Lessons on Leadership from Head Coach Jason Garrett

Last week, I had the privilege of facilitating a session with a group of leaders to teach them coaching skills. We kicked off our meeting with a surprise guest, Jason Garrett, the head coach of the Dallas Cowboys. He spent 45-minutes telling us story after story about what he’s learned and how he views coaching and leadership. So, I want to share a few nuggets that serve as good reminders for all of us.

1. Remember that it all starts with you

As a former quarterback, Jason started by talking about the importance of the huddle, those 12 valuable seconds that you have to motivate your team members to execute to the best of their abilities. He emphasized that in that huddle, it all starts with you. He said, “You have to bring positive energy to the team, and remember that YOU BELONG there as a leader.” Jason recalled how intimidating it was earlier in his career to be a quarterback surrounded by veteran players with so much more experience. He said, “You have to recognize that you deserve to be there and need to show confidence – even when you don’t fully feel it.”

2. Be a life long learner

Jason had story after story about what he has learned from other coaches and business leaders throughout his life. He consistently carves out time to seek out people from all walks of life to understand what has led to their success, and identify what he can learn from them. He is like a sponge, soaking it all in from everyone in his life.

3. Clarify what’s expected

Jason emphasized that as a leader and coach, you have to make sure that everyone understands that the team comes first - their results and performance. So, you have to clarify what you expect from the team as a whole and each team member. But each team member also needs to articulate what they expect of you as a leader, and of each other.

Jason also firmly believes in the value of empowering his team to create standards for how they will function (vs. rules that they have to comply with). He picked up this practice from another coach. As Jason recalled the conversation with that coach years ago, he smiled about the simplicity and power of the standards their team developed at the time:

    • Look each other in the eye and tell the truth

    • Be on time

    • No excuses

4. Make sure your players are invested

Finally, to make sure your players are invested, figure out what makes them tick and adapt your communication style and approach accordingly. Jason laughed as he said that he knew which players he had to yell at (although he wouldn’t recommend that approach for us), and which ones would retreat into their shells for days if he did that. One size just doesn’t fit all.

I want to end today’s article with a call to action. Take a look at the four items above, choose one that you want to focus on, and identify one small step that you can implement in the next week. Remember small steps can lead to big results.