What NFL Coaching Can Teach Us About Agency Leadership

Share this post

Football season is upon us once again. This time of year always held a special meaning for me and my four brothers as we were growing up. And even today, with careers that are spread out across the globe and across industries, we come together around football.

In fact, my brother David Raih is currently a top assistant with the Arizona Cardinals (after five years with the Green Bay Packers coaching superstars like Aaron Rodgers). David and I text daily, and we speak live a few times per week. In addition to family updates, we mostly talk about leadership strategies to motivate and inspire people. Why you ask? Because it turns out that working in an ad agency and working in the NFL have quite a bit in common. Here’s what I mean:

-NFL teams work in a hypercompetitive field where the results are public and seen by millions. Their talent roster is approximately 50-60 people, largely in their 20s and 30s and heavily multicultural, children of the digital age who need to believe in the mission in order to perform their best.

-Agency teams work in a hypercompetitive field where the results are public and seen by millions. Our talent roster is approximately 50-60 people, largely in their 20s and 30s and heavily multicultural, children of the digital age who need to believe in the mission in order to perform their best.

Here are some topics my brother and I often discuss. These are areas of leadership that cross from pro football into Adland:

  • Control the Effort, Not the Outcome: Whether it’s a pitch or a playoff game, certain factors are out of your control (the weather, the refs, injuries, procurement, search consultants, night game, morning meeting, etc.). So, don’t agonize over the variables. Focus all your energy on your playbook. No distractions. Control the effort part, and the results will follow.
  • Victory Loves Preparation: Good inputs lead to good outputs. Practice, practice, practice. Rehearse, rehearse, rehearse. Leave no stone unturned. Never stop interrogating the strategy, the creative, the plan. The game is won before Sunday – and the pitch is won before the meeting. Prepare your tail off, and victory will find you.
  • It’s Not Personal, It’s Just the Truth: It’s a myth that Millenials and Zs can’t handle criticism. They can. And the great ones seek it out. If you’re a football coach or a leader, you are robbing people of improvement if you don’t correct mistakes. How are they supposed to get better? The only way to create trust with your team is to demonstrate honesty.
  • Nothing Replaces Momentum: Winning is contagious. Unfortunately, so is losing. Agencies have epic streaks. The trick is to recognize when you’re hot, don’t meddle, and ride the wave. But if you’re losing, shake things up. New combinations of talent, new music in the office – hell Phil Jackson used to burn sage in the locker room to purge bad mojo. Do what you need to do to bounce back from a bad game.
  • Take Bigger Bites: We live in an era of pressure to produce, so there’s no time to nibble. No luxurious timelines to slowly integrate new talent and patiently hope for results. Dive right in. Be great immediately. Make it known that with elite talent we expect extraordinary results.

So, enjoy the new NFL season. Watch the coaching staffs closely – how they handle a young player after a big mistake, how they adjust at halftime. And recognize the parallels to your daily work in a creative agency. After all, we’re both in the business of inspiring small groups of people to a higher mission.

And when the conditions are right, and the opportunity presents itself – go for it. Like the NFL, this year may be your chance to win a championship.

Chris Raih

Founder & President at Zambezi

Latest posts by Chris Raih (see all)


Share this post
No Comments Yet

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.