Pittsburgh Steelers and leadership

If you are reading this post in Budapest, stop. I’m about to write about the Pittsburgh Steelers. And I know yesterday’s Steelers-Ravens championship game won’t be broadcast in Hungary until tonight. I’m also told it’s tough to follow the game there — where the announcers have a tendency to yell the equivalent of “GOALAAAA” as though they were watching the Mexican national team in the finals of the World Cup. I digress.

For those of us in the USA, it’s no secret that the Steelers won and will now head to the Super Bowl in Tampa to play the Arizona Cardinals on Feb. 1. It will be the seventh trip to the Super Bowl for the Steelers — and they now have the opportunity to be the first team to win it six times. What is the saying now? One for the second index finger? I digress again.

That record of success over a long period of time says something about leadership — on the field certainly. But more importantly it speaks to excellent management — and leadership — throughout the organization, beginning at the top. At a time when our businesses and other institutions desperately need leadership, maybe Dan Rooney — owner, chairman and son of the team’s founder, Art —  serves as a model that extends way beyond the gridiron.

By all accounts — and certainly from what I’ve seen during the past 40 years — Rooney is an excellent manager. He hires good people. (Steelers have had three coaches since 1969.) He runs the Steelers like a business, which it is. And he appears to be a man of integrity and principle. Something tells me those qualities extend throughout the organization. And they matter.

Dan Rooney is credited with the Rooney Rule, requiring NFL teams to interview minority candidates for a head coaching job. Two years ago he hired Mike Tomlin although I imagine the easier choice — and I expect the more politically correct one in Pittsburgh at the time — would have been to stay with Ken Whisenhut. Whisenhut was one of Bill Cowher’s assistants; he is now head coach of the Arizona Cardinals.

Anyway, I expect that most professional football people — coaches, GMs, personnel guys and gals, and so on — all know the game and have strong resumes. So what explains the success of the Steelers during the past 40 years? How about leadership.

Does all (or any?) of this really matter? Well, yeah. Certainly management and leadership matter. As evidence, look no further than the debacle on Wall Street.

And to a large extent professional football — and college football in most places as well — is really just a business.

With one exception. Sports teams become unifers of communities. I know that is true in Pittsburgh. The weather is bleak, the economy is not so hot. But during the next two weeks — in the cold, gray and snowy days of January — there is still something to cheer for in the Burg and throughout the Steeler Nation.



6 responses to “Pittsburgh Steelers and leadership

  1. Last night I learned the family living above my apartment is comprised of Ravens fans. It was a very muffled yelling war. 🙂 So, when do we leave for the tailgate, Rob?

  2. Given your living conditions — you may want to alert the Department of Homeland Security. Bad enough to be surrounded by Browns fans 🙂

    Maybe we can get Bill Sledzik to organize a tailgate party at Ray’s a few days before the Super Bowl.

    And I’m OK with the Indians winning the World Series. Then we would have a great double header in ’09.

  3. Several years ago I read a piece (Harvard Business School?) about the impact of various levels of employees on the structure and performance of an organizations. The argument was the A-level employees, the superstars, flit from organization to organization for ever increasing responsibilities and rewards.

    The contention was they did little for the long-term performance of the organization. The takeaway was increasing their personal value in the eyes of the next organization.

    Likewise the C-level employees, those getting by, added little to the overall performance of the organization. They simply hung around.

    It was the B-level employees, those who showed every day, took pride in their organization’s accomplishments and worked to improve them, were the bedrock of the organization.


    How might the Steeler machine exemplify this?

    BTW: the sideline shot of Bradshaw in the 3rd quarter said it all. In his custom made (for TV suit), his chin out, his eyes sharp, it ws as if he was willing his old team to victory.

  4. For the most part, I think the Steelers have avoided bidding for the “A employees” and have instead had great success in drafting and developing good solid “B employees.” The Steelers — and Chuck Noll was really good at this — have the ability to replace players at exactly the right stage of their careers. The idea being that at some point athletes (unlike writers) do advance beyond their prime. (Not a practice I advocate by the way in other businesses.)

    What you describe — in my opinion — also explains the success of many companies and other organizations in the Midwest. A lot of good “B employees” — by the standards set by organizations on both costs — but together they make a good team.

    The Steelers play together well as a team.

  5. yay!!!!! it was almost BETTER hearing kovacs sandor (the hungarian announcer) say polamalu mindenhol ott van– Polamalu is EVERYWHERE! 🙂 hopefully they will show the superbowl live. something tells me the live translation will be even better!!!

  6. Well, I hope they show the Super Bowl live in Hungary as well. Maybe because of your efforts Budapest will become part of the Steeler Nation 🙂

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