Over coffee off campus this afternoon, a colleague and I discussed what distinguishes management from leadership. A Giants fan, he shared a blog post he read that morning on the website UltimateNYG.com: “From 7-7 to Super Bowl Champs: Behind the NY Giants Turnaround.”
After a three game skid in November, the Giants employed a consulting firm, Afterburner Inc., founded by a former US Air Force Pilot, to guide them in organizational improvement. The group taught the players and the management (the team) “how to review game tape in a constructive and positive manner though a ‘nameless, rankless’ tone.” The goal was to teach the team how to trust and empower one another. Offensive lineman David Diehl explained the benefits of the program, “there is no better person to watch film with than your peers. Football is so much about accountability and selling out for the guy next to you. You don’t want to let the guy next to you down. When you can watch film as a group, people can stand up and say, hey, that was my mistake, I was responsible. That leads to a belief in one another.” He adds, “When a team thoroughly discusses each other’s contribution to the execution of a task, they come to know each other and understand each other’s unique challenges and obstacles. They uncover the complexities that challenge them and learn how better to assist each other in managing those challenges.”
Afterburner employs a “debriefing” method that ensures that teammates recognize that they are “intimately connected and responsible for the outcome” of the team’s central mission: wins. The debriefing demands that players and management continually examine a few central questions:
- How long can you survive the repetition of the same mistake?
- What good does it do to have members of an organization contribute to a project or planning effort and then have no connection to the outcome, no part in the post mortem?
- How can individuals measure themselves? Groups?
As a result of this process, teammates were able to critique themselves, each other, and even the coaches, employing a “nameless, rankless” tone. Embraced by the team, “the Debriefing process provides an appropriate means of putting the past behind us, learning and growing from it, and moving on. And, when debriefing is performed regularly, it keeps the organization focused on the present and the future rather than the past.”
It’s important to remember, though, that the Giants employed Afterburner’s process because Coughlin, the team’s head coach, recognized that he needed help. The article explains that, acknowledging that he wasn’t connecting to his players, Coughlin asked Kurt Warner, a one-time Giants player, to “go home and make a list of all the things you think I need to do better as a coach.” On the list was the suggestion, “rather than just make rules and enforce them … show the players why a certain rule is important.”
So getting back to the coffee house discussion that prompted the Giants’ story, Coughlin made the switch from management to leadership, and the critical element that engendered that change was Coughlin’s recognition of his own vulnerability and his embrace of humility. He stopped trading in the currency of power and instead leveled the playing field, so to speak. He acknowledged that every member of the team is essential to its success and that only by empowering the players in the planning, process, and the outcome could the team truly get behind its playoff theme – “all in.”