How Bill Belichick influences marketing team leadership and mentoring

Whether you love or hate Bill Belichick, it’s undeniable that he is one of the best NFL coaches of all time. He has over 275 career wins, 28 of which have come in the playoffs, and he has reached the pinnacle of his sport by winning the Super Bowl five times. Belichick is a great coach because he brilliantly manages his players and organization. His leadership skills have had a profound impact on how I manage.

Belichick believes that all players have specific roles and no one player should carry the burden. That’s not to say that individuals can’t be good at multiple roles, but he puts his players in the best positions to succeed. That’s why so many players perform below expectations in other organizations but excel when they come to the Patriots. He has determined their strengths to find the optimal way to help the team.

Using an example from the digital marketing world, you wouldn’t ask someone who has limited Excel knowledge to create sophisticated dashboards for client reporting. Nor would you ask someone who doesn’t work with e-commerce clients to run a product feed campaign. It’s true that due to bandwidth issues we are sometimes forced to ask more from our people, but it shouldn’t be the norm. This core concept of putting people in the best position to succeed guides my everyday thinking from account assignments, to delegation and mentoring.

Here are other lessons I have learned from Belichick.

Focus on determination, not stature

We all know the story of Tom Brady being the 199th draft pick and working his way to the top. Through his hard work, relentless desire to succeed and chip on his shoulder from being drafted so low, Brady has become the greatest quarterback of all time (at least I think so). However, it’s not just Brady that has shined under Belichick’s coaching. Malcolm Butler, who clinched a Super Bowl win with his interception, was undrafted. Stephen Neal, a wrestler in college who didn’t even play football, became a core component of the Patriots offensive line when the team won three out of four Super Bowls in the early 2000s.

Though stature doesn’t play as significant a role in digital marketing, determination certainly does. I’m more apt to challenge those who I believe can and want to handle the increased pressure. That “challenge” can come in many forms, which include:

  • Providing open-ended assignments. Many problems don’t have clear-cut solutions, especially when working with clients. It’s important to assign tasks where the workflow can be up for interpretation. In these instances, I’m not as concerned with the final product, but rather, the thought process and if it can be defended.
  • Assigning tasks with time thresholds. All tasks have deadlines, but not all have time requirements. When I assign projects, I have a good idea of how much time they should take. I will relay the hour allocation and ask that it isn’t exceeded. For example, I might ask for a new campaign build to be completed using no more than three hours. With all the time in the world, I’m sure my direct reports can provide great work, but what about when there is a time limit? Can the work still be finished in an exemplary manner? I need to know that the work can be effectively completed when there are challenges and restrictions.
  • Leading the conversation. Client communication is a huge part of being in the digital marketing space. Many of the tasks that managers assign to direct reports need to be communicated to the client. It’s necessary to create a campaign, but you then have to explain what you did and why to the client. I will ask my direct reports to respond to the clients, cutting me out as the middleman. Along with the tactical work, I’m hoping to see clear explanations that clients will understand.

Sometimes challenging your direct reports doesn’t work. I’ve had to reset my expectations because that person isn’t ready for the additional responsibilities. That’s OK as it’s part of the process of putting your people in the best positions to succeed. However, it does take some trial and error.

Take emotion out of your management

Bill Belichick has the same expressions whether his team wins or loses. Sure, he gets upset when he loses, but he holds his emotion in check. He is the perfect example of being even-keeled. He never gets too high or too low and passes this stance on to his team. If the team wins five in a row, he and his players acknowledge that they are playing well but still need to improve. When the team is on a losing streak, it’s not the end of the world. Changes need to be made but the team is confident that they will improve.

As a manager, I try to downplay emotion and look at situations objectively. Often, my direct reports will get frustrated when client performance is down, or the relationship is difficult. I’m happy that they care enough to be upset but let them know that they need to assess the situation objectively. I ask them to look at things from the client’s perspective. If they were the client, what questions would they be asking and expect from us? It’s human nature for us to get emotional, but to move forward, we need to think objectively.

Never single out your people

I can’t recall a time that Bill Belichick ever made a negative comment about one of his players in public. He has said collectively that “we” need to play better or that “I” need to coach better. He knows that calling out his players by name will only make things worse and cause resentment. In private, I’m sure he speaks to his players in an attempt to garner better performance. The chances are that if a player is performing poorly, he knows it and is his own worst critic. If Belichick has to make a tough decision, such as releasing a player, he will do it in a respectful manner.

Though the press is negligible in the digital marketing world, I abide by the same principle of not calling out my people. I have honest conversations with them about their performance and provide suggestions (some firmer than others), but I won’t criticize someone to a colleague. Leading by fear is not leading at all. As managers, we’re not just in charge of the day-to-day oversight of our direct reports, but their career progression as well. If there is an issue, it is just as much on me to help my direct report correct it.

Final thoughts

No one is a perfect leader, not even Bill Belichick. Along with the leadership skills he possesses, I respect him because he has learned from his experiences. Before he led the Patriots to five Super Bowl victories, he was fired by the Cleveland Browns. He’s taken the lessons he learned while in Cleveland and used them to become a much better coach in New England. It’s no wonder that the Patriots consistently win when they have a great leader. You may despise the guy as a fan of an opposing team, but he’s doing something right to which we can all learn.

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Marketing Land. Staff authors are listed here.

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