Management Lessons from 'The Pope'

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Management Lessons from 'The Pope'

By Harry Stagnito - 09/15/2013

As I was watching the Chicago Bears in their come-from-behind win over the Minnesota Vikings a few weeks ago, I could see clear evidence that the new coaching staff and its restructured game strategy was working.

That raised the question: Whether it's football or a retail business, why do some management programs continue to prosper at the top of their game, while so many others fluctuate on a steady basis?

To begin my search for the answer, I pulled out my favorite sports biography, "When Pride Still Mattered: A Life Of Vince Lombardi," by David Maraniss. This book is not only a great read about football, but more importantly, it's also about a man committed to every element of management. His success with the Green Bay Packers proved it. (My Chicago buddies surely will let me hear it for bringing this up.)

Following are some of the most pointed areas that formed Lombardi's management philosophy. They are pertinent for us to embrace in our own management leadership roles in building and sustaining a dynasty in sports or business.

Maraniss attributes Lombardi's philosophy in part to his studies at West Point and Fordham University. "Both emphasized discipline, order, organization, planning, attention-to-detail, repetition, the ability to adjust to different situations and remain flexible in pursuit of a goal while sustaining an obsession with one big idea," Maraniss writes. (Every goal is an appropriate ingredient for running any business.)

As Maraniss puts it, "In the profession of coaching, there are two essential challenges: one is to build a winning team from scratch, the other is to sustain excellence after a club has reached the top. They are distinct tasks, perhaps equally difficult but usually requiring different intellectual and psychological skills. Even the best coaches are more proficient at one than the other." (That's where assistant coaches come in. They must combine all of the organizational elements and deliver persistent execution to ensure success.)

"Repetition, confidence and passion. Trinity of success." (A lifelong pursuit based on self-learning.)

Lombardi considered winning the American zeal, but Maraniss says, "Winning wasn't everything for him, he wanted excellence. There's a difference."

Lombardi taught us a leader must–

  • Identify himself with his group, back up the group, even at risk of displeasing his superiors.
  • Provide a sense of approval, which results in higher production, discipline and morale, and in return can make stronger demands.
  • Believe in teamwork through participation.
  • Be close to emotional needs and expectations of others.
  • Walk a tightrope between consent he must win and control he must exert.
  • Show heart power.

Maraniss also calls to attention Lombardi's beliefs about character: "Character is an integration of habits of conduct superimposed on temperament. It is the will exercised on disposition, thought, emotion and action. Will is the character in action. The character, rather than education, is man's greatest need and man's greatest safeguard, because character is higher than intellect. The new leadership is in sacrifice, it is in self denial, it is in loyalty, fearlessness, humility and the perfectly disciplined will. This is the distinction between great and little men." (What more can I say?)

Go Bears!


"The new leadership is in sacrifice, it is in self denial, it is in loyalty, fearlessness, humility and the perfectly disciplined will."

– Harry Stagnito,

President and CEO, Stagnito Media