In a talk I recently attended at a dinner sponsored by One Charles Private Wealth, Ian O’Connor, author the new biography Belichick: The Making of the Greatest Football Coach of All Time, sought to explain Coach Bill Belichick’s great success with the New England Patriots. I gleaned the following five management lessons from what O’Connor said:
- Be yourself. Before Belichick came to the Patriots, he was the unsuccessful coach of the Cleveland Browns. O’Connor says that in Cleveland, Belichick was trying to emulate his mentor, Bill Parcels. That didn’t work. By the time he came to New England, he was ready to be his own man. O’Connor tells the story of Belichick’s assistants who have not been so successful when they’ve gone on to be head coaches on their own, arguing that they have tried to coach like Belichick, rather than finding their own path to success.
- Adjust. Belichick adjusted his coaching approach in coming from Cleveland to New England. But he is also famous for being a terrific second-half coach, adjusting his game plan at halftime based on what he sees during the first half of each game. Tellingly, O’Connor blames last year’s Super Bowl loss in part on Belichick’s failure to adjust. For a number of reasons, he had benched Malcolm Butler, who had saved Super Bowl XLIX with his famous interception at the end of the game. Unfortunately, Belichick did not adjust and did not play Butler in the second half of last year’s game, potentially sealing the Patriots’ loss.
- Know your employees. Belichick is famous for signing veterans who have not excelled on their prior teams, identifying their strengths and giving them the opportunity to excel by using those strengths. O’Connor reports that Belichick’s private persona is much more easygoing and friendly than the curmudgeon he presents to the public. His focus on individual players is also an adjustment from Belichick’s Cleveland Brown days. O’Connor cites one athlete who had been a member of both teams who said that while the Patriots want to win Super Bowls for Belichick, there was no such loyalty on the Browns.
- Focus on your opponents’ strengths. O’Connor talks about Patriots game plans that attempt to hamper the performance of their opponents’ strongest athletes. If they can avoid the big plays by the other side, the team can usually take care of the rest of the game. For those in business who do not have opponents or one-on-one competitors in the same way that football teams do, this may be translated into focusing on your primary challenges or obstacles to success.
- Play to your own strengths. At the same time that Belichick seeks to undermine his opponents’ strengths, he seeks to maximize those of the Patriots’. This relates to the earlier lesson of knowing your players and supporting their strengths. But this also means designing a game plan that focuses on your strengths. You can’t do everything, so do what you or your team are best at and do it to the best of your ability.
Of course, for Bill Belichick, the other key to his success has been in having Tom Brady, one of the best quarterbacks of all time (and O’Connor says the very best). We can’t always have the very best on our teams, but we can do the best we can to get close (hire slow and fire fast) and then follow the rules above.