Vince Lombardi’s Motivation “Secrets”: Love, Loyalty and Commitment

Here is an article written by William C. Taylor for BNET (February 14, 2011), The CBS Interactive Business Network. To check out an abundance of valuable resources and obtain a free subscription to one or more of the BNET newsletters, please click here.

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Now that Valentine’s Day is but a distant memory, may I suggest that we think about love not just in our personal lives but in our professional lives too?

Here’s what I mean. In his inspiring and instructive book Rules of Thumb, my friend and Fast Company cofounder Alan Webber identifies two questions that demand the attention of leaders. The first is familiar: What keeps you up at night? What are the problems that nag at you? The second is less familiar, but even more important: What gets you up in the morning? What keeps you and your people more committed than ever, more engaged than ever, more excited than ever, particularly as the environment around you gets tougher and more demanding than ever?

That’s a question every organization needs to ask and answer if it hopes to prosper in an era of hyper-competition. Even the most creative leaders recognize that long-term success is not just about thinking differently from other companies. It is also, and perhaps more importantly, about caring more than other companies-about customers, about colleagues, about how the organization conducts itself in a world with endless temptations to cut corners and compromise on values. For leaders, the pressing question isn’t just what separates you from the competition in the marketplace. It’s also what holds you together in the workplace.

Learn from Lombardi: Love is Stronger Motivator than Hate

Of course, the best leaders have known this all along. There’s a wonderful biography of Vince Lombardi by David Maraniss, by the Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter at the Washington Post. After the Green Bay Packers captured the first-ever Super Bowl, Maraniss writes, Coach Lombardi, as tough an SOB as there was on the American sporting scene, found himself in high demand as a speaker to executive audiences, who wanted him to translate his principles for victory on the gridiron to success in work and life. In what became a recurring message to corporate America, he set out seven principles of competition and leadership, most of which you’d expect from the greatest football coach of all time. But his most important principle was also the most surprising: Love is more powerful than hate.

“The love I’m speaking of is loyalty, which is the greatest of loves,” Lombardi told his audiences. “Teamwork, the love that one man has for another and that he respects the dignity of another…I am not speaking of detraction. You show me a man who belittles another and I will show you a man who is not a leader…Heart power is the strength of your company.  Heart power is the strength of the Green Bay Packers. Heart power is the strength of America and hate power is the weakness of the world.”

Here’s one small example of Lombardi’s larger point, a touching story that made me sit up and take notice when I read it in my local newspaper shortly after Valentine’s Day two years ago-and that I think about often.  Boston’s legendary Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, where sick kids get some of the best care in the world, was building a new facility on its busy campus. Every morning, in bitter temperatures and biting wind, ironworkers showed up for work and moved the building a little closer to completion. No news there. The new was what was happening before the shift began. The Boston Globe reported:

“It has become a beloved ritual at Dana-Farber.  Every day, children who come to the clinic write their names on sheets of paper and tape them to the windows of the walkway for ironworkers to see. And, every day, the ironworkers paint the names onto I-beams and hoist them into place as they add floors to the new 14-story Yawkey Center for Cancer Care.

“The building’s steel skeleton is now a brightly colored, seven-story monument to scores of children receiving treatment at the clinic-Lia, Alex, and Sam; Taylor, Izzy, and Danny. For the young cancer patients, who press their noses to the glass to watch new names added every day, the steel and spray-paint tribute has given them a few moments of joy and a towering symbol of hope. ‘It’s fabulous,’ said [18-month-old] Kristen [Hoenshell]’s mother, Elizabeth, as she held her daughter and marveled at the rainbow of names. It’s just a simple little act that means so much.’”

The Globe account, understandably, focused on the impact of this daily ritual on the kids and their parents. But think about the impact on the job. Is there any doubt that these union members worked harder and smarter, that they paid even more attention to quality, because their “simple little act” gave their work a greater sense of meaning? “Everybody saw the kids smiling,” foreman Mile Walsh, from Ironworkers Local 7, told the reporter. “And that’s what you want to do, keep them smiling.”

For these tough-as-nails ironworkers, work had become personal, which meant they devoted themselves to their work with a renewed sense of personal responsibility. That’s the difference between new ventures built on a hot product or a cool piece of technology-a foundation for success that can evaporate as quickly as it materializes-and those built on both most-of-something ideas and an all-for-one sense of shared commitment. If you want to start from scratch and shake things up, whether as an independent venture or a team or business unit inside an established organization, how you work will be as decisive as what you think.

Have you seen loyalty and commitment help your organization?

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William C. Taylor is cofounder of Fast Company magazine and coauthor of Mavericks at Work. His new book is Practically Radical. You can follow him on Twitter at @practicallyrad.

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