Leadership Lessons from the GridironIn 2011, the Academy Award for best documentary feature went to “Undefeated,” which follows coach Bill Courtney and the Manassas Tigers high school football team.

Bryan Burkhart, a regular contributor to The New York Times, felt so inspired by this compelling film, he contacted Courtney to learn more about his philosophy on building and leading a team.

A little background first: Up to 2003, the Manassas Tigers held a less-than-impressive record of 5 wins and 95 losses. Six years later, it made its first playoff appearance in team history. The team was led by a successful entrepreneur, the founder of Classic American Hardwoods, which Courtney started out of his living room in 2001. His small business anticipates sales of roughly $40 million this year.

So what does a hard-driving entrepreneur and the subject of an Oscar-winning documentary have to tell us about leadership?

Four Leadership Lessons from the Gridiron

Always Be Recruiting

Courtney walked the halls of Manassas High School on a daily basis, “with a smile and a pat on the back for students as they walked by.” Students responded favorably to his unbridled enthusiasm for the team, as did the nine men who volunteered to serve on his coaching staff, drawn by “the vision for what we could do for the kids.”

Practice is Key to Success

Courtney approached practice on the field the same way he runs his business. It should always be  “organized, on time and on schedule,” he says. Through practice (and more practice), he and his fellow coaches taught the promising young athletes to develop the basics for “both general skills and specific positions.”

Motivate by Example

Courtney, dubbed by Esquire as “Coach of the Year,” believes in working hard and figuring out how to make everyone else do the same.

The most effective way to achieve this is by setting the right example. “At Manassas, the kids knew that I was running my own business … but they saw me working hard every day, volunteering at the school to be their coach,” says Courtney. Seeing how much he cared about them, the young athletes felt motivated to do the same for him.

Focus on the Fundamentals

In business and on the gridiron, Courtney adheres to the fundamentals:

The key is “knowing the talent on your team,” he says. “Players win games, not coaches.”

Leadership qualities can be found in all walks of life, from the board room to the locker room. When opportunities arise to glean some insights from successful leaders, it’s always worth hearing what they have to say.

How do you use the fundamentals to build your team?

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