Leadership: It’s About Blocking and Tackling, Even When Your Job IS Blocking and Tackling
by Neil Rosenbaum
The phrase “blocking and tackling” is used to describe the importance of focus and execution in business. The saying probably comes from Vince Lombardi who put it this way:
“Football is two things. It’s blocking and tackling. I don’t care about formations or new offenses or tricks on defense. You block and tackle better than the team you’re playing, you win.”
As locals know, Syracuse University and the city of Syracuse have suffered lackluster and disappointing performances for twenty years. This is especially difficult for a program and city that was home to national champions, the illustrious #44s (most notably Floyd Little, Jim Brown, and Ernie Davis), and the perennial nationally ranked basketball program that takes the spotlight.
Moreover, in a city that has also seen the drain of many large manufacturers, tradespeople, and young professionals over the same period, it resonates even more deeply.
In his first two seasons, head coach Dino Babers delivered a combined record of 8 wins and 16 losses. The previous year, under Head Coach Scott Schafer, the team was also 4 and 8.
Head coaches Scott Schafer, Doug Marrone, Greg Robinson and Paul Pasqualoni all had resumes that showed credibility, competence, and success.
So, what propelled the team to a #12 ranking and renewed respect, growing attendance, improved recruiting success, and pride? Listen to Coach Babers’ interviews and it’s clear that it comes down to “blocking and tackling,” with one addition: “faith.” Coach Babers’ definition of faith?
“Faith is belief without evidence.”
Watch a post-game locker room talk from Coach Babers and you will see where his teams derive their faith. Throughout history, and in our own personal lives, we all have experienced leaders that have affected and shaped us. Leaders who have driven us to achievements that wouldn’t have been accomplished without them. They cause, or allow, us to have faith in our vision for the future.
In a post-game interview after an important win, Coach Babers described how it really happens. This is what inspired me to think about “blocking and tackling.” He eschewed the typical answers relating to a specific play or performance.
Instead, Coach Babers started with the importance of school work. “First we make sure that everyone is doing what they need to be doing in the classroom.” He followed that statement by describing the focus on conditioning (complimenting the conditioning coach). He mentioned nutrition and hydration (complimenting those staff members). And he talked about the importance of the leadership coming from the seniors (named individually) who had experienced the tough years—and the emotion he felt seeing them experience a winning season.
And my favorite leadership “blocking and tackling” lesson:
“When you don’t care who gets the credit, you can do great things.”
Let’s take the discussion away from college football and back to business leadership. So why is this all so important?
Ron Carucci reports in an article in the Harvard Business Review:
“In 2016, it was estimated that 67% of well-formulated strategies failed due to poor execution.”
Carucci goes on to ascribe the reason to four issues that clearly indicate poor implementation of “blocking and tackling.”
They lack depth in their competitive context
Carucci reports that, “70% of leaders spend less than one day a month discussing strategy execution.” Also, these leaders focus internally, “block” themselves from the competitive landscape, and fail to “block” distractions. This negatively affects the ability to flex to fast moving industry trends.
They are dishonest or naive about trade-offs
Another common misstep? Not taking into consideration what you have to say “no” to in order to say “yes” to something else. You are “blocking” yourself from seeing the net impact of your decisions and direction.
They leave old organizational designs in place
As Jim Collins states in Good to Great, they miss “getting the right people on the bus, and in the right seats.” Tackling big staffing decisions and tackling them early are key to success.
They can’t handle the emotional toll
I like to call this “reality theory.” Looking at your next career opportunity and only seeing what you think you can bring is a mistake. You have to be realistic about the gaps in your personal portfolio. Otherwise, you will be knocked out of the game. You have to go to work on continual personal improvement, no differently than you do with products and processes.
After all, leadership is all about blocking and tackling.