The book is written by Bill Walsh – San Francisco’s 49ers Football team coach who transformed the worst-performing team of its era into the best-performing team. The book talks about the changes he brought in as well as his philosophy of leadership which is generic enough to apply outside of American Football. He is also known as the creator of the West Coast Offense.
He brought in Standards of Performance that sets the expectations for everyone who was part of the 49ers.
Process vs Result
- Aim for a Standard of Performance (which is absolute) vs winning (which is relative to others).
- “Process” of improvement leads to the “result” of victory and not vice-versa.
- Focus on the process which produces results and not on results.
- Promotions/wins/sales quotas are results, they do not provide performance information. And it’s important to dig into the performance to find the truth hidden behind these results.
Failure is an integral part of success. Knowing when it happens and what to do when it happens is the first step toward success.
- Do Expect defeat
- Do stop looking at past failures
- Do give yourself a little recovery time
- Do tell yourself to stand up and fight again
- Do start planning for the next battle
- Don’t blame others
- Don’t expect sympathy
- Don’t ask “Why me”
- Don’t bellyache
- Don’t keep accepting condolences
On organization culture
- Know it all bull-headed people are dangerous.
- In an organization, it’s not just important for individuals to know their role but they should be aware of the roles of other people as well.
- Success belongs to everyone and so the failure.
- Never let your colleagues down, you win with them, you lose with them. Therefore, defend them.
- Winners act like winners before they are.
- Hostile relations are toxic – one enemy does more damage than the good of 100 friends. Enemies consume time, energy, and attention – all limited resources.
- An organization emulates the leader’s work ethic.
- A little humor is important to keep a check on stress and anxiety.
- Success disease – Winning knocks off emotional balance and that’s why repeated success is difficult.
- Being aspirational is good but commitment and sacrifice are needed to attain success.
On decision making
- Opinions, discussions, and variance of ideas are good but once the decision is made discussion should be over.
followers who work for a leader offer their opinion, the leader is the one who should make a decision.
- A leader must make a decision based on “sound logic”, any reactionary reasons (eg. to prove oneself right or to prove someone wrong) are usually bad.
- Hire a person for his expertise and not just past relations.
- Hire high-energy and motivated individuals.
- Being able to communicate and express oneself is equally important.
- Hire people who will be loyal to you.
- Choose people who have “character” and not “characters”.
- People past their peak have to leave, it hurts but organization comes first.
- Be ready to deal with people who breach the policies, firing sucks but sometimes there are no alternatives.
- Attitude matters as much as talent, sometimes, talented individuals with bad attitudes must be let go of.
- People who don’t have the willpower to succeed will fail, better let them leave early on.
On conventional wisdom
- Conventional wisdom leads to conventional results.
- Success does not care about which road you chose.
- Remove the fear of the unknown, and take bold steps as long as they are well thought out.
- Desperation should not be driving innovation (that’s the last resort).
- Be obsessive about looking for the upside in the downside.
- Don’t mistake activity for action.
- Give credit where it’s due, fewer things offer a greater return on investment than praise.
- Be prepared – visualize the future, think about all possible situations, and prepare your responses for them in advance.
- Responses are temporary – Make moves to counter competitors but remember that competitor is going to come back with a counter move soon, so, be prepared for that.
- A leader cannot be casual in any area of life, all his moves must be well thought of with great attention to detail.
- A leader must have the strength of will to carry out his decisions and to be able to stick with them in adverse situations.
- Focus on important problems for the organization rather than peripheral stuff (stuff that does not add to the bottom line should not get too much attention).
- A good leader produces a self-sustaining organization that functions well even in his absence.
- People are motivated only by their inner voice, teach a new inner voice to followers which will motivate them.
- The focus should be on motivating people to do “their best” rather than “crush the opponent” – though occasionally “crush the opponent” works too.
- Be wary of titles (“genius” in the case of Bill Walsh), they haunt you later when performance goes down.
- Criticize people for “current” mistakes (and not the ones committed earlier). Also, give some positive feedback afterward.
- When describing expectations from employees, don’t be subtle, be explicit, and set the record straight.
- Big ears (better listeners) are better than big egos – Listen, Learn, and Lead.
- Be the leader – without the formal title (titles produce hierarchy and reduce communication)
- Be unpredictable – People become comfortable with predictable leaders, unpredictability/uncertainty allows a leader to prevent people from settling in their comfort zone.
- A leader treats his people like his family members – money alone cannot motivate people for long.
- Teaching is an important part of a leader’s life – Having a passion for teaching, expertise in the subject, being able to communicate his ideas, and having the persistence to teach is important.
- The bottom 20% can determine the outcome – Ensure that they are motivated.
- Avoid the dance of death – If failure is imminent, don’t give in, keep fighting, and lose with dignity.
- Tell people – “I believe in you”
- Don’t push people to their limits all the time, try to maintain a sustainable level of performance, and keep the reserves ready for an emergency.
- Keep superiors informed of your activities – Err on the side of over-communication.
- Make your mentors and learn from them – A good leader is always learning.
- A leader aims for perfection, he does not settle for 99%.
- A leader focuses on performance rather than getting distracted by rumors and gossip.
- A leader ensures that his followers can advance their careers, he does not backstab them for his personal or organizational gains.
- A leader succeeds by meticulous planning and not by hoping for a surprise (though the execution appears as a surprise to outside observers).
- When a leader makes mistakes, he admits them and moves on.
- While judging a person, do not ignore the context.
- A pretty package cannot sell a poor product.
- A leader is discreet about whom he confides his secrets, crying on the wrong shoulder will have negative repercussions.
13 characteristics of a leader
- Be yourself – Follow your way of doing things
- Be committed to excellence – Focus must be on doing things at the highest possible level of performance
- Be positive – Spend more time on “Do” than “Don’t”
- Be prepared – Prepare for all expected situations even undesirable ones
- Be detail-oriented – But don’t bury yourself in them
- Be organized – great organization is a trademark of the great organization
- Be accountable
- Be near-sighted and far-sighted
- Be fair – to people
- Be firm – on values and principles
- Be flexible – to adjust to new situations and find solutions
- Believe in yourself – have self-confidence
- Be a leader – Demonstrate integrity, intelligence, and team-first attributes