specific job. If they each do their job, the whole team will be successful. Seems simple, right? But how many loser leaders are out there not reminding their team what their job is when they need to? Or not coaching them to cut away the stuff that’s not important that’s inhibiting them from doing their job. I’ve been told that I’m not easy to “manage” (impossible actually). But I recently had a manager simply remind me of what my job is. Simply. Matter of factly, without any ego or grandstanding or none sense. And you know what? I listened to him. It sunk in. It’s as simple as that: Do Your Job. And make sure you don’t change that job — or “move the goal posts”. (That was a good one, right?)

Put Your Own Ego Aside

I love watching Belichick in post game press conferences, if they win or if they lose (which admittedly is rare). Honestly most times I wouldn’t know if they won or lost based on his demeanor. It’s never about him though. It’s always about the greater good — the team. The guy almost seems to hate the spotlight. He is straightforward about who deserves the praise or blame and I’ve never seen a glimmer of ego in the guy, which is refreshing. Maybe ego is on my mind because I just read this incredible book that I think should be a mandatory read in the C Suite- https://www.amazon.com/Ego-Enemy-Ryan-Holiday/dp/1591847818. Ego really is the enemy and Bill Belichick doesn’t seem to have one.

Always Look Forward, Never Backwards

One of my most favorite Belichick press conferences was the “we are onto Cincinatti” press conference, which I’ve pasted below for your reading pleasure. Classic stuff. He’s not one to look back, always forward. That’s not easy. Not to say. It’s not important to look back and learn from mistakes — ”test and refine” some of my clients say. Maybe he looks backwards privately but he’s not playing that game with the press. His consistency in message makes this old PR gal proud, even if it is ridiculously funny and probably frustrating for media!

The awkward give-and-take — more like no-give-and-take — as transcribed by CBS Boston (video available here):

Reporter: Coach, your team has been so successful for so long. How difficult is it to react to the adversity of Monday night to get back on track so quickly? Because … this team, this organization hasn’t had these sort of issues in the past.

Belichick: “Yeah, well, we’re on to Cincinnati.”

Reporter: Bill, do you think — you mentioned Tom [Brady’s] age at the draft …

Belichick (interrupting): “We’re on to Cincinnati.”

Reporter: But do you think having a 37-year-old …

Belichick (interrupting): “We’re on to Cincinnati. There’s nothing about the past, nothing about the future. Right now, we’re preparing for Cincinnati.”

Reporter: Do you feel like the talent you have here is good?

Belichick: “We’re getting ready for Cincinnati.”

Reporter: Well, I mean, I’m just asking, do you think you’ve done enough to help Tom Brady?

Belichick: “We’re getting ready for Cincinnati. That’s what we’re doing.”

Reporter: So as you get ready for Cincinnati, does Tom Brady have the talent and protection around him to be on to Cincinnati and …

Belichick (interrupting): “Yeah, we’re going to game-plan and do the best we can to be ready to go Sunday night — same as we always do. Nothing’s changed.”

Reporter: Are the problems you’re seeing correctable?

Belichick: “We’re going to do the best we can to put together a game plan for Cincinnati and go out and execute it well. That’s where we’re at.”

Reporter: The things that you’ve seen on tape the first four weeks, do you think the stuff that you’re seeing is correctable, that the talent is here to correct the problems?

Belichick: “We’re going to put together the best game plan we can, practice it and go out and execute it against Cincinnati.”

Reporter: Do you think you’re still kind of searching for an identity? Still looking for answers? Still … how would you …

Belichick: “I think we’re trying to find a way to beat the Bengals. That’s what we’re trying to do.”

So the guy is maybe one of the greatest football coaches ever? Do you think? I like him for different reasons: his no nonsense, egoless leadership style, which I think would be a great thing for the C suite to emulate. I don’t think you’d see him jacking Epi-pen prices up 600%….