I recently attended a meeting where it seemed that everyone was focused on the people or relationships in a business and believed that doing so would bring success. Don’t believe it. Great leaders focus on achieving BOTH task excellence and relationship excellence. This dual focus produces sustainable superior performance. Managers who are solely task focused eventually burn people out. Managers who are solely relationship focused don’t set sufficiently high performance standards and challenge the team to accomplish them. Managers who focus on task and relationship excellence inspire their teams to work together to reach their goal and when they do the sense of pride inspires, engages and energizes the team to keep performing at the top of their game.
You’ll find a passion for task excellence in all the great leaders. In John Eisenberg’s new book That First Season: How Vince Lombardi Took the Worst Team in the NFL and Set It on the Path to Glory, Fuzzy Thurston, an All-Pro guard who played for the great coach said, “We realized in his first season that we were going to be a very good team…Lombardi wasn’t going to stand for anything less.” That’s the attitude it takes to be great. It’s the relationship excellence that keeps people feeling connected to their leader and makes task excellence sustainable.
Most people don’t know that side of Vince Lombardi’s character. They’ve heard the quote attributed to Lombardi that “winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing.” The quote was actually from a movie entitled Trouble Along the Way. What Lombardi taught was that winning isn’t everything, but making the effort to win is. It’s similar to basketball coach John Wooden’s philosophy that a winner achieves competitive greatness by giving their very best effort all the time and thus receives a sense of satisfaction from knowing they’ve given their all.
Vince Lombardi had a passion for relationship excellence too. He loved his players. He told them they must love one another and said love made the difference on their team. In addition, he abhored cheating or taking cheap shots at an opposing player. He viewed it as unethical and illegitimate behavior that was inconsistent with being a winner. Winning the right way, with character and virtue rather than vice, was what Lombardi believed and taught. He learned it from the renowned and demanding Jesuit teacher Ignatius Wiley Cox who taught ethics at Fordham University (Lombardi received a “A” in Cox’s ethics class). This is the side of the great coach that David Maraniss brought out in his outstanding book on Lombardi entitled When Pride Still Mattered.