Monday, February 3, 2014

Experience is often the best teacher

Last night, I was happy to see Seattle Seahawks and Coach Pete Carroll reach the pinnacle of football success. Some may call me a bandwagon fan, given that this was my first year following the team. However, I feel that the Seahawks played an important role in my family's adjustment to living in Seattle after years in Utah. Their magical run through the season and their hard-fought playoff success caught the attention of even my wife and oldest daughter, both of whom care very little about professional sports of any kind. The entire community fell in love with this team and the way they played their hardest seemingly all the time, and my whole family got caught up in the excitement.

At the heart of this Seahawk team is Pete Carroll, whose style permeates the entire team from top to bottom. He and John Schneider have built this team based on a blueprint that they had in their minds when they arrived in Seattle 4 years ago. The players put in the hours in the workout room and in practice and executed beautifully on so many occasions this season, but the coach was the one who brought it all together. At 62, he is one of the oldest coaches in the NFL today, but his youthful and energetic attitude cannot be denied. He helped to rebuild this team from scratch and he and his staff molded this team into the most fearsome in the league.

Now, before going any further, I must admit the cheering for Pete Carroll was not easy for me at first. As an avid college football fan who has a strong distaste for USC (my favorite teams are BYU and Michigan), I didn't have a very high opinion of him when I arrived in Seattle a year ago. He repeatedly "stole" recruits from both of my favorite schools and the Trojans' success under him made him seem smug and even slimy. When the truth came out about the Reggie Bush situation, I was one of the many who pointed a finger at the coach and felt vindicated in my belief that his success came though cheating. When he suddenly left USC for Seattle, it appeared that he was running from the scene of the crime.

On top of all that, Pete Carroll was supposed to be a failure as an NFL head coach. Before finding success at USC, he had been fired by both the Jets and the Patriots. Even worse, the Patriots turned into a dynasty soon after Carroll was shown the door, implying that his coaching was holding them back. He had shown great promise as a position coach, but it seemed that the spotlight of being a head coach in the NFL was too bright for him to handle.

With all of this as background, imagine my surprise when I arrived in Seattle, to find that practically the whole town loves Pete Carroll. Having grown up in Detroit, where I was an avid fan of the worst franchise in professional football, I was very excited to be living in a town with an NFL team. I immediately read up on the team and realized that they were headed for an exciting season with a lot of young and energetic players. Russell Wilson, Marshawn Lynch and Richard Sherman were names that I had heard, but the more I learned about this team the more I liked it. I have always loved hard-nosed, physical football where the goal is for the team to impose its will on its opponents. This Seahawks team was built to do just that, and the architect of this attitude was Pete Carroll. And the Super Bowl was the culmination, a total physical domination of a skilled opponent from the opening kickoff until the game was well in hand.

In the joy of celebrating the Seahwks win with my kids, I watched a lot of post game interviews. One interview in particular stock out in my mind, I don't even remember who the interviewer was. Someone asked Pete Carroll what is was like to win this game at the same location where he was fired after his first season as an NFL head coach. Something changed in Pete's countenance ever so slightly so show that the subject was not a pleasant one for him. He recovered and gave a respectful response, but his initial reaction taught me a lot about Pete Carroll.

Most successful people are driven to succeed and they can visualize what success looks like and make a plan to get there. The vast majority have not always been successful, but they have learned from failure and used it to cement their vision of success. I can't be sure, but it seems to me that Pete Carroll used his past failures to figure out how to succeed as an NFL coach and this Seahawk team is the result of his vision for success. It appears that he has known since day one in Seattle what it would take to get to this point, and gained that knowledge the hard way.

Just like sports, success in business requires hard work and vision. Some business leaders are born with that vision and run at the front from day one. However, I find that the most successful leaders have failed multiple times throughout their careers, and what they learn from those failures shapes their vision of what true success looks like. And just like Pete Carroll's vision has lifted a team and a whole fanbase, great business leaders lift those around them and bring their vision of success to reality.