The Leadership Framework: Creating a Championship Mindset

Nov 05, 2015


The Leadership Framework: Creating a Championship Mindset

What a dream! 

I woke up this morning so bummed to realize that my dream last night was not real. I have been trying unsuccessfully to land an interview with Pete Carroll about how his own leadership as the head coach of the Seattle Seahawks might fit into the AWSP Leadership Framework. Last night in my dream, we finally connected! We were at the V-Mac on Lake Washington in the middle of the cavernous indoor field, right after a pre-season practice as players were heading to the locker room. The conversation was fantastic and went something like this…


Gary Kipp (GK): Hello Mr. Carroll, my name is Gary Kipp, I am the Executi–

Pete Carroll (PC): I know who you are. I was browsing through that User’s Guide you sent me this off season. Nice work on that Framework thing.

GK: Well, actually, that is what I wanted to talk to you about. We admire so much the type of leadership you have brought to the Seahawks, and I have been wondering if there are lessons that principals can learn from the approach you have taken here to get the team performing at a Super Bowl caliber level. Hey, is that Marshawn?

Marshawn Lynch: I’m just here so I don’t get fined. 

GK: That was so cool. He thinks I am a reporter. Now then, I am wondering if we can explore your approach to coaching this team through the lens of our framework. Are you OK with that?

PC: Shoot.

GK: Well, our first criterion is Creating a Culture of Learning. You have created something like that here, have you not?

PC: We have. One of the most important things I do as a coach is to create a culture where players are teaching each other, and supporting each other. Our coaches are experts in their specialties, but if players are not playing for each other, we cannot win consistently. We actually had a player last year, let’s call him Percy, who was super talented but he contributed negatively to the culture of our team. We had no choice but to trade Percy to the Jets. You’ve heard the phrase “culture eats talent for breakfast every day”? Well, we learned that to be true last year. And I am sure it’s the same thing in schools where principals, in order to reach high levels of student achievement, have to create a culture where all the professionals in the building have the same goal and help each other achieve it. I know that’s not easy. It wasn’t easy to say good bye to Percy, but with the right culture, everything else is so much easier.

GK: Speaking of everything else, our second criterion is Ensuring School Safety. How does ensuring safety fit into your leadership role as an NFL coach?

PC: Safety to me is twofold, and I am guessing it is with principals, as well. First and foremost, I have to stress safety in our equipment, our techniques, our training, in everything we do. If we ignore safety issues, players get hurt and we lose games. It’s the same for you. If kids are not safe, there is no chance they will learn. 

The second part of safety for us is players feeling safe to ask questions, to make a mistake and learn from it, to express their opinion, to act a bit differently. Marshawn does not act like Richard Sherman, who does not act like Russell Wilson. Our culture allows for that within certain limits and I believe that is one of the reasons our players thrive in this environment. I am guessing that the same is true of schools, where kids need to feel a sense of safety to explore learning without risking being put down or judged negatively.

GK: I agree. As we look at our third criterion of Planning with Data, what role does data analysis play in your role as head coach?

PC: Well, we are not like baseball in terms of metrics obsession, but we do analyze data on both our players and the plays we run. Data has a fundamental role to play in our decision making, but the numbers have to be analyzed in the context of things that are difficult to put a number on. Does a player have an infectious competitive spirit? How do I put a number on the influence Kam Chancellor has on other players? I don’t know how to measure that with a number. Does a student have a drive to learn more? Has a student learned the skills of working with other students to solve problem? It’s the same thing. How do you measure that? I am no expert on public education, but it seems so odd to me that such huge consequences are placed on such narrow bits of data in reading and math, and no credit given to values we expect you to instill in our children that are hard to measure.

GK: Interesting comparison. One of the things that principals are responsible for is helping teachers align their curriculum to state and local standards. Do you think that has any application to your work?

PC: Well, it isn’t exactly the same thing, but think about it. You are simply trying to get teachers to understand the playbook, so that as students move through the system, you don’t find gaps in their learning. I have to make sure that all our players understand our playbook and if one of them misfires on one of our plays by not playing the role designed for them, things go south very quickly. Obviously, it is much easier for me to monitor my players on their adherence to the playbook, because they all play right in front of me at the same time and I study films. I don’t envy principals with this criterion just because the monitoring is so time consuming.

GK: I agree. Central to helping students grow academically is the principals’ responsibility to improve instruction. I am assuming that central to your role is improving your players, right? 

PC: No question. All other criteria that you have talked about lead back to this one. We work very hard, even in the off-season, to help our players take their game to the next level. It is interesting to compare how much time we devote to practice — the act of improving our skills — compared to how much time we actually put those skills to use in a real game. Juxtapose that against how much time teachers practice compared to how much time they play in a real game. It’s exactly opposite, isn’t it?

GK: I hadn’t thought about it in that way, but you are right. I know principals would love to have more time with teachers, when they are not actually teaching, to help them work with each other on developing their skills. My next question has to do with managing resources: The sixth criterion in the Leadership Framework has to do with managing resources. How does this responsibility fit into the role of being an NFL head coach?

PC: Just like principals, the most important resource that I manage is my staff. Hiring the right staff, and deploying them in the best way to reach our goals is similar to a principal building a master schedule. Managing our financial resources with a salary cap is one of the hardest jobs that I have. Fortunately, I have a great partner in John Schneider to help with that. There are penalties if we overspend. Same for principals, I assume?

GK: Right you are. Another thing that principals are held accountable for in our Framework is engaging the community in the work of the school. I know that engaging the greater Washington community is part of your role because I have seen you do it so well.

PC: Gary, the NFL is a sport, but it is also a business. Fans equal customers. Not all of them can come to our games, but they can purchase our jerseys. We know that personally reaching out to the community in a variety of ways connects them to us. They become emotionally attached to our success. It is not a surprise that this is one of your criteria, because the more the community is emotionally invested in the school, the more likely you will be to be successful. Look on our website to see all the ways we try to connect with the larger community and you will find ideas that principals might be able to use themselves to engage their own community.

GK: Wonderful, I will pass that on. I am most curious to get your thoughts on our last criterion, which has to do with closing the achievement gap. Do you see ways that this applies to your coaching? 

PC: Think about it in its broadest context. Principals are leading their schools in ways that emphasize the need to understand individuals and groups that might be underperforming and approach them in ways that maximize their learning in an effort to close the gap between them and your high flyers. We are trying to do the same thing. The gap that we are always trying to close is the gap between our starters and the players that come off the bench. You saw in spring training and pre-season how much effort we put into our second and third string. That’s because teams get to the Super Bowl by not having a drop off when one player goes out and another player takes his place. We can’t be successful unless the gap between our starters and our second string is small. I think that successful school leaders have this same mindset, don’t you?

GK: I do. I can’t tell you how much I have enjoyed our conversation. I have learned so much about the relationship between what our principals are accountable for and what you are accountable for. Thanks so much for taking the time to talk with me.

PC: This has been my pleasure. Let me show you around the V-Mac. Would you like a jersey to take home or maybe a couple of tickets to one of our games? I can put you and some of your friends up in the Seahawks box for our home opener if you’d like. I know that October is National Principals’ Month. How would you feel about raising the 12th Man Flag at the November 29th Pittsburgh game?


Damn alarm clock! 

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