by Steve Adubato, PhD
So much has been written and said about winning Super Bowl coach Tom Coughlin’s dramatic change in his communication and leadership style over the past several months. In fact, Star-Ledger business reporter Joe Perone wrote an article on February 5 entitled; “Tom Coughlin’s Conversion,” which explored Coughlin’s impressive metamorphosis.
Many, however, believe that Coughlin’s new and improved leadership and communication style is reflected in such actions as letting his team go bowling in the middle of the season instead of pouring over game films; or the fact that Coughlin seemed to yell less and laugh more. But there is much more to the Coughlin story that those managing others need to understand:
Q—Doesn’t it ultimately come down to Tom Coughlin just being nicer or more pleasant in the way he communicates with players and the media?
A—Being nicer or more pleasant is important, however, it is about being looser and lighter in your approach. I’ve often said that passion is critical to effective leadership and communication, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you have to ride people constantly or be in their face. No doubt, Tom Coughlin still yelled and screamed when he felt it necessary. In fact, we all saw him do it in the Super Bowl on several occasions; however, it was more directed and purposeful. If a leader yells and screams most of the time, it loses its effect. It is like a parent who yells at his child constantly. At a certain point, the child can barely hear what the parent is saying, much less appreciate or understand the message. Tom Coughlin either realized or was told by Giants’ management to tone it down and find new ways to make a more powerful connection with his players on a more personal and individual basis.
Q—How exactly does a leader change his or her style so dramatically in such a short period of time? Is it about almost faking it and hiding the fact that at the core you are still an intense, “in-your-face” manager or leader?
A—Great question. Sometimes, we can be motivated by fear—fear of losing our job or in Coughlin’s case, his team. For any CEO or top level executive, the fear of failure can cause you to take a hard, sobering look at your communication style. Yet, few of us have the ability to look in the mirror and see what other people see. In Coughlin’s case, it appears that his bosses told him to change his style or his days would be numbered. On any team, be it the Giants or a department in a company, if you don’t win, any leadership and communication changes won’t be appreciated. It is the chicken and egg argument. Does the team start winning or a company start succeeding when a coach or manager alters his style, or do we recognize and appreciate the change in style only when the team starts to win? It’s probably a little bit of both.
Q—Speaking of sports analogies in business, didn’t you criticize Giants’ quarterback Eli Manning a couple of months ago in this column for not being passionate enough and not showing his intensity on the field? You said he lacked leadership. Weren’t you wrong about that?
A—In large part, yes, I was. Clearly, Eli Manning had great passion and wanted to win, just like most of us in business want to win. What I argued then was that passion needs to be seen by others in order to be appreciated. Like many professionals in a position to lead, Eli Manning showed it, but he did it in his own unique way. Clearly passion comes in all shapes and sizes and looks different in different people. Yet, interestingly, did you notice in the Super Bowl how Manning was more demonstrative in the way he communicated on the field? But yes, I do owe Eli Manning an apology.