You Play to Win the Game - Leadership Lessons Westside Toastmasters, in Santa Monica
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Surround Yourself with Good People

Stick to what you know, and find out what you don't know by surrounding yourself with people who have answers. Find good people who complement what you're doing and then let them teach you and others what they know. I'm not smart enough to think I know everything, but I am smart enough to ask questions when I don't know the answer. And as head coach of the Jets, I'm fortunate that there are guys I can trust to give me smart answers.

I count on my staff, my assistant coaches, every day. They are the people I've surrounded myself with, and they have my complete trust that they'll carry on the message of what we're trying to do, and also bring their knowledge and wisdom to me. I don't have enough time in the day to run into every meeting of every assistant coach and find out what they are saying. I trust my assistants to do what they're supposed to do because I know they're good men. I hired them, and I think I'm a pretty good judge of character.

I also hired them because each of them brings a special dimension to our team. One guy is great at breaking down film; another is great at analyzing play schemes. They give me input all the time so that I can make the best possible decisions as a head coach.

Trusting the people around you is key. When you trust your assistants, it's easy to give them the power to do what they do best. When you trust your secretary, you know that what you ask her to do will get done. I don't sit out there on the practice field wondering if she's going to do it. If I asked her to do it, I know she will.

I think that when people worry about the people around them, it's a sign of pure paranoia. You've got to hire people you can depend on and know that you can expect them to do a good job.

Now, finding those people isn't always easy. When I got the job with the Jets, I was bombarded with calls from guys wanting jobs. We had so many phone calls, at the office and at home. Knowing that each guy calling had just been fired, I made sure I took every call. And when I couldn't take the call, my wife, Lia, took it and wrote down the message, and then I returned the call. That was me respecting them, and getting that message across is very important in finding out who you want to surround yourself with. Besides, some day that could be me. It's the nature of the business. I listened to these guys and I interviewed some of them and I scoured the country looking for the best possible assistants who believed in what I believed in and would help this team accomplish its goal of winning football games.

It's not that hard to see that the best leaders and the best businessmen, along with the best coaches, find good people that they count on to work for them. Trial lawyers find the best investigators because they can't go out and investigate every little thing. They find the people who can and trust them when they go to trial. Their success depends on it.

If you're building a house, naturally you want the best architect, the best electricians, the best plumbers. You don't want the house to fall apart or the wiring to go haywire, so you hire the best. If you're having heart surgery, you want the best surgeon, the guy who has done that kind of surgery many times with many successes.

Now, finding the best doesn't necessarily mean finding the most expensive. Do your own investigating. Don't rely only on someone's reputation or even a referral from someone you know when deciding who is the best-what's more important is finding the best for you. It's easy to pick the top people out of a book, but how do you know they're the best people for you unless you investigate? Just because someone says a certain guy is the best at something doesn't necessarily mean he will work for you. Some of my best assistants have been guys that nobody really has known about, guys that I've come across in my career who made an impact on me one way or another.

It does bother me at times to see how the same head coaches keep getting the open head-coaching jobs. It's as if nobody wants to take a chance on someone who hasn't already had a chance. The aggressive GMs, I've found, are the ones who interview widely and not just from the usual suspect list. The successful teams are the ones that go out and do their own research and find out who else there is out there who might work best in the job.

Now, sometimes that means hiring a guy who has been given a bunch of chances but has been overlooked because, for whatever reason, the perception is that he's been given his shot and he's done. Jerry West, one of the best NBA players and general managers in history, went to Memphis and hired Hubie Brown, who most people thought was out to pasture-he had a TV job, they thought; what did he know about today's kids? All Brown did was get the Grizzlies from a horrible place into the playoffs. Isiah Thomas hired Lenny Wilkens, one of the few to be inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame as a player and a coach, but someone who most people thought was past his prime-and they started a turnaround. I think a lot about Art Shell, who became one of the first black head coaches in the NFL when Al Davis hired him to coach the Raiders. Davis ultimately fired Shell, and he hasn't been able to get another head-coaching shot since.

What's important here is learning to look hard at the field of possible candidates and not to ignore candidates because of someone else's perception. Do your own work and find your own answers as to who can help you and teach you the most.

I was fortunate in that the Jets' owner, Woody Johnson, and the Jets' general manager, Terry Bradway, were willing to risk hiring me, even though I hadn't held a coordinator's job, which seems to be the big stalling point in most careers in collegiate and professional football. Just because a guy hasn't been an offensive or defensive coordinator doesn't mean he's not ready to run the whole show. Just because a guy has designed only two houses doesn't mean he's not the right guy to design yours.

Sometimes finding the good people means taking a chance on someone. Even with our players, not all of them came from the top schools in the top conferences. Many of the guys who are drafted come from schools mainstream America has never even heard of. Look at the Middle American Conference. It typically has the most guys drafted every year because we in the scouting department look beyond the top 10 teams in the country. That's why we have scouts and predraft camps and individual workouts-to find guys who slipped through the cracks of major college football, but who might become outstanding professionals. Jerry Rice, a Hall of Fame wide receiver, came from tiny Mississippi Valley State in unheard-of Itta Benna, Mississippi-and now Itta Benna is on the map. Michael Jordan was cut from his high school team. Joe Montana wasn't drafted until the fifth round. But somebody along the way was willing to take a chance on his own idea of potential, not someone else's. That's where you find the best people.

Was there anything Jerry Rice or Joe Montana wouldn't have done for Eddie DeBartolo or Bill Walsh, who gave them their shot? Think Michael Jordan would ever have not given his best for Dean Smith, who signed him at North Carolina? They were good people, and I guarantee that they taught the guys who believed in them a lot about their respective sports, about talent, potential, and, ultimately, accomplishing goals.

If I'm a newly appointed bank president, I'm going to make sure I have all the smartest people, the most productive people around my conference table. And then I'm going to make sure I find the hungriest people, who maybe have been overlooked and have untapped talent and creativity. And I'm going to interchange people all the time, looking for the best way to achieve our goals. It's hard to keep changing personnel, but it's important to the final goal. Never stop looking. Never stop believing in other people, but do your research to find out who will serve your needs best.

And remember, perception isn't reality. I'm from California, but that doesn't mean I'm a laid-back, liberal surfer dude. On some days, you won't see a drop of California in me. On other days, you'll say, 'Oh, he's a California guy.' But either perception doesn't mean I'm not the guy to help you get you to your goals. Look past the perception to find your best people.

You Play to Win the Game - Leadership Lessons Westside Toastmasters, in Santa Monica
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