Ted Lasso: Leadership Lessons Take 2

Seldom can we say that watching a television show will help you gain insights into what it means to lead better, but in the case of Ted Lasso, Season 2, it is true. In 2022,  I wrote a post about the management lessons gained from Season 1, and now I find that the sequel season is even richer. The characters have matured, their frailties more pronounced, and their strengths deepened. 

Chief among them, of course, is the lead character, Ted Lasso (played by Jason Sudeikis, who co-created the Apple+ series). In his second season as manager of AFC Richmond, an English football team, we find that his often cheery attitude and never say quit demeanor stems partly from a loss suffered as a teenager. This fact gives his character a richer dimension that makes exploration of his journey and that of his colleagues all the more compelling.

Community at work

Standing back a bit, the series depicts community – among the team, the organization, and the fans themselves. What unites each is a commitment to one another and a greater goal of doing their best. They embody Ted’s mantra, “Believe,” symbolized by the hand-painted sign posted in the locker room.

Here are a few key aspects worthy of consideration.

Trust. Fundamental to leadership is belief. For a leader, trust is earned by showing respect for others, understanding their needs, and doing what is necessary to bring people together. Trust takes much work and patience, as Ted quietly and repeatedly shows in his interactions with others. Hard work, yes, but so necessary.

Difference. The key characters in the show all have their own agendas, which is good for comedy and drama because it gives us a compelling reason to pay attention. Their differences, however, underscore their sense of community. They disagree, argue, and even fight, but they are bound to one another by – and yes, there’s that word – belief in the greater good – the team.

Mentorship. There is a lovely scene where Keeley speaks to Higgins, the team president, about her future. Higgins replies with a beautiful quote about mentorship. “A good mentor hopes you move on. A great mentor knows you will.”In other words, mentorship is about enabling the mentee to achieve their goals, not the mentors.

Grace. The series is a celebration of kindness. Ted is the embodiment of a kind person who lives his creed. Never is this true when Ted discovers that he has been betrayed. He embodies what it means to lead with grace under pressure. He keeps his cool, harbors no ill will, and moves forward. Notably, after working with team therapist, Dr. Sharon Fieldstone, how show himself some grace, and in doing so provides a valuable lesson in self-care.

Stronger for being together

All of these factors – trust, difference, mentorship, and grace – come together to strengthen the AFC Richmond community. Players, coaches, staff, owners, and fans believe in the team. They embody the words of singer-songwriter Ani DiFranco, “I know there is strength in the differences between us. I know there is comfort, where we overlap.” The team is their community, a community that accepts them for who they are quirks and all

The lessons of Ted Lasso embody a dictum of the legendary Hollywood director Billy Wilder. “Never bore people. And if you have something important to say, wrap it in chocolate.” And that’s precisely what the Ted Lasso series does. It is out loud, funny, as well as piercingly poignant. Characters win and lose, and most come out the better for their struggles, like life.

First posted on Forbes.com 02.00.2023

Mercy Most Merciful

“Mercy and cruelty intertwine in war. Acts of compassion may coexist with pitiless depravity within just a few yards.” 

The notion of mercy or humanity in war seems like an oxymoron. Still, as Cathal J. Nolan reveals in the above quote taken from his new book, Mercy: Humanity in War, there is quite a bit of kindness and compassion in wartime. Not enough to offset massive property losses and lives lost but enough to remind us that we are still human.

Approaching history differently

Nolan is a historian by trade, but as he told me in an interview, he approaches his subjects, often war, from the viewpoint of humanity and culture. Nolan, who teaches at Boston University, told me, “I wrote this book the way I teach. My courses are not traditional history courses or traditional military history courses. I think of them as courses in the human condition.” And for that reason, what he writes and teaches has relevance to organizational culture. Nolan explores the moral code that binds us together. 

What makes mercy compelling are the stories. Some of the stories, like that of Hugh Thompson, the helicopter pilot who inserted his aircraft between the soldiers and the villagers of My Lai to stop the brutality, are well-known. Others, like the one of Lieutenant Fredrich Lengfeld, who sacrificed his life to save a dying American soldier in the Hurtgen Forest in December 1944, are not. 

Each of these tales took on added life long after the incidents. Thompson returned to My Lai decades later and met survivors of the massacre. In 1994 American veterans traveled to a German military cemetery to unveil a monument to the memory of Lengfeld. 

Moral code expressed

These stories give life to the moral code exerted in wartime, typically by combatants on both sides of the conflict. For example, during the awful trench warfare of World War I, there would be temporary truces. They were “frequently initiated, but not always by medical officers on one side and agreed to by medical officers on the other,” says Nolan. “And that’s to go out and collect each other’s wounded. So you have this bizarre moral circumstance where we’re trying to maim and kill you. And then we will pause this kind of mutual return to decency for a set period of time. We go out and recover the wounded, and often we’ll carry your wounded to you, and you’ll help carry our wounded back and forth. And then we resume try[ing] to kill and main you.” Absurdist, yes, but it happened. 

Technology has made killing in war easier. As Nolan explained, warfare was up close and personal for most of human history. When soldiers engaged in combat, they would be splattered in the blood and flesh of their victims. (Think of the TV series Vikings.) Now warfare can be conducted from great distances. Yet, Nolan says, the morality of war has yet to evolve. We are still human, after all.

The concept of mercy exists deep within the human psyche. And in times of adversity, when inhumanity prevails, it reminds us that we are human. Therefore, we can act for the better good, even in the face of evil.

First posted on Forbes.com 00.00.2023

Note: Click here to see my full LinkedIn Live interview with Cathal J. Nolan.

How Writing Your Obituary Can Help You NOW

“Talking about sex doesn’t make you pregnant, and talking about death doesn’t make you dead.” 

So said a funeral director to James R. Hagerty, the only full-time obituary writer for the Wall Street Journal, and the author of a new book, Yours Truly: An Obituary’s Writer’s Guide to Telling Your Story

Morbid, not in the least. Hagerty’s motto is: “If obituaries can’t be fun, what’s the point of dying?” And his book, packed with some of the more delightful and funny obituaries, is a tribute to the human condition. As a reporter and best-selling author, Bob Greene wrote in a book jacket endorsement, “No one understands the treasures to be found in life stories better than James. R. Hagerty.”

Hagerty’s forte is writing about people most of us do not know. He brings their stories to life in a way that is engaging, sometimes humorous, and always interesting. And therein lies the reason we should think about our end, that is, how we wish to be remembered.

Hagerty imbues his obituaries with more than a chronology of achievements or underachievements. Instead, he embellishes them with anecdotes that bring out the humanity of the person now deceased.

Stories matter

When I asked Hagerty in a recent interview what he says to people who do not think much of their life story, he said, “Think harder.” In business, this can be essential. “It’s important for business leaders to have stories because I think that’s a way to instantly connect with people, and they are looking for some kind of a life story when they meet you.” Connection is essential to fostering understanding and establishing trust.

When you create your story – or obituary — “You are giving your family and friends a gift, and it’s a gift that only you can give. And if you don’t give it, it’s just gone. Cause we can’t retrieve it after you’re gone.”

Three questions

Yours Truly offers a step-by-step guide to how to craft one. But, in addition, it lays out a blueprint for something more – how to craft the story of the life you want to lead now before your final reckoning. So borrowing that theme, here are some suggestions – converted to present tense.

What are you trying to achieve with your life? Get perspective on where you are now.

Why is this important to you? First, ask if what you are doing is aligned with your purpose and gives you the fulfillment you seek.

And how are things working out now? It is always good to take stock. It is always possible to make improvements.

These three questions – what, why, and how — illuminate where you are now. Consider them coaching questions that you can ask yourself regularly. Answers to them will tell you if you are doing what you want to do or need to adjust course.

Laugh, too

Humor is essential to obituaries, as it is in life. “If you go to a funeral, you know, there are eulogies, and the best moments in those eulogies are when some friend, friend or family member remembers some of the quirks or odd things about the deceased. And that makes everybody laugh.” Hagerty adds that such stories keep us in touch with the memory of the deceased. “I think that’s reassuring and comforting.”

Life is meant to be lived. Assuming the position of looking backward, if only momentarily, casts a light on how you want to be remembered and by whom. 

An obituary is an affirmation of life, yours. So make it memorable.

Note: Click here to see the LinkedIn Live full interview with James R. Hagerty.

First posted on Forbes.com 2.21.2023

Tom Peters: Excellence By Design

So what do you do after you have written 19 books and reached the age of 80?

If you are Tom Peters, you do the twentieth book and call it Tom Peters’ Compact Guide to Excellence. The word “excellence” harkens to Peters’ first book, co-authored with Robert Waterman, In Search of Excellence. The first book was a research-based study of how the best companies succeed and why. The new book, (based largely on Peters’ previous book, Excellence Now: Extreme Humanism) does the same, in a way, but with a different approach – the power of design.

Nancye Green, a noted designer, is Tom’s co-author. As Peters says, the content of this book is design. Design communicates in ways we may not always describe, but we know it when we see it because it feels right. And so it is with this book. The left-side pages contain the headers, with the right-side pages featuring insights, statistics, and quotes – plenty of them from authors like Peter Drucker, Edgar Schein, Jay Chiat, and philosophers such as John Stuart Mill.

Treating people right

The message of the book, as Peters writes in his introduction, is:

“It is my conclusion that ‘Extreme Humanism’ – putting people really first and helping them prepare for a rocky future, vigorously and passionately supporting our communities, providing products and services that stun our clientele with their excellence and verve, serving our ailing planet – is, perhaps counterintuitively, the best path forward.”

Organizations are all in the people business. If we do not recruit the right people, put them into roles where they can succeed, develop them, listen to their needs, and treat them with kindness, then we sabotage the future of our enterprise.

In a recent interview with me, Peters addressed the importance of front-line leaders. “Because the data hard-nosed, well-researched data is clear…. The correlation between variables [such as retention, quality, productivity, employee satisfaction] and the quality of the first line manager is just intimate.” 

Leadership on a personal level

Peters’ connection to the front-line manager is rooted in his experience as a Navy ensign in the Seabees during the Vietnam War. There he learned the truth of the old saying about the military, “The sergeants run the Army, the chief petty officers run the Navy.” His commanding officer told Tom and his fellow junior officers, “’Now boys, I want you to have a truly superior deployment.’ And he said, ‘I’m going to tell you how to do that. You are going to have a superior deployment if you do precisely what the hell your chiefs tell you to do.’” 

The key to valuing people is listening to them. “Superior listening is the number one contributor to organizational effectiveness, leadership effectiveness, and so on.” Peters told me that listening “is not about hearing the other person. It’s about empowering the other person.” A key to empowering others via listening is to do it actively, aggressively, or, more aptly, fiercely. That is focusing on the individual speaking without interrupting them, a fault plaguing many people in positions of authority.

Make kindness felt

Kindness is an essential theme of this book. “Three things in human life are important,” wrote Henry James. “The first is to be kind. The second is to be kind. And the third is to be kind.” Peters told me, “Being thoughtful, and caring is a great motivator. It’s a great productivity tool. It’s a great customer satisfier. And far more important, it makes you a better human being.”

Kindness complements grace, and in the book, Peters quotes the designer Celeste Cooper who said, “My favorite word is grace – whether it’s ‘amazing grace,’ ‘saving grace,’ ‘grace under fire, Grace Kelly.’ How we live contributes to beauty – whether it’s how we treat other people or how we treat the environment.”

Peters’ message, carried throughout the book, provides a roadmap for a way forward that enables people to do their best because their bosses have their backs and treat them as contributors.

Note: You can watch my full interview with Tom Peters here.

First posted on Forbes.com 1.02.2023

Rachel Maddow Gives a Lesson in Self-Care

Preset Style = Natural Lightness = Auto-Exposure Size = Large Border = No Border

“I knew that I needed to make the change for me just in terms of my health. I’ve had a lot of back trouble over the last five years, and that is something that I’ve mediated a little bit through physical therapy… But bottom line, that’s about working, you know, 10 to 12 hours a day, five days a week, 50 weeks a year for more than 12 or 13 years. I mean, … there’s a bottom line there that I knew I needed to make some kind of change.”

Rachel Maddow explained to Terry Gross on Fresh Air why she decided to give up her flagship daily evening slot on MSNBC. What Maddow revealed is a recognition that there’s more to work than working harder. It’s a welcome message for any hard charger. When is enough enough?

Gross herself, who has hosted Fresh Air since 1975, noted that the pressure of producing a show focuses attention, but there is a cost. “I hate to admit this because I know constant adrenaline is really unhealthy for a lot of reasons, but it is kind of energizing. But it can get too much like having too much coffee to drink does.”

Beware of doing it all

Again, good advice for so many of us. Energy is good; use it wisely. But, unfortunately, you can only be on some of the time. And if you are, there will be a price to pay. Sadly, some too many self-styled experts advise going for it full-tilt. Management corridors are littered with people who did just that and today live lives of quiet desperation, alienated from family and friends. And when they retire, they have no social support network.

Today, in part because of new ways of working accelerated by the pandemic, employees can have more say over their schedules. Women executives also set the tone by setting an example of how to succeed with a family, even when it means forgoing work events. This is not to say women have it easier than men; they do not. Instead, it is to acknowledge that many women executives — having overcome barriers men did not face– are bound and determined not to inflict unrealistic expectations for work on their subordinates, both women and men. 

Demanding jobs are just that demanding. When you are paid well, you are expected to produce. The challenge is to make time to determine how much longer you want to do what you are doing. You also need to ask yourself if there is not something else you’d rather be doing. Finally, recognize that just as you have earned a seat at the table, you have also made the right to step back or away.

Middle path

Maddow, for her part, was able to pare down her schedule to Mondays only and guest-hosting special coverage events. It also enables her to focus on other work, including her award-winning podcast work, notably her latest Ultra about a domestic seditious conspiracy in the Thirties aligned with the Nazi government.

Maddow was also able to do something for her colleagues. “And that is the right solution because I have the best staff working in the news. And they are absolutely phenomenal. And I want them all to keep working in news and keep working with me and keep working with me both on the time that I’m on MSNBC and on other projects. And that’s working out great so far.”

Working hard can facilitate success, certainly, but when you are at the top of your game, you need to look around and see if you want to keep playing at the same pace. Of course, some do and will, but others say I need to take a different path, one healthier for myself.

First posted on Forbes.com 1.01.2023

Patti Davis: The Virtue of Silence

“Years ago, someone asked me what I would say to my younger self if I could. Without hesitating I answered: ‘That’s easy. I’d have said, ‘Be quiet.’ Not forever. But until I could stand back and look at things through a wider lens.”

This comment is from Patti Davis, daughter of the late President Ronald Reagan, in an op-ed for the New York Times reflecting on the decision of Britain’s Prince Harry to publish his memoir. Davis had done the same years earlier. Her tome addressed her dysfunctional relationship with her mother, Nancy, and her father.

Davis used the book to explain herself and, by doing so, to get more understanding from those around her. A worthy ambition, undoubtedly, but perhaps too revelatory at the time. Davis writes, “Not every truth has to be told to the entire world, even about famous families.” She adds, “But not everything needs to be shared, a truth that silence can teach.”

Nature of Truth

Reflection leads to introspection and, in turn, a thought about the nature of truth. “There isn’t just one truth, our truth — the other people who inhabit our story have their truths as well,” says Davis.

Our self-awareness evolves over time; we see our shortcomings. For example, what adult does not regret saying something to their parents in the heat of the moment? Yet, years later, with the benefit of hindsight, we recognize not that we were untruthful or hurtful but that we were ignorant of another person’s perspective. 

Value and virtue

There is grace in silence. “When I am liberated by silence, when I am no longer involved in the measurement of life, but in the living of it, I can discover a form of prayer in which there is effectively no distraction. My whole life becomes a prayer. My whole silence is full of prayer. The world of silence in which I am immersed contributes to my prayer.” Those are the words of the Trappist monk Thomas Merton

Our self-righteous perceptions of truth can get the better of us if we are not careful. Harry Truman used to write angry letters, then place them into a drawer and never send them. Abraham Lincoln did the same. One executive I know advises others irritated with a colleague or a situation to vent their feelings in a draft email. Then, set the draft aside to revise later when passions cool or delete it entirely. 

In our world of “gotcha comments” – that permeate our social discourse – how refreshing it is to stand back and disengage. Some call this digital detoxification. Whatever you call it, silence, like patience, gives us a measure of self-discipline. We cannot control events, only how we react to them.

One caveat. There should not be silence about the abuse. So often, those who reveal it unburden themselves from the unjustified shame they have been harboring. Silence must not be used as a tool of suppression; it must be offered willingly to see ourselves with greater clarity.

So yes, silence can work for us if we open ourselves to the experience. “Silence gives you room, it gives you distance,” writes Ms. Davis, “and it lets you look at your experiences more completely, without the temptation to even the score.” That is good advice for all.

First posted on Forbes.com on 1.08.2023

What You See May Not Be What You Get

Directing a film is like managing a small team. As such, it demands more than organizational skills; it requires reading people. Take it from Steven Spielberg, one of the giants of modern cinema.

“What looks subtle to the eye when I’m standing next to the camera and watching actors engaging in scene study as the cameras are turning, and what you see as the – with your eye, and you think it’s subtle, and you think it’s perfect, when you see it back on film, everything is louder and bigger than life on the screen,” said Steven Spielberg in an interview with Terry Gross on Fresh Air

“I learned from a very early age directing television… and I made a lot of mistakes by just trusting my evaluation of performance on a set and then realizing that, oh my goodness, I let my actors all go too far. How come it’s louder on the screen when it seemed perfectly natural on the day?” Spielberg confessed that it took him “years to figure out how to modulate performances so the actors would be at a level that I was seeking.”

What to observe

The lesson to take from Spielberg is two-fold, keep a close watch on the action, but don’t trust your own eyes. You have to be willing to do your own after-action review to see if what you thought was going well was going well. Here are some suggestions that may help.

Prepare. Getting a project off the ground is like a film. First, you marshal the resources and gather the team.

Engage. Let the team do its work after you set the parameters. Then, allow them to improvise as a means of achieving better results.

Evaluate. Initial results can be encouraging, but they can be misleading. Have the guts to see that what you see first will complete the mission.

Revise. Keep an open mind so that you can work with your team to improve processes and outcomes as you go along.

Gain perspective

There is something else necessary: experience. Spielberg cut his teeth beginning at age 22, directing episodic television. He had the experience of working with first-rate actors as a young man. A lesson he learned was as talented as they were, he was the director. It was his job to put the pieces together. In short, even though he was the kid, he was the boss.

Leading a team is much the same process. You respect the talents of your people by providing them with the resources necessary to do their jobs well. And you let them do it. But you need to follow the action to make sure they are adhering to schedule and budget and giving them the freedom to do their best work. In short, it’s a balancing act. It is not something you learn from a book; you gain by studying leaders around you and then making your own choices.

“Your film is like your children,” says the German director Werner Herzog. “You might want a child with certain qualities, but you are never going to get the exact specification right. The film has a privilege to live its own life and develop its own character. To suppress this is dangerous. It is an approach that works the other way, too: sometimes the footage has amazing qualities that you did not expect.” 

The same sentiment can be applied to leadership. Those you lead can amaze you.

First posted on Smartbrief.com 12/18/2022

What’s Behind Every Successful Leader? The Team. The Team. The Team.

“All leadership writing depends on the dubious premise that an entity was successful because a person was in charge, rather than while they were in charge. The ‘halo effect’ is the name given to the tendency for a positive impression in one area to lead to a positive impression in another.”

That observation is from a recent column by Bartleby in The Economist about what lessons we can learn from the manager of the team that wins this year’s World Cup. Bartleby notes the standard concepts – “team spirit, data, purpose, and stars” – contribute to the goal of winning the golden trophy. As Bartleby notes, only one manager, Vittorio Pozzo of Italy, has ever won back-to-back Cup titles. So what role does the manager play?


Whether they are called managers or coaches depending upon their sport, those who succeed are leaders first and foremost. Yes, they manage the details, but more importantly, they get players to believe in themselves. Such cohesion is essential in international competitions where players come from different pro teams. What we can learn from winning managers in sports – as well as in for-profit and nonprofit enterprises – is that confidence matters.

Good leaders get the players to believe in themselves as individuals and teammates. When that occurs, people pull together – not because the boss says so, but because they want to. It may be hard to keep them from work. What unites them is team purpose, a belief in the mission, and confidence in their ability to perform as a unit.

Pulling together

The benefits of such cohesion are not simply results but positive behavior change. Work is hard and can be dreary, but when employees are engaged (to use an old buzzword), they want to come to work. Why? Because they want to participate with their colleagues in something greater than themselves.

Mistakes will occur, but when people pull together as a unit, there is a collective disposition that addresses problems not in a “gotcha” manner but in a “teach me” manner. 

As Patrick Lencioni writes in The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, “Great teams do not hold back with one another. They are unafraid to air their dirty laundry. They admit their mistakes, their weaknesses, and their concerns without fear of reprisal.” Such a sentiment is the core concept of psychological safety, an idea pioneered by Amy Edmondson that dictates that people can contribute when they feel valued.

Yes, the leader matters, of course, but as Bartley argues – and common sense dictates – it is the team’s performance that matters more. This approach may be why well-liked managers do not always succeed. What matters more is respect. That emotion comes from the feeling that what we do matters and that we can achieve our intended results as individuals and as a team. 

Leaders enkindle a spirit within their followers that pushes them to want to achieve, not simply for themselves but for the team’s good. When that occurs, the organization achieves its mission. 

Note: The phrase, “the team, the team, the team,” was a favorite of Bo Schembechler who coached Michigan football from 1969 to 1989.

First posted on SmartBrief.com 12.13.2022

Trevor Noah Says Farewell with Humor (and Grace)

Usually when an entertainer leaves a live show for which he has been host, there are the usual thank you’s to staff and crew, a sprinkling of hosannas to special guests, and plenty of humor. Trevor Noah’s leave-taking of the Daily Show, his television home for the past seven years, was all of that, and more.

At the top of the finale, Noah opened with characteristic humor. “When I started the show, “I had three clear goals: ‘I’m going to make sure Hilary gets elected, I’m going to make sure I prevent a global pandemic from starting and I’m going to become best friends with Kanye West.’ I think it’s time to move on.”

In many ways you can look at Noah’s tenure as a love letter to America. Noah, after all, is from South Africa. He is biracial, son of a Xhosa mother and Swiss father. His memoir, Born a Crime, tells that story in ways that show from whence his comedy as well as his deep understanding of the human condition stems. In fact, it is the latter that gives such measure to the former. 

Lessons learned

In his final monologue from his desk, Noah said he learned three lessons doing the show. Lesson one, “issues are real, but politics are just an invented way to solve those issues … It’s not a binary. There are not just two ways to solve any problem.”

Noah opined that “politics is transformed into a giant game of football. And like football it turns everybody’s brains into mush.” Better, he advises to think of the issues facing individuals and the country through a human lens rather than a partisan lens. 

Lesson two, “never forget how much context matters… We have a lot of information but we don’t have the context to process that information.”Noah noted that we respond to news we see through our own biases. The wider context of what we are seeing and hearing is lost.

People are “a lot friendlier than they would have you believe.” Social media may tempt us to think of the polarity between people. But for Noah, his travels throughout the country enabled him to see the better side of people, even those who may disagree with him politically.

Lesson three, said Noah, was that doing the show “taught me to be grateful foreverything that I have, that I don’t even realize I have… Grateful to the wonderful people who helped me make every single episode.”

Special mention

One group who taught Noah received special mention. “I’ve often been credited with having these grand ideas. Who do you think teaches me, who do you think has shaped me, nourished me, informed me? From my mom, my gran, my aunts, all these black women in my life but then in America as well. I always tell people if you truly want to learn about America, talk to Black women. Because unlike everybody else Black women can’t afford to f—- around and find out. Black people understand how hard it is when things go bad.”

Context matters and so does heart. Trevor Noah is only 38 and he will be entertaining and yes educating us for decades more to come. His departure from the Daily Show was less a goodbye than a closing of one chapter and the opening of another. All done with style and grace.

First posted on Forbes.com 12.12.2022

The Detroit Lions: Playing Hard, Winning, and Maybe

One second on the clock.

The New York Jets tumbled into formation for a 58-yard field goal attempt. A long shot for sure, but fans of the team on the other side of the ball, the Detroit Lions, were conditioned for the worst.

After all, the Lions had lost games at least three times on late 55-yard-plus field goals. And so often in their history, the Lions had lost games in the final minute, snatching defeat from the jaws of certain victory.

The kick was up and SHORT.

The Lions win. And now boast an even 7-7 record. 

Ordinarily a .500 record is nothing to brag about, but you take what you get when you are the Lions. The team began the season with high hopes, even appearing on the HBO Series Hard Knocks. Then in true Lions fashion, they stumbled out of the gate. Badly. Going 1-6 in their first seven games. 

Same old Lions, as fans are wont to say, because they have lived it. For 65 years. The team has won a single playoff game since 1957. They even went 0-16, the same year they started a quarterback with a broken arm. Really. (Of course, it wasn’t his throwing arm, but still.)

What the Lions teach

The Lions are a lesson for any team, department, or organization that becomes accustomed to underperforming. So how do you right the ship? Well, you get the right people on board and let them go.

The Lions have a coach, Dan Campbell, who has gotten his team — many of them rookies or second and third-year players — to believe in themselves. Getting the team to believe in itself, mainly when its history is one of defeat and defeatism, takes work. Campbell has been a target of fan vitriol for bone-headed calls and more, but one thing since he was hired, his team has not quit on him. They play through the whistle, as football players like to say.

“As the head coach, Campbell is the Lions’ CEO,” writes Justin Rogers of The Detroit News. “He’s responsible for setting and adjusting the tone of the culture. And, when it comes to calming guys’ nerves, he’s the perfect man for the job. He’s demanding, yet doesn’t take himself too seriously. And that may be an understatement. He doesn’t sweat being perceived as the dumb jock or giving a corny speech in a team meeting. He’s beyond comfortable in his own skin, and if a team is supposed to take on the persona of its head coach, getting them to get back to playing loose won’t be an issue.”

What coach Dan Campbell has done applies to non-sports teams. He has lived by the dictum of legendary Alabama football coach Paul “Bear” Bryant. “If anything goes bad, I did it. If anything goes semi-good, we did it. If anything goes real good, then you did it. That’s all it takes to get people to win football games for you.”

Another factor is their quarterback, Jared Goff. He led his previous team, the Los Angeles Rams, to the Super Bowl, then was summarily traded to the Detroit Lions for long-suffering quarterback Matthew Stafford. Goff was, in essence, sent into the equivalent of NFL Siberia. Not once did he complain in public. Instead, he handled himself with poise and professionalism. His fellow players saw in him a quarterback who could lead them.

The Lions boast a defensive line with a young rookie from Michigan, Aidan Hutchinson, who has racked up seven sacks this season. A friend who played college ball says that Hutchinson’s motor is always running. That is football speaks for a player’s drive, determination, and mobility.

On the right path

As the playoffs loom, the Lions have shifted from being doormats to the team that no one wants to play because they are playing well and upsetting the oddsmakers.

Being realistic, the Lions’ chances for the playoffs remain slim. And the Lions being the Lions, the next door they open could be a trap. Their history is one of the pratfalls. But this team seems different, and having rallied from a 1-6 – a mark that in the past would have spelled collapse – to winning six of their past seven games means they are doing something right. And that gives Lions fans something to believe in and for managers and teams facing long odds to find comfort.

One more quote from Bear Bryant that may apply to the Lions and every struggling team is, “It’s awfully important to win with humility. It’s also important to lose. I hate to lose worse than anyone, but if you never lose you won’t know how to act. If you lose with humility, then you can come back.” And so maybe that’s the secret to the Lions’ turnaround; they have been humbled and have not quit.

First posted on Forbes.com 12.19.2022