Keith Cowing

Keith Cowing

Product guy. Entrepreneur.
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Leadership is forged on the field, not in the film room

November 18, 2014

quarterback-on-field

I’m a football junkie and a lifelong student of leadership in business. So I make a lot of analogies between the two.

One great comparison starts with a football team’s film room. During the season, a team goes to the film room after every game to watch the game tape and evaluate what worked, what didn’t, and what adjustments need to be made. Top teams develop an intense and productive rhythm. Film room, game plan, practice, game. They improve in some finite way every single week.

In business, it’s important to have something that acts like a film room. It’s a place for immediate and honest feedback. It’s important to have objective measures (precise metrics) and an outside view whenever possible. But it’s also critical to never mistake “performance” in the film room for performance on the field.

In business school, for example, 80% of your time is spent in the equivalent of a film room (discussing a case study and commenting on what a CEO should do in a given situation). You’re drawing up game plans, but you are never executing a single play. The film is the feedback loop. It is the homework and the coaching – not the test. You don’t actually forge your leadership skills until you get on the field. Making reasonably intelligent comments in a discussion about strategy is interesting. But executing on strategy is everything – that’s what builds careers.

Here are a few points to keep in mind:

Film room

  • A scheduled time and place to to perform honest critiques
  • A feedback loop to drive small, continuous adjustments
  • Best applied in a cyclic rhythm (film room, game plan, practice, game, repeat)

On the field

  • Where you test and develop your toughness
  • Where you test and develop your decision making
  • Where you forge your leadership and others decide if they believe in you
  • Where the game tape becomes your resume (true success is measured by results)

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