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Coach Lombardi’s 3 Leadership Lessons for Success
Coach Vince Lombardi was an American football player, one of the “Seven Blocks of Granite” on the Fordham football team, head coach of the Green Bay Packers in the 1960s who led the team to three consecutive and five overall NFL championships in seven years and “won the first two Super Bowls at the end 1966 and 1967 NFL season.
Coach Lombardi is considered by many experts to be “the greatest coach in the history of football, and more importantly recognized as one of the greatest coaches and teachers in the history of any American sport.”
The Lombards were devout Catholics and attended mass every Sunday. Vince was the oldest of their five children, an altar boy at their Catholic church, and his parents expected more from him.
The children of Lombardy, outside their neighborhood, were exposed to the “ethnic discrimination” of Italian immigrants that was widespread in the culture of the time.
David Maraniss wrote When Pride Still Mattered: The Life of Vince Lombardi. “Harry Lombardi preached to his children his triangle of success – a sense of duty, respect for authority and strong mental discipline.”
The virtue of hard work:
As a young man, Vince began working for his father Harry in the family butcher shop. Vince carried extremely heavy sides of meat and cut up carcasses. He didn’t like doing this. Carrying the heavy sides of the flesh shaped his muscles which were useful for him in athletics.
Vince’s father encouraged his interest in football and his love for the sport. He played in “sandball games” at the age of 12. At the age of 15 in 1928, Vince decided to become a priest and enrolled at the Cathedral College of the Immaculate Conception. In school, Vince played center on the basketball team and outfielder and catcher on the baseball team. He also continued to play football in pickup games.
Two years later, he decided not to become a priest and transferred to the preparatory school of St. Francis in Brooklyn where he received a scholarship. He played as a quarterback on the football team. Vince was “described as aggressive and powerful” who played “every minute of every game.” At school, the other students liked him, and his coaches and teachers respected him and “helped him win a football scholarship to Fordham University.”
Fordham University “Seven Blocks of Granite”:
After graduating from high school, Vince Lombardi attended Fordham University in 1933 on a football scholarship. Vince Lombardi was 5-foot-8, 185 pounds and stocky.
Lombardi and his teammates were on the cusp of their best season ever. Their offensive line quickly gained a reputation for impenetrability, but they still needed a memorable nickname to compete with the Four Horsemen of Notre Dame. Someone mentioned that they were as hard as “Seven Blocks of Granite” and the name stuck.
The team did not win the championship that year, but the nickname Seven Blocks of Granite ushered that team into college immortality.
Vince Lombardi graduated from Fordham University in 1937 with a degree in business, magna cum laude. He then attended law school for one semester at night and worked at a financial company during the day. Then for a year Vince worked as a chemist. He was uninspired and thought about teaching and coaching. He missed being around young people.
Teaching and training at St. Celia:
Vince Lombardi received a phone call and was offered a position as a teacher and assistant football coach at St. Celia High School in Englewood, New Jersey. He accepted the position and taught physics, Latin, chemistry, physical education, coached basketball and was an assistant football coach. Vince Lombardi later said that “these eight years were some of the best years of his life.” In 1940, Vince Lombardi married his sweetheart, Marie Planitz, and they had two children, Vince, Jr. and Susan.
Coach Lombardi “was a strict disciplinarian,” expecting his rules to be followed. He studied every sport he taught his students intensively, “breaking it down into systematic and logical parts” that his students could understand. Lombardi demanded perfection.
Coach Lombardi’s rule: “Don’t just outwork the next person. Outwork everyone else.”
Coach Lombardi said, “Football is like life – it requires perseverance, self-sacrifice, hard work, sacrifice, dedication and respect for authority.
Assistant Football Coach at Fordham University:
In 1947, Vince Lombardi returned to Fordham University, his alma mater, to join the coaching staff for two years.
Coach Lombardi was a “tireless coach” on the field. His exercises were “strenuous and demanding.” He expected “absolute commitment from his players”. He would run the same play over and over again, ‘barking’ – “Start again” whenever a mistake was made. He “expected perfection”.
Coach Lombardi’s rule: ‘chasing perfection’. “If you settle for nothing less than your best, you’ll be amazed at what you can achieve in your life.”
Assistant Coach at West Point for Coach Red Blake:
In 1949, he became an assistant coach at the United States Academy at West Point to learn from legendary coach Colonel Red Blake. During this time he “identified and developed.. the hallmark of his great teams.. simplicity and execution.”
At West Point, Coach Lombardi strictly enforced a road curfew. Later it was called “Lombardy time”. His players had to arrive 10 minutes early. When a player was “several minutes late” he fined him. While traveling, his players wore team blazers and ties. The coach said he wants them to represent the team well.
Assistant coach for the New York Giants: Lombardi was then hired for the next 5 years as an assistant coach “in the NFL for the New York Giants.” The Giants, with Lombardi’s help, won “five winning seasons, culminating in the league championship in 1956.” While with the Giants, Coach Lombardi had to take on a second job to support his family.
Head Coach of the Green Bay Packers in Wisconsin: Coach Lombardi, 45 years old, became the new head coach of the Green Bay Packers for the next five years. The Green Bay Packers were a losing team when new head coach Lombardi was hired.
David Maraniss in his book, “When Pride Still Mattered: The Life of Vince Lombardi” explained when Coach Lombardi “entered training camp in the summer of 1961. He took nothing for granted. He began the tradition of starting from scratch, assuming that players were blank slates that carried no knowledge from the previous year… He began with the most elementary statement of all. “Sir,” he said, holding a pigskin in his right hand, this is a soccer ball.
Coach Lombardi “started from the ground up” methodically covering the basics during training camp. The Green Bay Packers team “would become the best in the league at the tasks that everyone took for granted.” The Green Bay Packers “beat the New York Giants 37-0 to win the NFL Championship” six months later.
Coach Lombardi fought prejudice all his life as an Italian and did not tolerate prejudice in his players, nor in the restaurants or facilities where he took his players. Many times he was overlooked for coaching jobs because he was Italian.
Vince Lombardi, Jr. says, “My father was not only a great football coach, he was also a great leader. It was his leadership – his ability to motivate his players, to inspire them to surpass their own physical and mental abilities, and his incredible will to win that brought national fame to the man, his methods and his players.”
Zig Ziglar, an expert on motivation, told the following story: It was a hot and humid day. Practice did not go well for Green Bay Packers coach Lombardi. He chose “one of his big guards” to chew out for “failing to ‘shut down.’
Coach Lombardi said, “Son, you’re a bad football player. You don’t block, you don’t attack, you don’t shut down. In fact, it’s all over for today. Go take a shower. “
Keeping his head down, the big guard “walked into the locker room” and sat in front of his locker, remaining in uniform for forty-five minutes with his head down, sobbing softly. When Lombardi walked in and saw his football player, he looked back at the face. Walking over the coach “put his arm around the shoulders of his players” and said: “Son, I told you the truth. You’re a bad football player. You don’t block, you don’t attack, you don’t drop out. However, to be fair to you, I should have finished the story. In youSon, there is a great football player and I will stay with you until the great football player in you has a chance to come out and prove himself.”
Coach Lombardi’s words and actions helped Jerry Kramer’s talent grow and blossom into a great football player. The coach as promised stayed by Jerry’s side inspiring him and motivating him to be a great football player.
Jerry Kramer “became one of the greatest football players of all time” and was voted the All-Time Quarterback in the first 50 years of professional football.
Coach Vince Lombardi told his players, “I have to make you the best football player I can be with every fiber of my being.” And you have to give it your all. to keep yourself in excellent physical condition, because fatigue makes cowards of us all.”
Shelby Skrhak said, “Lombardi made men out of his players. By doing this, he promised to be relentless.”
Zig Ziglar said that “Coach Lombardi saw things in his people that they rarely saw in themselves. He had the ability to inspire his people to use the talent they had.” Coach Lombardi led his Green Bay Packers to three straight and five overall NFL championships in seven years and they won “the first two Super Bowls at the end of the NFL seasons in 1966 and 1967.”
Coach Vince Lombardi’s Rule of Character: Coach Lombardi believed that a person’s character is made up of small, everyday decisions to do the right thing, as well as larger overarching traits, such as respect, humility, and responsibility.
Coach Lombardi told a management student at Fordham in 1967 that “Character is just another word for a perfectly disciplined and educated will. A person can build his character by mixing these elements with an intense desire to achieve excellence. Everyone is different in what I will call greatness, but the capacity to achieve character is still the same.”
Lombardi’s rule: “Write your character.” Improvements in moral character are our personal responsibility. Bad habits are not eliminated by others, but by ourselves.”
Coach Lombardi developed the character of his players by “teaching them discipline and giving them the confidence to achieve more than they thought possible.”
Coach Lombardi “knew the psychology of his players. He developed people, not players.”
Washington Redskins coach:
When Coach Lombardi became the new head coach of the Washington Redskins, reporters asked him how he would handle Sonny Jurgensen, a talented but undisciplined quarterback?
Lombardi “called Sonny to his side, hugged him and said, ‘Gentlemen, this is the greatest quarterback to ever step foot on the football field.’
Coach Lombardi also gave Sonny Jurgensen something to live for!
Zig Ziglar said, “Is it any wonder Jurgensen had his best year ever. Lombardi saw the good in others, treated them as he saw them, and helped develop the ‘good’ that was in them.”
Coach Lombardi had a way of looking at his players, seeing their talents and knowing what he needed to do to develop those talents. He believed in “the old-fashioned values of discipline, obedience, loyalty, character and teamwork.”
What are Coach Lombardi’s three leadership lessons for success?
1) The first priority of leaders is to develop their people.
2) Leaders do this by teaching them discipline, i
3) teaching them character.
As a leader in your business or organization make it your first priority to develop your team members by teaching them discipline and character like Coach Vince Lombardi did!
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