Management and Bill Walsh’s Three Types of Players

A friend of mine who played football at Stanford, back when Bill Walsh was coach, told me a great story the other day.  He said that, according to Walsh, there were three types of players.

  • Those who need a kick in the butt.
  • Those who need a hug.
  • Those who need to be left alone.

As soon as I heard it, I thought two things:  he’s right in sports and it applies equally to management.

One of the reasons I don’t believe in hard-and-fast rules that supposedly make things “very equal” among people is that people are very different.  Some folks are motivated by money, some aren’t.  Some need praise and reassurance to do their best work.  Some know exactly what they want to do and exactly how to do it.

Good bosses, in my opinion, do not create organizations where everyone is treated identically.  Instead, they adapt their management style to each of their team members.  In the end, your job is not about equality.  Your job is about getting the best work out of your team.

As I boss, I have two long-term metrics for my success:

  • Will the people who have worked for me later say that they did some of the best work of their lives under my leadership?
  • Did the people who worked for me go onto greater things in their career?  How many later became CEOs, CMOs, or GMs?

If you keep a focus on these two long-term goals, hire excellent people, and adapt your style to them, I think you can become an epic manager and leader.

So kick some of your team, hug others, and leave the rest alone.  Great things will happen.

3 responses to “Management and Bill Walsh’s Three Types of Players

  1. Gerd Nachtsheim

    Excellent post! I love this one:
    “Will the people who have worked for me later say that they did some of the best work of their lives under my leadership?”
    They may not have had the time of their lives(don’t expect too much love as a leader, there’s a thin line between love and hate…) but they may got motivated to do their best work ever.

  2. Great post. The true leader is the one who knows whom to kick, whom to hug and whom to leave alone. Also to extract the most from your team we should be focusing on individual strengths rather than trying to keep improving their weaknesses.

  3. Great post Dave. I wrote three columns on my (private) whiteboard for Kick, Hug,and Leave Alone, and I wrote my direct reports’ names under those columns to remind me to manage them that way.

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