Five Lessons Leaders Can Learn From Chicago Bears Coach Lovie Smith

I’m a die-hard Chicago Bears fan and have been since 1969 when I was ten years old and the Bears were 1-13. No band-wagon-jumper, I’ve also been a Lovie Smith fan ever since the Bears hired him in 2004. Oft maligned by the media, especially in Chicago, Smith is loved and respected by his players. That, combined with his track record of success at every level of football, both as a player and a coach, leads to today’s post, What Leaders Can Learn from Bears’ Coach Lovie Smith

1. Build a Cohesive Team: A Team Is the Sum of Its Part

The analysts and experts state, and I tend to agree, that if you compare the Bears’ roster, position-by-position, to the remaining playoff teams, that the Bears come up short. Quarterback — Jay Cutler is likely the fourth best of the four remaining QBs. Receiving core — fourth best. Offensive line — fourth best and not even close. Defensive backs—fourth best. Overall talent—fourth best. 

So what in the world are the Bears even doing on the same playing field and the same round of the playoffs as the Green Bay Packers, New York Jets, and Pittsburgh Steelers? Building a team — whether a football team, a pastoral staff, or a computer company — is not about acquiring prima-donna stars, but about matching the right people to the right positions in a right relationship with one another. 

The Bears are a cohesive team. On defense they swarm to the ball…as a team. On offense, their running backs block and catch as well as run. Forget hiring the superstar or the big name. Hire the team player whose skills and attitude build the team, not himself or herself. 

2. Hire the Best People and Don’t Be Intimidated 

Lovie Smith has three, count them three, former head coaches on his staff. The media talks about Smith running scarred. I’d like to see the columnist who would hire three former featured columnists to work for them. Lovie Smith isn’t threatened by talented co-workers. He’s not intimidated by the fact that any one of them could end up with his job if his team stumbles. Smith hires the best of the best for the good of the team, regardless of the future implications for his own job security. Hire talented people and let the chips fall where they may. 

3. Encourage Your People

The media (often either failed jocks or jock-wannabes), complain that Smith is not hard enough on his players, either in practice (too easy, supposedly) or during games (not in their faces enough). Interestingly, the Bears are the healthiest team in the league, so some of those “easy” practices obviously are paying off, especially given that they are peaking at exactly the right time. 

And who says that a leader has to be like Mike Ditka or Bobby Knight — screaming at players — in order to motivate people to do their best? Tony Dungy and John Wooden, among thousands of other leaders, understood that building into people and building people up is not only the right thing to do, but the winning way to do it. 

4. Have Your People’s Backs

The media also jumps all over Smith because he won’t publicly criticize his players. Again, I wonder how many reporters would wish that their publishers would jump all over them in public after a poorly written article. Smith has his player’s backs, and they have his. Listen to them and you understand that privately, Smith will criticize, push, and prod whenever necessary. But in public, he’s going to be positive. If that’s such a crime, then why is his team, renowned as lower in talent and predicted to finish 5-11, in their second NFC Championship game in five years? 

5. Speak Substance Over Flash

Likely the number one reason that the media castigate Smith is that he doesn’t give them flashy quotes to fill their columns (like his job is to do their job for them?). Smith isn’t flashy. He isn’t “charismatic” by how the world defines and over-glamorizes that term. He is a man who chooses his words carefully and speaks thoughtfully. Perhaps that is why, when he does speak, his players listen, as proven by a recent half-time turn-around when the normally quiet Smith let his players know that they needed to turn it up a notch or two. 

For me, I’ll take a coach, a man, like Lovie Smith any day as my boss, as my leader. 

Join the Conversation

Which of the five leadership lessons could you apply? Could your boss apply? What else could leaders learn from Lovie?

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  1. Bob, Great blog! I’m a huge Bears fan too, and while I’ve not always been enamored with Lovie, there is a consistency to his demeanor which is admirable.

    January 20, 2011
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