Bill Walsh’s leadership and life lessons

Ryan Holiday had this book on his recommended reading list, and I was intrigued enough to put it on my holiday wish list.

Bill Walsh was the cerebral, stoic coach who created the San Francisco 49ers football dynasty. He wasn’t known for sideline bluster or emotional outbursts. He was John Wooden-esque in his sage-like approach to leading his team as well as in his remarkable success. 

He set an expectation of excellence within the whole organization, from the receptionists to the star quarterback. And he didn’t put his focus or his team’s on anything out of their control. Do your absolute best in this moment, repeat that approach continually, and “the score will take care of itself.”

This approach just makes sense. Focus on systems, not goals. Refine the process that brings out your best, and let the results take care of themselves. Don’t get attached to outcomes. 

I’ve just started reading and can already tell that there is a lot of wisdom here. Walsh, whose public persona was one of the complete calm and control, begins the book with a story about his second season coaching the 49ers and his emotional collapse after losing yet another game in a disappointing season. He cried uncrontollably on a cross-country flight with his team after losing a heart-breaking game in Miami, with his assistant coaches shielding him at the front of the plane to keep the players from seeing him in such a state. His response to that emotional breakdown led the way to his first Super Bowl title the very next season. 

I didn’t expect Bill Walsh to open the book with such vulnerability, and that let me know this was not just another superficial leadership pep talk from an ex-coach. 

I’m looking forward to gleaning some wisdom from this book that I can take back to my team and be a better resource and leader for those I serve.