What would Vince Lombardi do?

June 7, 2011

Vince LombardiI recently met this amazingly engaging executive from Life Touch who had the privilege of spending seven years with Vince Lombardi. What great stories he had to share, as we circled a mile above San Francisco.

We began to talk about Nordstrom and what great customer service they provide to their guests. I asked, “What would happen if Vince Lombardi led the folks at Nordstrom?”

He explained to me that Lombardi was all about lifting people up and pushing them further than they thought possible. And, as his reputation documents, he did not always do it in the kindest way. After some reflection, I think we both came to the conclusion that Lombardi may not have done well when the players on the team were not willing to give up everything for their roles.

When we compare what it takes to lead a military unit, a football team, an NGO, or a business, we sometimes forget that the rules are different. Professional football players know that their window for greatness is brief and that they can and will be replaced; excellence and selflessness can be demanded of them. NGO workers know that if they don’t solve an important issue, people will suffer. The military leader knows that when training ends, their soldiers’ lives will be at stake. Very few mission-driven businesses can offer something so compelling, where the stakes are so great.

In all likelihood, Vince Lombardi would realize that his leadership style wouldn’t work in a business where workers could find a similar job elsewhere. So what would Vince Lombardi do? He would adapt and find a new method to lead others and win!

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