Published on: August 6, 2019by Michael Sansolo
The simple truth is we all make mistakes and lots of them. At our best, we learn and grow thanks to those mistakes and become all the better for it.
That truth was illustrated this week by Sean McVay, head coach of the Los Angeles Rams football team. McVay’s team, you may recall (I know I didn’t), lost in the last Super Bowl to the New England Patriots and now, with his team gearing up for a new season, McVay had something unusual to say.
That is, he accepted - even embraced - the blame for that championship game loss. As McVay told Yahoo Sports, “The thing that’s been consistent in all the leaders that I’ve met – business leaders, coaches – they’re constant learners. There’s a security in their vulnerability that they still need to learn things. And let’s be honest, I certainly don’t have it all figured out, either.”
McVay admitted that he was soundly out-coached in the Super Bowl by the ever-irritating football genius Bill Belichick, which led to his team’s loss. McVay said he knew this as soon as the middle of the game, when he realized that he wasn’t prepared (and therefore neither was his team) for everything the Patriots were doing.
There’s powerful business and life wisdom in what McVay had to say - and frankly, in what Belichick did to him. Belichick’s Patriots beat the Rams by throwing completely a completely unexpected and unpredictable game plan at them. Which is what every business has to do in order to dominate the competition. If you do what is expected, then you can expect the opposition to know how to counter it. But if you do the unexpected … well, you’re essentially channeling Belichick and the Patriots.
So the lessons are clear. From Belichick we learn the importance of innovating. Despite his incredible success with the Patriots in the past 20 years, he’s constantly trying new ways to win and as he demonstrated in the Super Bowl, he is still capable of finding new winning formulas. It’s a reminder to all of us to keep experimenting no matter how strong our record of success.
From McVay we learn that we have to prepare for the unexpected. As the young coach admits, he studied up hard on the Patriots tendencies, only to come up unprepared for those new wrinkles. We too face uncertainty from our competitors and frequently the cost of our losing game plans is far greater than a single game. We need to plan for the unexpected because somehow that’s what is always coming.
McVay isn’t done. Not by a long shot. He is all of 33 years old - the youngest head coach in the history of the National Football League - and has already achieved staggering success in his field. It is a pretty good bet that he won’t make this mistake again.
Like McVay, we need the honesty to fess up when we make a mistake. It’s a situation none of want to face, but the truth is it happens again and again. One has to believe that McVay’s team probably found additional reasons to trust and listen to their coach thanks to his candor. He volunteered to take the blame without throwing them under the bus. It will be interesting to see if his bravery is rewarded by his team’s effort this season.
Managers at all levels can learn from that honesty because admitting mistakes may lead to learning from them. More importantly, we need create workspaces where honesty is rewarded, not punished—a lesson we’ll likely see from McVay’s bosses this year.
To paraphrase Alexander Pope, to err is common, to learn, well that’s truly divine. Certainly, our goal is not to make errors or to lose, but if we use those moments to learn and grow we might make ourselves, our teams and our companies stronger than ever.
Michael Sansolo can be reached via email at email@example.com . His book, “THE BIG PICTURE: Essential Business Lessons From The Movies,” co-authored with Kevin Coupe, is available on Amazon by clicking here. And, his book "Business Rules!" is available from Amazon by clicking here.
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