Look back at all of the great mentors who have influenced you—bosses, coaches, professors. Though sometimes challenging, they teach us to achieve higher, go further, and surpass our goals. True team leaders inspire us throughout our careers and throughout our lives. Anthony Griggs learned from some demanding coaches as an NFL professional. And it was these high standards that inspired him to become a leader as a Director of Player Development for the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Now Griggs shares his most important lessons learned in leadership—foundations that apply everywhere from the playing field to the board room. Here he discusses some of his most inspiring mentors, the lessons he’s learned, and how business leaders can apply them.

Inspiration: Coach Dick Vermeil, Philadelphia Eagles

Lesson: Being a leader is about more than just working hard.

When I was drafted by the Philadelphia Eagles, all of the team members were gathered at training camp. As we were seated in a room, theatre style, Coach Dick Vermeil entered the room and began to speak to us. I certainly anticipated a motivational speech filled with Coach Vermeil’s high expectations. 

Notepad in hand, I was ready to jot down the list of things that I needed to do to stay on the team.  But I was unaware that I was about to learn a skill I would draw upon through my entire career.

Vermeil began his speech by recognizing all of the past players. He painted a picture of their characters—their devotion to the fans and dedication to hard work. He highlighted plays that team members made and what their efforts meant to the team as a whole. 

I remember him speaking of Bill Bergey, the great Philadelphia Eagles linebacker and, as we learned, a great inspiration to the team as well. Bill had a knack for communicating with people, Vermeil described. He was able to say things to the players that resonated with them. He could make that personal connection that rallied their spirits and motivated them to succeed. 

Coach Vermeil talked for over an hour about former Eagles. The other players and I listened intently to so many uplifting stories, so many glorious moments. Then it hit me. All I needed to write down on that pad of paper was this one phrase: “Be a Leader in Every Way.” 

That was just as important as me working hard, learning plays, and performing well on the field. 

How can you be a positive influence?

  • Look at each of your team members as an individual with their own different motivations.
  • Recognize individual employee contributions and how each has benefitted your company.
  • Determine what drives a person and use that drive to help them reach their goals. For instance, if your employee wants to become a manager, lead them in that direction.
  • Keep their eye on the goal and don’t lose sight of the big picture.
  • Be a leader in every way by embracing the gifts of each employee.

Inspiration: Coach Marty Schottenheimer, Cleveland Browns

Lesson: Passionate people inspire passion in others.

While playing with the Cleveland Browns, our coach, Marty Schottenheimer, had this uncanny way of looking each of us square in the eye, like he was searching to see if he could find “the gleam.” He always told us, “There’s a gleam, we got to get the gleam. If I can see the gleam in your eye, then I can see the passion that you have for the game.” 

And it wasn’t just on the field. He used to walk right up to us, no matter where we were, and determine if he could see the passion in our eyes. His standard of working with passionate players kept us eager. He wanted us to be developed as players and focus on the purpose.  

One of the things that I admired most of all was that he wasn’t afraid to change the purpose. He had us tuned into that purpose; what it was and how we could achieve it as a team.  Because of this skill, not only was he gifted at coaching the players, he was exceptional at coaching other coaches. 

Schottenheimer gave many head coaches their first coaching jobs. All of these coaches have coached under Schottenheimer:

How can you be a positive influence?

  • Practice what you preach. Have a passion for what you do and require that same passion from your employees.
  • Passion is a motivator. It results in a more intense focus on your main objectives.
  • As you develop your employees, adhere to high standards of professionalism and they could become the future leaders.

If you want more inspiration, Anthony Griggs is presenting at the 2014 BIA Annual Conference, March 30–April 2, in Dallas, TX. Find out more about his session “Leading like an NFL Coach,” where he’ll explore more case studies in impactful leadership and share how business professionals are currently applying them.

How have leaders inspired you in your career? Feel free to post a comment and share your experience.