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Accountability, business literacy, Distributing organizational power

Football has long been a big part of my life. I played in high school, was a scholarship athlete at Miami University, and coached high school football in my first career as a public school teacher. So I was particularly interested in a recent NPR interview with New York Jets head coach Rex Ryan, who mentioned a guiding principle we believe has strong benefits for business leaders and managers.

In the interview, and in his new book Play Like You Mean It, Ryan boils down his foundational coaching strategy to one elegant sentence: “Everybody is in the same room, and there is accountability because you all know each others’ jobs.”
NY Jets Coach Rex Ryan

Everyone in the room, at the same time.

As defensive coach at the Baltimore Ravens, for instance, he didn’t meet with groups of defensive players depending on their roles or positions — the entire defense was in the room at the same time, each player learning to understand the roles of his teammates. Ryan carries on this philosophy as the Jets’ head coach.

“It may sound complicated [but] it’s not,” Ryan says. And his simple approach works. Since Ryan took over the struggling Jets in 2009, the team twice has been within one game of the Super Bowl.

He says his philosophy was influenced by seeing some of the mistakes made by his legendary father, Buddy Ryan, who worked as head coach for the Philadelphia Eagles and the Arizona Cardinals. “He was more strictly isolated on players,” whereas the younger Ryan’s goal is making developing and strengthening the entire organization.

Coach Ryan’s approach is one we long have used in our work — we also consider it foundational. It is another iteration of what we call business literacy. Our experience and others’ has shown that a key element to business success is helping everyone in the organization see and understand the big picture. This means setting up mindful processes and procedures that foster in-depth knowledge of how the business operates, and the environment in which it must thrive. It means everyone acknowledge and strengthen the interdependencies required for the success of the whole. When people are committed to serving each other, their customers and learning together, it not only enhances results, it helps create meaning and purpose at work.

In Rex Ryan’s world, players develop interdependent thinking and understanding through this “whole system” approach. Coaches supply team members with in-depth information, along with a framework and strategy for engagement. This is tested and refined while preparing for games. This environment creates collective wisdom, and the sum becomes greater than its parts.

Leaders would benefit from embracing this simple principle. Make it your personal mission to build a stronger team by distributing business information from top to bottom, side to side. Begin meeting regularly as a whole system/unit. Create a culture of transparency and interdependency. Foster collective wisdom.

It might not get you to the Super Bowl, but it will get you better results.


Written by Maren and Jamie Showkeir

Owners of henning-showkeir & associates, inc., and co-authors of Authentic Conversations: Moving from Manipulation to Truth and Commitment.

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