What it Takes to be #1 By Vince Lombardi Jr. McGraw-Hill, 278 pages, $39.95 For football fans this is Super Bowl week and of the many managers who led their teams to victory in the championship none are as exalted as Vince Lombardi, whose Green Bay Packers took the first two outings. Mr. Lombardi is famed for his blunt aphorisms on winning but in his son's just-published look at the man and his management style, What it Takes to be #1, a portrait emerges instead of a man who exemplified the paradoxes of life and leadership.
"My father made forceful statements statements that he obviously believed that were contradictory," Vince Lombardi Jr. notes.
Some management commentators have talked about "the tyranny of the or" -- that a leader, for example, can be either compassionate or results-oriented but not both, and fair or tough but not both. "The reality -- confirmed by the example of my father -- is that a leader can and should possess all of these qualities," he writes.
And balance is not necessarily the answer. It certainly wasn't in Vince Lombardi's case: He could boil over in rage when he felt his players weren't trying their hardest, and then a few minutes later arrange a plane flight for one of those players to visit a sick relative.
"You don't become a leader who is fair by being less firm. You don't become compassionate by being less driven by results. Leaders are fair, disciplined, compassionate, results driven, and all of the other qualities that we will cover in the Lombardi leadership model," his son writes.
Indeed, a deeply religious man, Vince Lombardi struggled with the tensions between faith and football. His faith required him to be patient and forgiving. The pressures of football coaching required him to be impatient, tough and relentless. He had to learn to be all of that.
Even his most famous quote -- "Winning isn't everything; it's the only thing" -- was only part of his story. While Vince Lombardi loved winning, he ultimately believed effort, not winning, is everything. "I wish to hell I'd never said the damned thing," he once confessed about his greatest quotation. "I meant the effort . . . I meant having a goal . . . I sure as hell didn't mean for people to crush human values and morality."
Of course, the contradictions carried to his players, as happens with many leaders, who choose to be respected rather than liked, driving subordinates relentlessly to new heights. One of his players remarked: "As much as I hated the guy, and I did -- I hated him! -- I had tremendous respect for him. Tremendous. I played some of my best football under him . . . It is a paradox."
The book offers a Lombardi leadership model but as his son suggests at the outset, little of it is new.
The core is that self-knowledge leads to character, which in turn leads to integrity and leadership. The qualities he highlights are: courage, sacrifice, passion, commitment, hard work, discipline, and mental toughness. Although the book builds a host of supposed Lombardi rules upon that framework -- too many rules, in fact -- the specifics fade pretty quickly. But the passion of Vince Lombardi and his many inspiring quotations are so vivid that even if the book isn't isn't super or even a winner, the essence of his leadership style will stick with readers.