Things We Can Learn From Bill Belichick (And Bill Parcells)

I am an outspoken hater of the New England Patriots, so it might come as a surprise that I’m writing a blog about things we can learn from their coach, Bill Belichick.  But just because I don’t care for the team he leads, doesn’t mean I’m unable to recognize and learn from his greatness when I see it.

Even though they lost last night, Bill Belichick has coached the New England Patriots to eight Super Bowls, winning five of them.  To put that into perspective, in the amount of time that Belichick has coached New England into eight Super Bowls (since 2002), no other team has been in more than three, and no other team has won more than two.  That’s incredible!

Obviously, Bill Belichick is doing something right.  You don’t get to that many Super Bowls, let alone win that many, without some incredible leadership and work ethic.  No one just “happens” to be that good for that long.  There is a story though behind that kind of greatness.  Enter Bill Parcells.

In a recent 30 For 30 film by ESPN called “The Two Bills”, the story is shared behind the rise of Bill Belichick and how it was connected to coach Bill Parcells.  Parcells has won two Super Bowls himself as a head coach with the New York Giants and was in another Super Bowl with the Patriots as head coach.  Parcells is the coach who first gave Bill Belichick his shot as a coordinator on his team.

These two Bill’s spent eighteen years together as coaches on the same teams, some as equals, but most were Belichick working for Parcells.  While this 30 For 30 film focused on what led to a falling out between the two and their eventual resolution as friends, it was the story of their leadership that caught my eye.

As they both shared details about their coaching journey, I was struck by some incredible leadership principles that we all need to pay attention to.  Leadership is leadership.  There might be a few variations between leading in a church and leading in the marketplace, but leadership is still leadership.

If you haven’t seen the 30 For 30 yet, you need to.  It is packed full of golden principles, both do’s and dont’s, that could greatly impact our own leadership.  This is by no means an exhaustive list of leadership principles from their story, but here are 5 things I saw that matter greatly in our leadership.

1.  Investing matters — When Parcells was a defensive coordinator for the Giants he began to seek out and invest in Belichick who was coaching the special teams.  Parcells asked Belichick to help out on defense, even though he didn’t have to, and he began to teach him everything he knew about it.

Parcells said, “When I was a coordinator I would communicate with Belichick all the time.  When I made a call, he knew everything we were doing.  He was my go-to guy even at a very young age.”

Belichick said, “This was a huge break for my career.”  He would go on to say, “It wasn’t always scheduled time.  Very often, Parcells would ask me to come into his office.  He would say, ‘Here is something I want to make you aware of.  Here is something going on.'”  Parcells would pass on information, technique, and tactics that would help mold Belichick into the coach he is today.

At one point in the film, Belichick looked at Parcells and said, “I really appreciate those times you did that.  It helped open my eyes to the horizon and some things I really wasn’t paying attention to coming down the road.”  Things like eight Super Bowl appearances and x victories.

Belichick’s influence has gone on to produce dozens of other, high- level, successful, even Super Bowl winning coaches.  It proves the principle that if you don’t invest in those who are behind you, you’ll never influence people who are beyond you.

If you don't invest in those who are behind you, you'll never influence people who are beyond you. Click To Tweet

2.  Standards matter — Yes, I’m talking about standards of integrity and character, but also standards of performance.  Bill Parcells was known for his extremely high standards of expectations from his coaches and players and that was passed down to Belichick as well.

Belichick said, “Parcells demanded a high standard from the team, and that’s what he should demand.”  You don’t get to eight Super Bowls and win five of them without an extremely high standard for yourself and for your team.

He garnered a nickname of  “Doom” on the team.  He got this nickname from his unrelenting desire and push to improve on every play.  Belichick is and was able to celebrate what was being done well, but he was also a constant critic of where he and the team needed to improve.

Belichick’s understanding of this high standard helped him receive criticism himself in the heat of the moment.  He talked about how working for Parcell’s meant you were going to get yelled at.  He said, “You’re getting yelled at.  You’re in the heat of the battle.  You don’t have time for a conversation.  You don’t have time for debate.  You give an order, you accept an order and you do it.”

You will only ever accomplish what your standards allow you to achieve.  You can have all the talent in the world, but if your standard is to make the playoffs, that’s all you’ll ever do.  The standard for Belichick is to win it all.  Does he do it every year?  No!  But he’s done it more than anyone else in history.  I think the standard is one of the reasons why.

You will only ever accomplish what your standards allow you to achieve. Click To Tweet

3.  Vision matters…but so does the plan —  Much is made of vision in leadership, especially in the church, and well we should.  Without a clear vision, people will make up and pursue their own.  I would joke that this from the King James Version of the Bible, but it is a Scriptural concept as well.

Proverbs 29:18 says Where there is no vision, the people perish:… Literally, they cast off restraint.  They do their own thing.  Now yes, I understand that this is referring to people not having any law given to them, and when there is no law, people do whatever they want.

But isn’t the “law” God’s vision for our life?  The law is a standard (see point 2), and a vision of a preferred future.  That’s also what vision is said to be, a picture of a preferred future.

Belichick said, “I was a detailed person.  That’s one of the things that made us work so well together.  Parcells saw the big picture with great clarity.  I could dig in the details for a long time.”

Every organization needs a clear vision that keeps you on mission.  Without a clear vision, you will just go through the motions as an organization.  We’ve all seen it.  Whether it’s in the church in culture, the organizations with the clearest and most compelling vision are usually the ones that go the farthest.  But don’t ignore the plan either.

Without a clear vision, you will just go through the motions as an organization. Click To Tweet

A lack of vision might make you go through the motions but vision without a plan will make you go mad!  If you only focus on vision but don’t develop the right plan or process to get there, you will literally drive yourself mad.  There is nothing more frustrating than a clear and compelling vision with no way to get there.  This leads right into the next principle I saw in the two Bills.

A lack of vision might make you go through the motions but vision without process will make you go mad! Click To Tweet

4.  Roles matter — Standards matter and should be said clearly.  Vision matters and should be stated clearly.  Plans matter and should be set clearly, but typically the same person won’t/can’t do all these things.

Very rarely do you find a visionary who is also a planningary (I made that word up).  The visionary needs the planningary and the planningary needs the visionary.  If you have one without the other you’ll never get to where you want to go.

Belichick understood his role.  He said, “There was no question about it. I work for him (Parcells). He was the boss.  I might have voiced my opinion, but if Parcells said, ‘do it this way!’, that’s the way we did it. I totally respect that. That’s what a head coach should be.”

It was after stating that, that Belichick made the aforementioned statement: “I was a detailed person. That’s one of the things that made us work so well together.  Bill saw the big picture with great clarity. I could dig into the details a long time.”

In commending Belichick, Parcells said, “One of the great attributes a head coach can have is hiring good assistant coaches.”

Roles matter.  The team matters!  No Super Bowl has ever been won with just a great coach or only a great quarterback.  Every year, it’s the best TEAM that wins.  And the roles on those teams matter.

The team with the greatest players don’t always win the game, it’s the team who is the greatest at putting the right players in the right places.  They understand roles.  Why?  Because roles matter.

The team with the greatest players don't always win the game, it's the team who is the greatest at putting the right players in the right places. Click To Tweet

5.  Communication matters —  The whole film centered around a falling out that Belichick and Parcells had which led to years of absolute silence between the two.  From the very beginning, you could feel the incredible about of respect, admiration, and even love the two had for the other.

After hearing their whole story, it was hard to believe that a simple lack of communication could of led to the separation of these two football giants.  They were incredibly loyal to each other, complimenting one another to the nth degree in their field when a few poorly navigated moments of communication and it all came crumbling down.  It’s amazing how quickly poor communication can ruin a great thing.

It's amazing how quickly poor communication can ruin a great thing. Click To Tweet

Both Parcells and Belichick were quick to say how they wished they would of just “said something” before it led to their several years stint of silence.  So often, if we would just “say something” we could resolve the issue.  When something is on your heart, say it!  When you feel offended, speak it.  When you need to apoligize, do it!  Don’t let a lack of communication lead to a lack cooperation in your organization.

Don't let a lack of communication lead to a lack cooperation in your organization. Click To Tweet

So there you have it!  Five things that matter in leadership that I learned from Bill Belichick and Bill Parcells.

 

Jeff Maness
I am a follower of Jesus first, husband to a beautiful wife, father to four amazing children, lead pastor of Element Church in Cheyenne, WY, and blogger of all things life.

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