Simplifying the Game
Sonny Jurgensen, the famed former quarterback of the Washington Redskins, recently said “Vince Lombardi was such a great coach because he simplified the game for everyone.” Lombardi must have made a quick and dramatic impression on Jurgensen; Lombardi coached him for only a year before he died of cancer prior to the 1970 season.
Many writers and even more businesspeople try to make sports coaches and athletes into business heroes. Every year, new books by the latest Super Bowl coach or NCAA basketball winner ‘writes’ a book extolling his lessons in leadership as the proven way to gain success in business and life. Victory on the court translates into victory in the boardroom.
Rarely do these writings or sayings live up to their billing. The pursuit of wisdom rarely leads to these doorsteps. And yet, Jurgensen’s comment deserves attention, because he has made a worthy observation. Good coaches and managers do indeed make the world simpler for the men and women in their charge.
They make the world simpler by bringing much needed focus. In the modern world of business, dozens of seeming priorities crowd out each other and a worker’s time. Complexity compounds complexity. It takes a special mind, with unique insight or experience, or both, to bring order to the initiatives of the team and its members.
Poor managers seem to reflect and augment that complexity. They may even inflict their own disordered approach to problem solving and task completion onto their subordinates. Great coaches and managers do exactly the opposite: they constantly strive to engender in their teams an understanding of true priorities. At any one time, a person can pursue only so many priorities, regardless of what the mavens of multitasking say. More than three or four, perhaps five, and a staff member cannot concentrate enough thought or willpower to accomplish much.
If pressed, Jurgensen very well might distill his appraisal of Lombardi into this statement: simplicity improves performance by removing greater or lesser trivial matters from the focus of the team. And, that insight crystallizes one of the talents that distinguish great managers from mediocre ones.