The Green Bay Packers, Inc. is one of the most respected of all NFL franchises. The Packers have won 13 championships – more than any other team. They have been led by some of the most iconic coaches and players in football history. Beyond the field, the Packers occupy an important space in the state of Wisconsin. The Packers are a social cohesive for the state. Families and communities come together to speculate, critique, and cheer for the Packers. The team’s everyday affairs are closely monitored by residents from Iron River to Beloit. And beyond state boundaries, a robust “Packers Nation” greets the team at every road game they play.
The Packers are famously owned not by a single billionaire, but by over 360,000 stockholders. And while most NFL franchises are found in the biggest of cities, Green Bay’s population is just over 100,000. Vince Lombardi’s name is synonymous with championship coaching, but, as we will find in our study, the Packers’ ongoing leadership story is a rich and multi-dimensional case that extends far beyond Lombardi. So how does this championship franchise thrive? How does leadership unfold within and beyond Lambeau Field? What leadership lessons can we gain from the Packers?
In the first episode of our Running a Championship System (RCS) series, Pulitzer Prize winning writer and Washington Post associate editor David Maraniss joined us to discuss the life and leadership of Vince Lombardi. In this SGG episode, we discussed:
1. What David knew of Coach Lombardi before beginning the book project. “I wanted to study that tension between his traditionalism and the world that surrounded him.”
2. Lombardi’s relationship with the media.
3. “As a biographer, I’m a profound believer that the early years shape someone’s future in profound ways.”
4. “I don’t think you can overstate the influence that the Jesuits had on Lombardi as a leader.”
5. Freedom through discipline. “It’s only through putting in the hard work, of learning something in minute detail that you can then have the freedom to experiment off that.”
6. What David has learned from freedom through discipline: “It’s only by thoroughly learning the craft that you can have the freedom to improvise off of it.”
7. How Obama, Clemente, and Rafer Johnson were shaped by early experiences.
8. Readiness for leadership. “You can’t overestimate being totally prepared in terms of true leadership excellence.”
9. The precarious status of the Packers franchise prior to Lombardi’s arrival.
10. How Lombardi became a great teacher. “He taught in a way that didn’t assume anything…And he had a capacity to make complex things simpler, easier to grasp.”
11. Why Lombardi was “useless” on gamedays.
12. Lombardi as “master of the psychology of the moment.”
13. An observation on many great leaders – who are professionally successful but commonly struggle with family: “They’re much better at creating a group of leaders out of strangers than they are out of their own flesh and blood.”
14. Judging players’ performances in precise, specific ways.
15. Lombardi as a paradox.
16. A common sentiment among players regarding Lombardi: “On a daily basis, I hated the guy. But, overall, I loved him.”
17. Differences between Lombardi and Landry, who referred to Lombardi as “Mr. High-Low.”
18. Did Lombardi seek difference on his staff?
19. The limited coaching tree of Lombardi. “The Lombardi coaching tree is just this enormous oak tree and nothing could grow under it.”
20. The hidden jewel in the story of the Packers: Jack Vainisi, the general manager.
21. Lombardi’s sense of social equity and justice.
22. Stewardship and the Packers. “There’s a foundation of community pride.”
23. “He was proof that this little town in the Midwest could survive against LA and New York and everywhere else. And he gave them enormous pride. That’s part of that community spirit. But the paradox is that he also left because of that.”