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Culture, Leadership, and Football

Culture, Leadership, and Football

Recent events on the football field have reminded me of a story told to me by my former business partner,  Fran Tarkenton. Fran, then Quarterback for the Minnesota Vikings,  was heading out for a new season and shared the story of how one of the first things his coach at the time, Bud Grant, did was to teach new members of the team how to stand for the National Anthem.  Grant usually chose one of the big linemen to demonstrate what he expected from the team.  He would say, “Carl, Carl Eller, all-star lineman, we have some new players who have not been here before and don’t know how we stand for the Star Spangled Banner.  Would you demonstrate for me?”  Carl would get up and say, “We line up on the sideline, standing at attention, with feet together touching the outside of the sideline.  Helmet under the left arm with the face mask facing forward.  When the Anthem starts we place our right hand over our heart with our face toward the American flag.  Let’s practice.”  Bud Grant was undoubtedly a strong leader and defined the culture of what became the famous and formidable “Purple People Eaters.”

With all personal beliefs aside, look this Saturday and Sunday and see how much the culture has changed in this historic sport.  Deliberately defining the culture, whether on the football field or in the workplace, is a leadership responsibility and cannot be delegated.  Most modern coaches/leaders think a team culture is only about what happens on the field or in the office, but the great coaches like Bud Grant and John Wooden understand it is about what team members say and do wherever they are.

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Posted by Aubrey Daniels, Ph.D.

Aubrey is a thought leader and expert on management, leadership, safety and workplace issues. For the past 40 years, he has been dedicated to helping people and organizations apply the laws of human behavior to optimize performance.


Dr. Daniels, I read with interest you post in which Fran Tarkenton tells the story of how his coach Bud Grant had Carl Eller instruct new players how they should stand for the national anthem. Given this past weekends events, and tweets by our president I am curious about your feelings on the matter. Thank you. Best wishes.

Bud Grant was a very good leader. He attended to details and players responded to what was important to him. Players have a responsibility to help the brand and coaches need to define that clearly as Coach Grant did. The brand value is what helps pay the huge salaries of the players. Protecting the brand includes winning and doing things that bring customers to the games. I don’t think most players understand that, a failure of leadership. I personally don’t like the kneeling because it does little to advance the causes they protest. I would rather read or see what players are doing to advance their causes on their own time with the large salaries. If owners and coaches condone the behavior, that is their business as they will ultimately pay the price. That is their right and really none of my business. All I can do is watch or not and buy products of the teams, or not. Thanks for your comment. @ Aubrey

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