Does Your Company Follow The Lombardi Way?

Today marks the first day of the new season of the NFL (the America’s National Football League). Two things have struck me: I am really excited with a new passion and secondly that perhaps the game’s greatest coach led with love. For leaders, the pressing question isn’t just what separates you from the competition in the marketplace. It’s also what holds you together  in the workplace. Of course, the best leaders have known this all along. After the Green Bay Packers captured their first ever Super Bowl, Vince Lombardi found himself  in high demand as a speaker to executive audiences who wanted him to translate his principles for victory on the gridiron to success in work and life. In what became a recurring message to Corporates, he set out seven principles of competition and leadership, most of which you’d expect from the greatest coach of all time. But his most important principle was also the most surprising: Love is more powerful than hate.

“The love I’m speaking of is loyalty, which is the greatest of loves”Lombardi told audiences. “Teamwork, the love that one man has for another and that he respects the dignity of another…I am not speaking of detraction. You show me a man who belittles another and I will show you a man who is not a leader…Heart power is the strength of your company. Heart power is the strength of the Green Bay Packers. Heart power is the strength of America and hate power is the weakness of the world.”

The spirit of tough love explains why DaVita (a company featured in last week’s blog) works the way it does. The demands on the company’s workforce are intense and relentless. It’s 35,500 employees care more than 116,000 patients, which means they provide more than 16 million treatments per year. That’s millions of opportunities to overlook a symptom, misdiagnose a problem, or otherwise make a small mistake that could have deadly consequences. A Stanford university case study identified the four ‘critical factors for success’ in the dialysis industry, the first of which was ‘painstaking attention to operational details.’ That kind of pressure can bring out the worst in an organization and its people – or, with a strong enough sense of identity and emotional attachment, it can bring out the best in an organization and its people.

In Drive, Dan Pink tells a story about one of his former bosses, Robert B Reich, who was the secretary of labor under President Clinton. As Reich traveled the country visiting workplaces and searching for high-performance organisations, he administered an informal diagnostic he called “the pronoun test.”He’d walk the floors and hallways of factories and offices and pose some simple questions about the company and its culture. “If the answers I get back describe the company in terms like ‘they’ or ‘them’, I know it’s one kind of company,”Reich explained. “If the answers are put in terms like ‘we’ or ‘us’ I know it’s a different kind of company.” The answers themselves didn’t much matter, he concluded. What mattered was whether the organization was a ‘we’ company or a ‘they’ company. At the heart of ‘we’ companies, Reich argued, was a sense of shared ownership and a commitment to shared information. What’s also required, I’d argue, is a spirit of shared emotions – an explicit commitment, not just to the wellbeing of the organization, but also to the wellbeing of one another. 

The people of DaVita understand this better than just about any organization I have read about. One of the core themes of the company’s culture is that ‘Everything Speaks.’ That is, even the most trivial issues – what the facilities look like, how colleagues communicate with one another small gestures of individual kindness or selfishness – send huge signals about the health of the entire organization. Another theme is ‘No Brag, Just Fact.’ The leaders are well aware that plenty of companies with toxic workplaces talk a good game about the level of commitment among their people. But the only thing that matters at DaVita are the day-to-day realities of the quality of care it is delivering and the quality of the culture that delivers that care.

“As a leader, you have to be as creative, rigorous, and disciplined about the human side of enterprise as you are about technology or finance”,the CEO Thiry argues. “This is hard. Unless you figure out, together, how people should behave at work, and create the kind of language and rituals and systems you need to reinforce that behavior, you never get there. At DaVita, we do a lot to remind people that despite the crushing realities of their day-to-day professional lives, we want to treat each other differently. We want to care about each other with the same intensity that we care for our patients.”

In his heartfelt book Love Is The Killer app, Tim Sanders, then chief solutions officer at Yahoo!, made the case that as economic conditions get more turbulent, and corporate rivalries get more fierce, positive emotions get to be a defining element of success. “As the world becomes more competitive,”he writes, “we also compete for people’s emotions…It’s not completely important what people think about you – it is, however, totally important how they feel about you. People are hungry for compassion. And the tougher the times are, the more important it becomes.”

Even the most creative leader recognize that success is not just about thinking differently. It is also about caring more. The question isn’t just what separates you from the competition in the marketplace. It is what holds you together in the workplace. 

Back to Blog

Get Mark's thought-provoking exploration straight into your inbox