There are three National Football League Coaches in the news for changes they made or didn't make. Mike Shanahan of the Washington Redskins, Brad Childress of the Minnesota Vikings, and Wade Phillips of the Dallas Cowboys. All three coaches faced different leadership challenges and made choices to help their teams succeed. You will be faced with similar choices during your career. Take a look at how these successful coaches handled their situations. Remember - as leaders you are expected to make the necessary adjustments that will lead to success. You will need to take calculated risks in order to make progress. These choices will have short and long term impacts both intended and unintended.
Mike Shanahan of the Washington Redskins was in a battle on the road with the Detroit Lions. His quarterback, Donovan McNabb, is a successful, popular leader who has not played his best football this year. The Redskins were behind and McNabb's play that day was erratic. McNabb had just thrown an interception in Lions territory that led to a quick score and put the Lions ahead by a touchdown with two minutes left in the game.
Mike Shanahan decided to replace McNabb with a Veteran back-up. The back-up fumbled the ball on his first play from scrimmage; the Lions recovered the fumble and scored another touchdown. Mike Shanahan explained in the post game press conference that he didn't feel McNabb had sufficient grasp of the two minute offense. The day after, he said recent hamstring injuries had prevented McNabb from optimal conditioning necessary for the two minute offense. A day later, the team's offensive coordinator and son of the coach contradicted both statements. Mike Shanahan has an unwanted leadership problem in Washington.
What should we learn from Coach Shanahan's situation?
Leaders must make tough personnel decisions that give the team the best chance to win.
Replacing a popular leader comes with risk and is difficult to explain and defend when results are not immediate.
There are short and long term impacts of replacing team leaders.
Not all of your choices will work out to perfection but you still have to go with your gut.
Coach Shanahan was in a tough game with a streaky quarterback who was not producing results. Washington still had a chance to win, so he felt like a change at the quarterback position gave him a better chance to win. He wasn't getting what he expected or needed from McNabb - he had seen enough, so he made a change. That's an important part of his job. Explaining why he made the change after the game was more difficult and more complicated. I suspect there are many variables that went into the decision that he would prefer not to be played out in public.
Remember - you will be forced to make similar choices and have to explain why you made the choice to many different people after the change.
Brad Childress of the Minnisota Vikings traded a 3rd round draft pick to the New England Patriots to acquire a very talented and very volatile receiver - Randy Moss. Childress was looking to fill his injury depleted receiving corps with another weapon for his aging Hall of Fame quarterback Brett Favre. Coach Childress has control over all personnel decisions by contract. Nearly all football analysts had reservations regarding Moss' ability to fit into the Vikings given his history and contract situation. The situation soured after four weeks and Childress cut Moss without informing his owner - as was his right by contract. The Viking players were surprised by the summary dismissal of Moss, though most agreed his performance and attitude were not helpful. The Vikings' owner was not informed of the decision and openly questioned players regarding the situation. Coach Childress has lost the confidence of some of his players and owner.
What we should take from Coach Childress's situation:
Leaders must add different personnel to upgrade team capabilities and talent levels, however, don't ignore character issues.
Keep the lines of communication open with key members of your community - to include owners. Just because you have the right to do something - doesn't always mean that's the right thing to do.
Brad Childress saw a chance to improve his team and took a chance by acquiring Randy Moss at a relatively high price. He believed he and his team leaders could provide an environment to off-set any attitude issues which have hampered Moss' effectiveness in the past. He was wrong. He compounded his problems by not communicating with the owner to get his support before he released Moss.
Don't ignore character issues and don't leave key people out of the decision making loop.
Wade Phillips of the Dallas Cowboys has, by all accounts, a talented team that has produced one win in eight games. Wade Phillips is an experienced, successful coach who could not get the Cowboys to play to their full potential or expectations. Coach Phillips' easygoing manner and determination to stick to the course has led his talented team to the bottom of their division. Wade Phillips did not make the necessary changes to make a difference for the Cowboys; he did not take any chances. Coach Phillips was fired yesterday.
Wade Phillips is a good coach. He knows the game, he knows how to game plan - he's great at the planning part. I also think he's a very good man and a likable guy. Buuuut - I don't think he challenges men to be their best. I don't think he inspires individuals to sacrifice for a team. I don't think he makes the really tough decisions at the right time. If everything lines up perfectly - his teams will be good; I doubt if he can line everything up correctly to make his teams great.
What can we learn from Coach Phillips?
The best Coaches get the most out of the talent levels of their team - motivation and inspiration have to be part of the formula.
If your methods are failing, make a change before it's too late.
Leaders have to find a way to create cumulative commitment and urgency before the point when the objectives cannot be met; leaders usually must change their personal methods before the team can improve.
Lot's of lessons out there - this leadership thing can be complicated.