What the Job Is — And What it Isn't
When we accept a significant leadership role, we frequently believe we understand the larger goal. But it becomes easy to get sidetracked.
This past Saturday marked the 15th anniversary of the death of former San Francisco 49ers Hall-of-Fame Coach Bill Walsh. His influence across football is still vibrant as many college and pro teams use his West Coast offense and rely on his leadership teachings as key resources for their own growth.
Walsh’s greatest strength wasn’t his brilliant offensive mind or his in-game strategies. What separated him from other coaches was his ability to identify problems, then find key pathways to solve them.
Walsh understood what the job was and, most importantly, what it wasn’t. While the concept may sound elementary, it is one of the greatest obstacles any leader faces.
Linguist and philosopher Noam Chomsky once said about seeking what is significant: “You can't expect somebody to become a biologist by giving them access to the Harvard University biology library and saying, 'Just look through it.' That will give them nothing. The internet is the same, except magnified enormously. The person who wins the Nobel Prize in biology is not the person who read the most journal articles and took the most notes on them. It's the person who knows what to look for."
When we accept a significant leadership role, we frequently believe we understand the larger goal. But it becomes easy to get sidetracked. We often become distracted by thinking we need bigger offices, larger conference rooms, a bigger weight room or something outside the core function of the job.
We allow outside forces and our competition to sidetrack us from what the job really is. We then focus our energy elsewhere and ignore the essence of the work. Eventually, we get replaced, the next leader becomes the beneficiary of the work, and we are left wondering what happened. It isn't until years pass that we finally come to the realization of what the job was and wasn’t.
Ten men have been elevated to head coaching positions this year as the NFL begins a new season. Five have been in the job before and were fired. The success rate of any new coach, with or without experience, is small, as the NFL usually replaces one-third of its head coaching workforce every year.
Of these 10 men, the ones who understand exactly what their job is and focus their energy on solving problems directly related to that core belief will find success. The ones who spend too much time away from doing what the job is will inevitably have a hard time.
For all leaders, we need to remind ourselves each day of the essence of our job. When faced with problems or decisions, ask how this fits into the most important part of our work.
Once we find clarity in the question, the answers become easier.