Learning from Super Bowl Coaches


In the Lead – WSJ.com

The WSJ wrote Monday about the leadership styles of Tony Dungy and Lovie Smith, the Super Bowl coaches for the Colts and Bears.

The Super Bowl should be required viewing for managers who think screaming at employees is the best way to motivate them — or simply their prerogative as bosses.

Do any of you still work for this type of troglodyte boss? There are plenty of them at GM in the mid-90's and I even ran into a few at Honeywell a few years back. This type of manager isn't extinct yet, unfortunately.

A calmer, more respectful style works for Dungy and Smith. Toyota teaches us (or tries) that “respect for people” is a key management concept. Easier said than done.

Both believe they can get their teams to compete more fiercely and score more touchdowns by giving directives calmly and treating players with respect.

This doesn't mean they aren't demanding or don't push hard. Mr. Dungy has a grading system that counts players' “loafs.” If someone isn't running at full speed, or eases up or fails to hit an opponent when he could have, those are loafs, and it's hard to get through a game without getting at least one.

That point lines up perfectly with my understanding of TPS. “Respect” doesn't mean being easy on people. Respect means being tough and holding people accountable, to themselves and to the organization.

The WSJ article reinforces that the yellers and the screamers are still pretty common, the type of boss who doesn't show respect for people:

But there are still numerous business executives who ridicule and scream at employees. As a result, they undermine productivity, discourage innovation and may cause a talent drain at their companies, says James Clifton, CEO of the Gallup Organization.

“There's a big difference between saying ‘you made a stupid mistake' and screaming ‘you're really stupid,' ” agrees Gary Hayes, a psychologist and co-founder of New York consultant Hayes Brunswick. He worked with a New York law firm where a senior partner flung heavy law books across the room at an associate. “The associate told me it was all right since the partner intentionally threw to miss — not hit him,” says Mr. Hayes. “But the associate soon moved to another firm.”

The vice president of marketing at a Silicon Valley company attributes rapid turnover at many West Coast technology companies to what he calls “screaming-bully bosses.”

One such boss, a body builder who liked to show off his strength to managers by doing 25 pushups at the start of meetings, called him at all hours to scream about things that had gone wrong. A second bully boss, the CEO of a semiconductor-network start-up, ridiculed him and his colleagues publicly. “He'd pick up something I'd written and say, ‘Who wrote this? A second grader? It's the stupidest thing I've ever read,' ” the marketing vice president says.

If you're working for one of those bosses, it might be time to move on. I'm lucky that, in my current job, I do have bosses that have respect for people.

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Mark Graban
Mark Graban is an internationally-recognized consultant, author, and professional speaker, and podcaster with experience in healthcare, manufacturing, and startups. Mark's new book is The Mistakes That Make Us: Cultivating a Culture of Learning and Innovation. He is also the author of Measures of Success: React Less, Lead Better, Improve More, the Shingo Award-winning books Lean Hospitals and Healthcare Kaizen, and the anthology Practicing Lean. Mark is also a Senior Advisor to the technology company KaiNexus.


  1. I had to laugh when I read this blog since I just came from Jon Miller’s blog (Gemba.com) and commented on how important respect for people is. As you imply respect is not the same as easy or nice. Instead, it is fair and balanced. Without respect the best Lean or Six Sigma is doomed for failure. It is almost a certainty.


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