In The Huddle with Fran Tarkenton

To Win, Be Yourself

senior-business-work-happyWe all want to deal with people who are authentic. When someone tries to be something they’re not, it never works. They’re inevitably awkward, and everyone can tell that they’re not comfortable in their own skin.

A great example of this comes from my time in the NFL. Vince Lombardi was, and is to this day, the most legendary coach in NFL history. In 1959, he took over as the head coach for the Green Bay Packers. They were a struggling team at the time, trying to make it in a small town competing against the teams from the big cities—the New York Giants, the Los Angeles Rams, the Chicago Bears. In an era without television contracts and revenue sharing, it just didn’t seem possible to be able to compete.

But Lombardi was a genius of a head coach. He knew how to put together a winning team. He knew how to find great players, how to build a culture, and how to put it all together. The results spoke for themselves. He and the Packers won 5 NFL Championships, and the first 2 Super Bowls. They were the dominant team of the 1960s.


Naturally, every team in the league wanted to replicate the Packers’ formula. So they tried hiring Lombardi’s assistant coaches. Four of them got hired by other teams between 1966 and 1968, coaches from both the offense and the defense. But here’s the surprising thing: every single one of them failed. None of them finished with a winning record for their coaching careers, or even a single playoff appearance.

Why did they all fail? I suggest that it’s because they all tried to be Vince Lombardi. Instead of being themselves, and being authentic, they tried to be someone else. There were lessons they could learn from Lombardi about coaching a team, but to make it work you have to apply those lessons while still being yourself. Lombardi’s assistants got caught up trying to be Vince Lombardi, and they failed.

It’s so true in business today, as it was in football then. We like to do business with people who are comfortable in their skin, and who clearly believe in what they’re saying and doing. People do business with people they know, like, and trust—how can you trust someone who isn’t even willing to show their true self? That relationship needs authenticity at its heart, and you build from there.


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