business news in context, analysis with attitude

by Michael Sansolo

Consistency is always admired in management because it creates a basis for trust. Yet consistency can be limiting, especially when managers and leaders don’t change to meet shifting challenges. A recent pre-season article about my beloved New York Giants offered a detailed picture of how abandoning a long-held plan can actually work if the right conditions are in place. It’s a lesson that even football haters might want to consider.

Like many fans I’m very fickle. My mood shifts weekly from hating parts of the team to loving them; from finding them mediocre to watching them win the Super Bowl. We Giants fans are especially fickle when it comes to the team’s coach, Tom Coughlin. Even though he’s incredibly successful and a fabulous model for business behavior, we call for his firing every time the team loses two games in a row. That’s what makes sports so much fun.

Coughlin’s leadership lessons are worth following and repeating because he’s made the team significantly better and has brilliantly guided them to two titles in the past five years. (It’s best I write something nice about him now, before they lose two in a row and I want him fired again.)

Five years ago, Coughlin’s story was of an old dog learning new tricks. Known as an incredible disciplinarian - he fined players for showing up on time, not early, for meetings - Coughlin seemed headed for dismissal. Then he changed, allowing some older players more flexibility on practice and showing more patience with injuries. Whether or not that was the reason, the result was a championship.

That was five years ago, which is an eternity in sports. What happened last season might provide an even more valuable lesson in how a team with clear vision can deviate from plan and do it successfully.

In 2011, the Giants abandoned many of their usual playing strategies. (For the football fans out there, this meant less reliance on a running game. Non-football fans shouldn’t worry; it’s not that important.) Essentially Coughlin’s management team recognized that injuries and personnel changes had altered the strengths of the team. So they changed with it.

That they won is only part of the story. The key is the trust that built up. As the New York Times wrote in the team preview, the changes were made by assistant coaches, who are closer to the players and who understood how a system of trust game them the latitude to succeed.

“Those assistants are empowered to coach (and upper management) in an uninhibited way because rigid habits and ego-driven loyalties to underperforming or miscast players simply don’t exist,” wrote Andy Benoit of the Times. The following paragraph could be a model for any team including yours.

“This is true stability. True stability comes from flexibility, not rigidity. It breeds confidence and security throughout. It keeps everyone abreast of the team’s core principles, but also alert to the inevitable necessity of change. It fosters a commitment to winning that goes beyond T-shirt slogans and metaphors. It allows for improvements during the course of a season. And as we are learning, it can change Football America’s definition of ‘greatness.’”

I wish I could write that as well myself. Read that last paragraph again and think of your work team and ask, “Would the same be said of us?”

If not, you have a new role model, even if you hate the Giants.

Michael Sansolo can be reached via email at . His book, “THE BIG PICTURE: Essential Business Lessons From The Movies,” co-authored with Kevin Coupe, is available by clicking here .
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