Oswald Letter

Leadership lessons from New England Patriots

Gillette Stadium One Direction Concertby Dan Oswald

Sunday night, the New England Patriots defeated the Atlanta Falcons in the greatest comeback in the Super Bowl’s 51-year history. None of us should have been surprised. The Patriots have had more success in this millennium than any of the other 31 teams in the NFL. Since head coach Bill Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady joined the team in 2000, the Patriots have accomplished the following:

  • They won their division 14 times in 17 years;
  • They won more games in a 10-year period—126—than any team in league history;
  • They completed an undefeated regular season; and
  • They competed in seven Super Bowls, winning five.

All of this has occurred under the watchful eye of team owner and CEO Robert Kraft. In an interview I saw the other day, Kraft said that what set Tom Brady apart from everyone else was “the last five or 10 percent.” According to Kraft, “everyone” can do the 90 percent, but it’s the last five or 10 percent—that extra effort and preparation—that leads to the type of success his quarterback and team have experienced.

That got me thinking. As individuals and organizations, we all aspire to reach the level of success the Patriots have experienced. So, what are some of the things we can learn from the Patriots’ extraordinary success?

Leadership consistency. The team has had the same owner for 20 years, and he has employed the same coach and quarterback for the last 17 years. Through good years and bad—and admittedly, they haven’t had many bad years—the team has stuck with the same people. People know what to expect from them personally and what it means to be a part of the Patriots organization. It takes time to develop trust within any organization. It seems apparent that the Patriots have it as a result of a consistent group of leaders at the top.

Contrast that with the Cleveland Browns, who have averaged only about five wins and 11 losses per year during the same 17-year span. The Browns have had nine head coaches and 24 quarterbacks since 2000. There has been no consistency of leadership because the head coach changes every year or two, and the quarterback leading the team changes even more often than that.

Shared philosophy. One of the benefits of consistent leadership is that the organization has time to fully understand its philosophy and become efficient in executing it. Bill Belichick has become the most accomplished coach in NFL history in large part because he has stuck to a consistent philosophy. This philosophy has allowed the team to win year in and year out, despite player injuries and departures. No one has been better at filling holes when someone is hurt or leaves than the Patriots, and I’m convinced it’s because every single player on the team understands what needs to be done and how he fits into the organization. Everyone knows what the mission is.

Toughness. Bill Belichick doesn’t try to endear himself to the media, nor does he come across as a particularly warm or friendly guy. He has a job to do, and by all accounts, he’s incredibly focused on achieving his goals. He exudes a certain amount of toughness. Pair him with a quarterback who is still motivated by what he perceived as a huge snub when he wasn’t selected until the sixth round of the NFL draft. There were 198 players and six other quarterbacks drafted before him that year. He has used it to motivate himself for 17 years and in the process has displayed a certain grit and toughness that has allowed him to successfully lead his team.

I don’t particularly care for the New England Patriots. Frankly, I get tired of seeing them win all the time, but I can’t argue with their success. Don’t we all aspire to be as successful and dominant in our endeavors as they have been? There are lessons we can learn from the Patriots organization that we can apply to our own situations. Start with a consistent leadership team that can get everyone in the organization to buy into a shared philosophy, mix in a little toughness and grit, and you’re likely to come up with a recipe for success. The Patriots certainly have.

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