When Pride Still Mattered, a Life of Vince Lombardi by David Maraniss provides an engaging, heartfelt and well-documented account of perhaps one of the greatest coaches of all time.
As someone in business for sports, I naturally gravitated towards the many inspirational anecdotes and motivation stories, in relating my own coaching and business experiences. With the transition of Lombardi from childhood to legendary coach, he not only begins to impact society in sports, but in business during the 1960’s. Lombardi’s methodologies continued to confirm the value of sports in teaching critical life lessons. During the later stage of his life, Lombardi traveled to share his teachings in front of almost any audience seeking guidance. From business executive meetings to sales seminars, he shared keys to success as the result of his experience winning championship after championship.
The purpose of this post is to summarize the core teachings of Vince Lombardi’s advice from his motivational talks in the 1960’s and to empower you and your leadership team as you continue to find ways to drive success everyday in your sports business. Of course, credit for this post belongs to the author of When Pride Still Mattered, David Maraniss. Lombardi’s standard speech was built around seven core themes, his “Seven Blocks of Granite” in the philosophy of success. In understanding the deeper meaning of each block, I want to share the text from one Lombardi’s last public speeches in 1970, at a sales seminar. Here is the introduction he wrote, explaining what he meant by the well-known phrase “Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing”.
“You know being a part of a football team is no different than being a part of any other organization – being part of any army, being a part of a political party. The objective is to win – the objective is to beat the other guy. Some may think this is a little bit hard and a little bit cruel. I don’t think so. I do think that is the reality of life. I do think that men are competitive, and the more competitive the business the more competitive the men. They know the rules when they get into the game, they know the objective when they get into the game – and the objective is to win: fairly, squarely, decently, win by the rules, but still win. In truth, gentlemen, I’ve never really known a successful man who deep in his heart did not appreciate the discipline it takes to win.”
With that overarching philosophy, here are Lombardi’s Seven Blocks of Granite he believed were necessary to be successful in sport, business and life.
Lombardi’s Seven Blocks to Success
1. The Meaning of Football Itself
Lombardi believed football as the “game most like life”. With that in mind, one can surmise what it takes to be successful in life, with what it takes to be successful in football.
“A game that demands Spartan qualities of sacrifice, self-denial, dedication, and fearlessness”.
2. The Value of Competition
What Lombardi called “the American zeal” to compete and win. He believed that men need the test of competition to find their better selves, whether in sports, politics or business.
“Competitive sports keeps alive in all of us a spirit of vitality and enterprise. It teaches the strong to know when they are weak and the brave to face themselves when they are afraid. To be proud and unbending in defeat, yet humble and gentle in victory. To master ourselves before we attempt to master others. To learn to laugh, yet never forget how to weep, and it gives a predominance of courage over timidity.“
3. Striving for Perfection
A man’s personal commitment to excellence and victory. The Jesuits had taught him that human perfection was unattainable, but that all human beings should still work toward it by using their God-given capacities to the fullest.
“While complete victory can never be won, it must be pursued, it must be wooed with all of one’s might. Each week there is a new encounter, each year there is a new challenge. But all of the display, all of the noise, all of the glamour, and all of the color and excitement, they exist only in the memory. But the spirit, the will to excel, the will to win, they endure, they last forever. These are the qualities, I think, that are larger and more important than any of the events that occasion them.”
4. Too Much Freedom, Not Enough Authority
We as individuals have struggled to liberate ourselves from ancient traditions, congealed creeds and despotic states. Therefore, freedom was necessarily idealized against order, the new against the old, and genius against discipline. Everything was done to strengthen the rights of the individual and weaken the state, and weaken the church, and weaken all authority. I think we all shared in this rebellion, but maybe the battle was too completely won, maybe we have too much freedom. Maybe we have so long ridiculed authority in the family, discipline in education, and decency in conduct and law that our freedom has brought us close to chaos. This led to Lombardi’s next theme, block five of his speech: discipline.”
Lombardi maintained it could be that our leaders no longer understand the relationship between themselves and the people they lead. To properly understand that relationship, Lombardi believed, a leader had to appreciate a paradox.
“That is, while most shout to be independent, at the same time they wish to be dependent, and while most shout to assert themselves, at the same time they wish to be told what to do.”
What makes a great leader? “Leaders are made, not born,” Lombardi said. “They are made by hard effort, which is the price all of us must pay to achieve any goal that is worthwhile.” Lombardi’s description of a great leader:
“A leader must identify himself with the group, must back up the group, even at the risk of displeasing his superiors. He must believe that the group wants from him a sense of approval. If this feeling prevails, production, discipline and morale will be high, and in return he can demand the cooperation to promote the goals of the company. He must believe in teamwork through participation. As a result, the contact must be close and informal. He must be sensitive to the emotional needs and expectations of others. In return, the attitude toward him should be one of confidence and, possibly, affection. The leader, in spite of what was said above, can never close the gap between himself and the group. If he does, he is no longer what he must be. He must walk, as it were, a tightrope between the consent he must win and the control that he must exert.
To walk this tightrope, a leader must find the precise balance between mental toughness and love.
The love I’m speaking of is loyalty, which is the greatest of loves. Teamwork, the love that one man has for another and that he respects the dignity of another. The love that I am speaking of is charity. I am not speaking of detraction. You show me a man who belittles another and I will show you a man who is not a leader, or one who is not charitable, who has no respect for the dignity of another, is not loyal, and I will show you a man who is not a leader. I am not advocating that love is the answer to everything. I am not speaking of a love which forces everyone to love everybody else, that you must love the white man because he is white or the black man because he is black or the poor because he is poor or your enemy because he is your enemy, but rather of a love that one man has for another human being…Heart power is the strength of your company. Heart power is the strength of the Green Bay Packers. Heart power is the strength of America and hate power is the weakness of the world.”
7. Character and Will
“The character, rather than education, is man’s greatest need and man’s greatest safeguard because character is higher than intellect. While it is true the difference between men is in energy, in the strong will, in the settled purpose and in the invincible determination, the new leadership is in sacrifice, it is in self-denial, it is in love and loyalty, it is in fearlessness, it is in humility, and it is in the perfectly disciplined will. This, gentlemen, is the distinction between great and little men.”