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Ken Keller: Are you coaching the right players?

Brain Food for Business People

Posted: July 28, 2010 4:55 a.m.
Updated: July 28, 2010 4:55 a.m.

NFL training camps open this week. Many teams have the goal of getting to the Super Bowl in early February 2011.

Some teams recognize that the upcoming season is for rebuilding and want to improve upon their last one.

One well-known player won't be suiting up this summer: Terrell Owens. It seems the NFL is done with Owens, also known as "TO" to fans and detractors. Why is that? Why wouldn't a team need a player capable of outrunning the defense, making tough catches and scoring touchdowns? After all, isn't that what matters in the NFL - winning?

I grew up watching John Madden coach the Oakland Raiders. When most NFL teams had thick binders filled with rules for players, Madden went the other way. There were only three rules for Madden's Raiders: Be on time, pay attention and come dressed to play. He didn't have to say "play like hell when I tell you to," as it was understood on game day that is what the players did.

Madden overall record was 103-32-7; seven AFC Western Division titles and a victory over the Minnesota Vikings in Super Bowl XI. Of all the head coaches who have won a Super Bowl, Madden and Vince Lombardi are the only ones to have never had a losing season as a head coach.

What made Madden successful? He had high expectations of his players. He had high expectations for the team. He coached his players as a group and as individuals to meet the expectations he had set.

Madden operated under the assumption the players he was to mold into a team were adults. His simple rules were developed with the understanding that if a player could not follow them, they had no place on the team. The three rules were an ongoing evaluation to determine whether someone belonged on the team.

Once that foundation was set, Madden and his subordinates coached the players, regardless of age or tenure, on how to play the game to win. Madden repeated to his players: "The only yardstick for success our society has is being a champion.
No one remembers anything else."

The players understood and responded. Madden's winning percentage as coach was .763, the best of any head coach in NFL history. Madden was a catalyst for growth and change for the players and for his team. During those years many men wore the Raider uniform, so the message was successfully transferred through the seasons to every player on the roster.

Madden would never have allowed TO anywhere near the team. Belatedly, what the NFL has discovered is that having TO or someone like TO on the team is nothing short of a disaster.

Who needs an internal terrorist working against the efforts of the team? Who in their right mind would want someone like this earning a paycheck all the while undermining what the team is trying to do? What is the true cost of having someone like TO in your business?

Managers spend more time dealing with the problems caused by the behaviors of some employees than they do trying to get the best from all employees. Instead of spending time mentoring and coaching employees to become better, managers have become record keepers of employee misdeeds, dealing with problems that have no place in today's workplace.

What made Madden coach and not manage? Coaching molds a person's attitude, behavior and skills. Madden did his best to motivate and counsel his players to help them identify and realize their full potential. Madden led by example.

To be a leader means you have followers. Terrell Owens doesn't want to be led; he might say he wants to be coached, but he is "uncoachable." The NFL has figured out that after he spent time in San Francisco, Philadelphia, Dallas and Buffalo: TO does not help a team win, he is only interested in winning for himself.

No business can win with the wrong employees on the payroll. The responsibility of the owner is to make sure that only the right people are on the team, and to coach them to team success.

Ken Keller is president of Renaissance Executive Forums, helping top executives make better decisions through informed peer perspective, resulting in better top and bottom line results. He can be reached at His column reflects his own views and not necessarily those of The Signal.


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