In the 100th year of the NFL, it is common to read about all of “the bests” in league history. While as of this writing the top 8 coaches in history haven’t all been named, I’m willing to wager that Bill Walsh will be one of them. As such, his philosophy of leadership. Soon after his death, this book, that he had worked on with Steve Jamison, was published.
While part football retrospective, which likely makes the book most interesting to sports and football fans, it isn’t exactly biographical. It is, as the subtitle suggests, more about Walsh’s philosophy of leadership.
While there are lessons throughout, there are three big things that struck me as I read.
- His focus on self and team, more than on opponent or outcome. Much like basketball coach John Wooden, Walsh talks about focusing on helping the team be best prepared and creating best efforts, knowing then, that “the score will take care of itself.” (Co-author Jamison also co-wrote with Wooden, including the excellent Wooden on Leadership).
- His description of his Standard of Performance. This is Walsh’s way of creating crystal clear expectations for everyone in the organization. Some of the specifics may seem like micro-management. But the goal is the opposite – to create an intentional culture where talent can flourish, and high performance will occur. The book is worth it for his thinking and examples in this area alone.
- The chapter near the end on mastery. Coming from a person who clearly mastered his leadership craft, it also makes reading the entire book a worthy investment of your time.
Yes, there are football examples and analogies, and for that reason, some will be more drawn to it than others. Because I lived in the San Francisco Bay Area during many 49er’s championship seasons, I was especially drawn to the book. The philosophy of leadership throughout is worthy of study by all leaders. Ultimately, that is why I recommend this book so highly.
A final note
One of his scouts and protégés, Michael Lombardi, became an NFL General Manager and Executive. He also wrote an excellent book on leadership through the prism of the NFL – Gridiron Genius: A Master Class in Building Teams and Winning at the Highest Level, and has been a guest on my Remarkable Leadership Podcast. You can listen to our conversation, including some thoughts about Bill Walsh, here.