As we head into Super Bowl week, football is on everyone’s minds. Hundreds of millions of people will be watching the game—whether for the football or just for the commercials! But just because it’s a football game doesn’t mean that there’s nothing for a small business person to learn.
I find myself fascinated by the Super Bowl coaches this year. They’re both old school, detail-oriented coaches. Tom Coughlin, the head coach of the New York Giants, in particular is famous for his obsession with details. The New York Times had a great profile of Coughlin recently, going over the highs and lows of his career.
People have been calling for the Giants to fire Coughlin almost since the day he was hired, it seems. He drove star defensive end Michael Strahan crazy with his rules for punctuality ($1,000 fines for players who weren’t 5 minutes early to meetings), and star running back Tiki Barber decided to retire rather than continue playing for him. Just a few weeks ago, the Giants were 7-7, and pundits were calling for his head on a platter.
Now, he’s one win away from his second Super Bowl title in 5 seasons. He’s won 7 division championships in his 16-year coaching career.
All those stories about Coughlin’s obsession with details, often told critically or even mockingly, actually point to the roots of his success, I believe. I like the way Bill Pennington described it in his profile of Coughlin for the Times: “Coughlin came to view his rules as producing more than just discipline. They are a key to consistency, and to Coughlin consistency leads to routine, and routine leads to preparedness, and preparedness leads to proper execution.”
Discipline. Consistency. Routine. Preparedness. Execution. Those are old school virtues, but they’re also a great recipe for success. Those are the big things that make a difference, and they’re built on the little things. If you don’t pay attention to all the details, the little things, then you’ll never be able to control the big things.
The lessons that Coughlin represents are the same lessons I learned from my coaches, both in football and business. On the football field, Coach Bud Grant taught me how to see the little things, the signs that would lead to big things. These signs are all around us, if we’re just willing to pay attention.
And in the business world, I’ve seen the importance of those virtues from people like Sam Walton of Walmart and Bernie Marcus of Home Depot. If you take care of the details, the little things, it’s amazing how much they impact everything else.
When Tom Coughlin fines players for showing up only 2 minutes early instead of 5, or for wearing black socks instead of white, or any of his other requirements, it might sound silly—or even a little crazy. But it really isn’t. Instilling discipline enables his players to get the most out of their talents and play well together as a team. It works on the football field, and it can work for your business, too.