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3 Leadership Lessons from the Defenseless Dallas Cowboys

3 Leadership Lessons from the Defenseless Dallas Cowboys

I am an avid Denver Broncos fan, but my childhood football team was the Dallas Cowboys. I caught the tail-end of the Staubach era, and then watched a very successful team through the Danny White and Troy Aikman years. I’ve also watched their slide into annual mediocrity from the moment that Jerry Jones’ pride forced Jimmy Johnson out as head coach. I thought the Cowboys might turn it around this year if they stayed healthy, but the debacle against the Saints on Sunday Night Football provided 3 Leadership Lessons from the Defenseless Dallas Cowboys!

1. Continuity vs carousel

When the Denver Nuggets fired George Karl, after he led them to their best season ever, I wrote a guest post at Spin Sucks titled Continuity vs. Carousel – Consistent Leadership Matters. Continuity allows you to establish a vision and then work on a long-term strategy to achieve that vision. Along the way, you acquire resources best suited to make you successful for that particular vision. Change the vision midstream, and you can toss the strategy…and sometimes the carefully selected resources…out the window! Monte Kiffin is the Cowboys’ 8th defensive coordinator since the Super Bowl years, and the third in the last 4 years. That is NOT continuity, and it shows in the end product on the field. The Cowboys’ defense is currently the 32nd ranked in the NFL…umm, there are only 32 teams in the NFL.

Leadership Lesson: Give strategy TIME to succeed. If you are going to invest in a strategy, and the resources necessary to execute it, you owe it to yourself to stick to that strategy for a reasonable time. Each knee-jerk reaction escalates the chaos and failures.

2. Injuries derail expectations

We’ve all heard this line from the Robert Burns Poem, To a Mouse:  “The best laid schemes of Mice and Men oft go awry”. The Cowboys lacked continuity in the coaches’ box, but they still had some all-pros on their defense! However, by the end of the Saints game, they were missing 3 out of their 4 starting defensive linemen…2 out of 3 starting linebackers…and 2 out of 4 starters in the secondary.

Leadership Lesson: The painful lesson is that there IS no lesson against injuries. You can teach fundamentals, but bad things often happen on the field of play. When they do, you need to reset expectations – avoid scapegoating – and continue putting pieces together that support your long-term strategy.

3. Pride comes before a fall

Jerry Jones bought the Cowboys in 1989, and then brashly fired Landry and hired his college buddy Jimmy Johnson. Johnson had the winning pedigree, and he patiently put the pieces together that ultimately led to consecutive Super Bowl titles. Jerry Jones did not like Johnson getting all of the credit for the success and savvy personnel decisions, so he famously stated “any coach could have led the Cowboys to a Super Bowl”. The Cowboys won one more Super Bowl under Barry Switzer, with the skill players that Johnson had put in place before his departure, but they’ve since gone 143-138. That 51% winning percentage, with Jerry Jones as the outspoken general manager responsible for personnel decisions, epitomizes mediocrity.

Leadership Lesson: Do not let your pride lead to failure. We are not meant to be “all things to all people”, so we should find the resources who are the best at what they do…then equip them for success. Then CELEBRATE their success versus become jealous. Do you want to be 100% responsible for mediocrity or be significantly responsible for transcendent success? If you are in a leadership position, build your organization to be entrepreneurial and autonomous where you are not the limiting factor due to your ignorance or tendency to micro-manage (and yes, that is a daily reminder to myself as a person who struggles with pride).

Photo Credit: Over and Under by AJ Guel Photography, on Flickr

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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. Oy, the Cowboys. Every game this year I find myself saying, “Okay, the Cowboys are up by two touchdowns with 7 minutes to go. That means they should lose by no more than a field goal …”

    • RobBiesenbach So true. The secondary has been abysmal for years. Seems like Sean Lee and Demarcus Ware get injured every year, so they can miss enough games to knock the Cowboys out of the playoffs. In that game against the Vikings a couple weeks ago, Romo jacked it up 50 times to about 9 rushes.
      Can’t win with injuries and that type of imbalance. If you get rid of Garrett (which part of me would hate to see since he played for the Cowboys…or at least held the clipboard for Aikman), then you completely start over.
      And at the end of the day, you still have Jerry Jones thinking he is smarter than everyone else when it comes to player selection – and that’s just not the case!

      • dbvickery Yeah, I feel like they’ve been like that for a couple of years. It’s like watching a high school football game — big play after big play. Didn’t Romo have something crazy like 500 passing yards recently and they STILL lost??

        • RobBiesenbach dbvickery Yeah, but that was against the Broncos – who have a much better offense and a better defense. Having said that, Dallas barely lost, and Romo had a better passing day, and slightly better rating, than Manning.
          In my opinion, it is rarely Romo’s fault. He throws timely INTs sometimes, but they do not have a reliable defense…and Garrett can make some head-scratching play calls.