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Sloppy vs Disciplined – Leadership Lessons from the #DallasCowboys and #DenverBroncos

Denver Broncos became instant contender for Super Bowl when they signed Peyton ManningI live in Denver, and I love to watch the Denver Broncos (and Denver Nuggets in case you are wondering). We had an exciting an unorthodox playoff run last year, courtesy of Tim Tebow, and this year started with astronomical expectations when we signed one of the all-time greats: Peyton Manning.

I grew up a Dallas Cowboys fan, and the Denver regional coverage and NFL schedule have been kind to me this year because I’ve seen several Cowboys games. Well, I say “kind” – perhaps they are punishing me because I will diligently watch a Cowboys game even though it can be an affront to the sensitivities of a devoted football fan. The stark contrast in these two teams led me to write this blog post!

Sloppy: Dallas Cowboys

  • Egotistical owner (Jerry Jones) who always wants more credit for franchise success and insists on direct involvement with player personnel decisions. In fact, he is also the President and General Manager.
  • Knowledgeable but inexperienced coach in Jason Garrett. Garrett would have been best served having his first head-coaching stint somewhere other than Dallas where he is subjected to Jones’ overbearing involvement.
  • Missing veteran leadership, with proven success, at key player positions. Tony Romo, Jason Witten and DeMarcus Ware are skilled all-pros, but they have not generated deep playoff runs and Super Bowl wins.
  • Young players are shockingly undisciplined (or have sustained key injuries like Sean Lee and DeMarco Murray).
  • Result: Struggling and one-dimensional offense, blown defensive coverages,  careless penalties at crucial times, poor tackling, undisciplined team lacking in fundamentals.

Disciplined: Denver Broncos

  • Established, well-informed yet hands off owner in Pat Bowlen
  • Hall of Fame quarterback John Elway – who happens to have a high football IQ – as executive vice president of football operations
  • Seasoned coaching staff with well-known attention to detail (John Fox and Jack Del Rio)
  • Veteran leadership at key player positions (Peyton Manning, Brandon Stokley and Champ Bailey)
  • Young players willing to learn from veteran players and coaches
  • Result: Precision-run and balanced offense, fewer penalties, sure tackles, visible player development, strong fundamentals

Leadership Lessons

  • Assemble Strong Leadership: Assemble a team with a proven track record of success (either as individuals or as a leadership team for a previous venture).
  • Establish Corporate Vision and Find Key Contributors: Leaders need to concentrate on corporate strategy while finding key contributors to execute tactically. Leadership should go into an employee search with the following question: Who can I find to fill key roles within my company who will one day surpass my own achievements? Set aside ego, and focus on making the company better with your selections. Then delegate responsibilities, mentor these key resources, and freely praise their efforts. When they succeed, you succeed. Try to create a self-sustaining organization that will flourish even in your absence.
  • Focus on Fundamentals: Believe in continuous process improvements and innovation; however, ensure a steadfast focus on the fundamentals important to your organization. Teach and follow best practices regardless of whether it is software development, project management, customer service, sales and account management, or marketing. If you do not have the expertise in-house, be willing to invest in the training/education to get the expertise in-house. The “self-taught” approach may work in some instances; however, in other cases it can be more costly in regards to rework, missed opportunities, and failed client relationships.
  • Demand Discipline: As a Broncos fan, I am grateful that we drafted Demaryius Thomas when we could have taken Dez Bryant (who went to the Cowboys). Thomas continues to improve dramatically week-to-week, and he is a willing and humble student. Meanwhile, Dez Bryant continues to have undisciplined “route running”, and consistent off-the-field discipline issues – while still having the audacity to request to stay out late and party. I love this recent post by Gini Dietrich titled Fire the Prima Donna. Demand discipline and professionalism from all your employees, and *never* play favorites.

So consider this my football rant of the week – and trying to turn negatives to positives by turning the rant into a leadership lesson. I enjoy watching teams like the Broncos, Patriots, Falcons and Packers because they pay attention to fundamentals and discipline. Watching teams like the Cowboys, Raiders and Jets can set my teeth on edge. Egotistical leaders and prima donna employees can also result in some teeth-grinding, and we’ve all seen these behaviors firsthand at some point in our careers.

How did your NFL team do this weekend? Does your company leadership promote a disciplined and productive company culture, or does it allow undisciplined sloppiness and a culture of prima donnas?

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Brian Vickery

I love my Vickery Girls - and grandsons! My career has blessed me to the point I was able to start a new consultancy in 2018: Analytic Integrity. I look to provide analytic experience, and business integrity, to an Analytics world while helping data-driven organizations mature. I enjoy teaching and coaching, watching football and basketball, and playing tennis. I graduated UT-Austin.

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  1. I love leadership lessons in the form of sports analogies. And I especially that you like two teams well enough to be able to compare their leadership. I heard yesterday they’re pushing Jerry Jones to step down. Is that true?

    • Heck, some folks wanted Jerry Jones to step down with how he treated Tom Landry. Then, he insults the *very proven* Jimmy Johnson saying something like “500 coaches could win the Super Bowl with the team we’ve assembled”…that led to Jimmy moving on to the Dolphins.

      He has also installed “yes men” like Dave Campo (twice, if I remember). He tried Parcells, but they butted heads, and I think the NFL had “passed Parcells by” by that time. Then he goes with a homegrown talent in Garrett, which I generally like, but Garrett just wasn’t ready. He would have been better served as an offensive coordinator for a few more years, and then perhaps a head coach anywhere else but Dallas.

      As a fan, I just get annoyed that Romo takes so much flak. He isn’t missing blocks, tackles and catch-able balls. Of course, I have a separate analogy on that one – Quarterbacks get too much of the credit and take too much of the blame.

      Thanks for stopping by, Gini. We look forward to having you on Hecklers’ Hangout this week.


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