I had the privilege of coaching boys’ football for 14 years and have come to learn just how closely the strategies for football parallel the strategies for building and running a business. Whether you are a sports fanatic or not, putting an offensive and defensive strategy into play will help you establish the foundation that sets your organization up for success—and the common denominator for both strategies is putting people first.
With each new season of my coaching tenure came different levels of talent and experience to the team. While the varying skillsets may have impacted our scores, one thing was always consistent year after year: an unwavering purpose for why we were there. Beginner, intermediate, and advanced players all united under the shared philosophy that ‘We are in this together’, and they built a camaraderie through hard work, teamwork, celebrating successes and overcoming failures.
The experience of coaching taught me invaluable lessons on being proactive and protective. These lessons, which apply today and have produced incredible results over my 40 years in lending, collectively amount to the dos and don’ts of organizational leadership.
The top five offensive and defensive strategies I have learned, on and off the field, for building a company from the ground up are:
- Exercise a people-first mentality. The power of your business lies within the people that make up your organization. As a leader, it is imperative that you genuinely operate with your people as a priority. When you champion your team’s success, advocate for their wellbeing, and create a platform for their voices to be heard, you will create a mutually reciprocated respect and commitment that no job description can define.
- Surround yourself with positive influences. If you are the only one in your organization to have a people-first mentality, you bear the responsibility of spreading that mindset. Be selective and pick the right people who will foster that mentality, because when executives commit to it, managers commit to it, and direct reports commit to it. The trickle-down philosophy is no longer a mentality; rather it becomes a movement. The commitment to consistent connection and involvement is a long game, but with the right people leading the way, it eventually becomes an unspoken love language of the organization.
- Collectively create core values. Your company’s core values should be ones that each member believes in and will live by, both in and out of the office. Create your core values to be more than a façade; create them to exemplify a way of life and a guiding compass unique to your business and team. Make this a collaborative process, welcome ideas, and socialize your selected values so they become engrained in your team’s everyday life.
- Have a “customer for life” approach. The embodiment of a relational business is when you view your clients, as well as your team members, as a long-term investment by investing in them as people. True customer service begins at ‘hello’ and ends never, and, with a servant approach, the relationship will evolve as a partnership and not a deal. If you lead with a relational mindset and translate that into running a business, you will have a winning long-term strategy that evolves into business prosperity.
- Take extreme ownership. No matter what mistakes are made within the organization, as the leader, the buck stops with you. Own it.
- Embrace constructive criticism. The open-mindedness to receive constructive criticism is instrumental to true growth. Do not close off your senses to the invaluable feedback you receive internally from your organization or externally from your customers. As I used to say when I was coaching, we were given two ears and one mouth for good reason… use them proportionately.
- Don’t fall in love with your own ideas. While great ideas and strong viewpoints are par for the course, be careful to not become so set in your ways that you miss out on opportunities. For example, COVID brought a huge paradigm shift in the way I viewed it as necessary for everyone to work in the office. I squirmed when people began to work from home, but their gratitude for feeling safe and being present for loved ones resulted in unspeakable gratitude and increased productivity. The people’s actions spoke, and my work-in-office position evolved to work-from-anywhere.
- Know when to stop. Don’t succumb to the coziness of your comfort zone. If a person, place, thing, idea, or concept isn’t working… STOP it. Having the discipline to stop something despite habits, history, or convenience is a defensive play that is easier said than done, but assuredly a move that will always expand your organization to new and improved horizons.
- Stay true to your vision. Distractions are all around but remember to turn down the noise when it comes to outside influences that weigh down or deviate you from your vision. Specifically, this means not allowing factors such as other people’s business plans, other “expert” opinions about the marketplace, or even antagonistic personalities to impact your shared strategic initiatives. Your vision is what drives your business, so listen, but don’t be distracted. Remain unflappable to the thousands of different views in the marketplace and stay loyal to the one that matters most… your team’s.
- Inspect what you expect. It’s my belief that constantly evaluating the results of your strategic plan is key. This means constantly revisiting, pivoting where necessary, and doubling down when appropriate. The proper execution of this strategy requires the collective culmination of all four defensive strategies above. When you can assess your actions and direction with honesty and have the humility to course correct, your organization will have the strongest defense possible.
Offensively or defensively, the foundation of your business is centered around your people. They need to feel like they have a purpose, feel exceptional being a part of your team, and define their ‘why.’ By putting people first in all aspects of their lives, you will collectively build the bedrock of a solid organization.