Review: Win Forever! Thank you, Coach Carroll, for a fun read and for restoring my faith in myself

Coach CarrollI highly recommend Pete Carroll’s “Win Forever: Live, Work, and Play Like a Champion”. It is a fast read, full of energy, accessible and authentic, just like Coach Carroll. And for me, the best thing is it reminded me to be true to myself.

Carroll presents layers of themes in the book: Develop a personal philosophy (“Always compete”) and vision; be able to communicate them succinctly. Get the entire team on board, but allow your lieutenants to extend the vision and philosophy in their own voice. It’s the job of the leader to bring the energy, enthusiasm and expectations to the team. Leaders need to cultivate the strengths that are special to each member of the team – as an individual. Leaders are teachers, and in order to teach, you have to know your student – which requires listening and observing. Spend time outside the business functions with members of the team to use that time to observe them in other than the business circumstances for a better overall understanding of the person. Remember the importance of humor and balance in work and in life.

Of course, Carroll presents all of these themes in the context of football, with lots of “behind-the-scenes” feeling. Reading the book feels very much like what I expect it would be like to hear him talk over a beer at the bar, or walking the field at the Virginia Mason Athletic Facility — if I could keep up, that is! It was also fun to tie back the things you hear from his players in interviews to the philosophical background he lays out. In this pre-season, I’ve heard two players talk about getting the install completed so that they can concentrate on practice, and then “things should slow down” – referring to achieving the zone in which playing the game is spontaneous and natural.

One of the insights he related that made the book particularly meaningful to me was that he had underestimated how hard it was to implement change in an established organization, referring to trying to bring his approach to coaching to the New England Patriots. Carroll got fired after three years. It gave him a chance to reassess and regroup, and it was then that he realized he needed to define his philosophy. In a way, I envy Coach Carroll – I spent over half of my career in a very traditional organization that practiced and espoused management theory that dated back to the 1980s. I tried for most of my time in the organization to introduce new ideas about teamwork, shared accountability, the need to support the staff instead of just thinking of them as interchangeable cogs in the big wheel of business. I had some periods of success interspersed with periods of hostility from senior leadership, but I was successful enough to be able to work on fun and interesting projects with great teams right up until the end. Before I left, I had started to question – if I was so smart and if there was any substance to the approach I brought to leadership and teamwork, why was I ultimately unsuccessful in this organization? It was Coach Carroll’s observations on the difficulty of introducing change into an established organization and the need to communicate clearly up and down the management chain what you’re doing and why, that made me realize I was fighting an uphill battle the entire time. I was just too stubborn to get the message and leave on my own. Reading “Win Forever” has reminded me there is merit – and success — in being a “players’ coach.”

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