The True Measure of Leadership

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Who is the best football coach in the history of the National Football League?

If you were to go by who has won the most Super Bowls then it is tie between Chuck Noll and Bill Belichick, who have both won four Super Bowls. If you were to judge by winning percentage then Vince Lombardi is the best coach with a winning percentage of .740.

If we judge football coaches as leaders then is winning percentage or titles won the correct barometer? Is it fair to judge a leader simply by the number of followers they have – like a popularity contest? Or is the ideal standard based on bottom line revenue and growth?

The question isn’t who won the most games in the NFL or who won the most Super Bowls in the NFL – the question is who is the best coach in the history of the NFL?  In other words – who is the best leader? And I don’t think determining true leadership is strictly about winning or followers, it is about leaders building leaders.

Ralph Nader said, “The function of leadership is to produce other leaders, not other followers.”

Partner leadership is about legacy. It is about empowerment. It is creating commitment in our people, giving them an ownership mentality and inspiring them to step up and contribute at the highest level. If we are to judge based on this standard, we need to look at the question in an entirely different light.

A coaching tree is similar to a family tree except that it shows the relationships of coaches instead of family members. There are several different ways to define a relationship between two coaches. The most common way to make the distinction is if a coach worked as an assistant on a particular head coach’s staff for at least a season then that coach can be counted as being a branch on the head coach’s coaching tree. Coaching trees can also show philosophical influence from one head coach to an assistant.

Coaching trees are common in the National Football League and most coaches in the NFL can trace their lineage back to a certain head coach for whom they previously worked as an assistant.

A coaching tree doesn’t just show winning percentages or Super Bowls, it also shows the leader the coach has created and what they have done in turn.

If we look at the question – Who is the best football coach in the history of the National Football League? – in terms of a coaching tree, then there is one obvious winner. Bill Parcells.

Bill Parcells is part of the NFL Hall of Fame. He won two superbowls and coached in one additional superbowl. But Bill Parcells is more than his own statistics because doesn’t just leave behind a coaching tree, he helped grow a Super Bowl-era Sequoia.

Parcells and his disciples, Bill Belichick, Tom Coughlin and Sean Payton, have combined to win eight of 47 Super Bowls, the sturdiest, most prolific coaching tree in league history. Parcells reflects like a father on those shimmering Lombardi trophies, three by Belichick, two by Coughlin and one by Payton, hoisted by those with whom he shared his most prized team-building and coaching secrets.

Bill Parcells is the Coach of Coaches or in other words the Leader of Leaders in the National Football League. He was extremely successful but his leadership has carried on long after him because of the leaders he has produced.


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