The Turnaround Team: The Success Formula of the Philadelphia Eagles

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On this Sunday, the Philadelphia Eagles will face off against the 6 time champion New England Patriots at the 2018 Super Bowl in Minneapolis. The Eagles have never won a Super Bowl Championship, but they enter this contest in a strong position to do so after a remarkable 2 year turnaround that led them towards the success that they now relish. We certainly have to admire how the Patriots have maintained their success year over year, but the ascension of the Eagles to the top of the ranks of professional football certainly merits some extra attention for those of us who are in leadership success.

The Philadelphia Eagles were a struggling team in 2015, led by an old school coach whose leadership inspired constant turnover in every position. Chip Kelly was replaced after the 2015 season, and the organization ended many of the practices that made players feel that they were not valued.  In the span of one offseason, they now find themselves at the Super Bowl. How did they do this? In short, caring leaders who created a safe and fun culture where everyone feels valued and where team accomplishment is more important than any one person’s achievement.

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Robert Mays writes about this culture shift in depth in The Ringer. Here are a few takeaways from the article for leaders of all organizations:

  1. The way you welcome people on their first day is the single most important statement of the culture you wish to create. Onboarding done well and intentionally creates a sense of belonging and values that make an indelible first impression on the new talent that makes it easy for them to belong and replicate the same behavior with others in the future.
  2. Extraordinary talent will make sacrifices to join you, and current talent will ignore the competition who wants them, if they believe there is a special future that you all are building together. Even free agents with choices joined the Eagles because they knew it was a positive place to play football even when they had more lucrative choices. Managers who understand that anticipation and belonging matter more than money are the modern leaders who inspire success.
  3. People will only invest and give of themselves when they feel their culture values security. Nothing ruins culture development more than constant turnover and a revolving door. Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs applies here — safety is the most fundamental human need, and no one can thrive without a clear sense of it.
  4. Invest in a core group of people and develop them with loyalty and resources. Those who are in the core group will remain engaged, and those who observe the core group will aspire to be in it.
  5. Distant emotionless impersonal management that is harsh in tone and tough on people no longer works on the field or in the workplace. Vulnerability, care and emotional intelligence are essential qualities of a manager today. Eagles owner Jeff Lurie made a change in 2016 to place Pederson in charge as head coach. He says of his choice: “You’ve got to open your heart to players and everybody you want to achieve peak performance. I would call it a style of leadership that values information, all of the resources that are provided and at the same time, values emotional intelligence. I think in today’s world of the way [businesses] are run and sports teams are run, you need a combination of all those factors to create the best chance to succeed.”
  6. Successful managers create forums to hear opinions at all levels of the organization. The Eagles management established a weekly leadership council whose membership includes leadership and a diversity of players.
  7. Recognize in public and scold in private. Remove toxicity and negative energy from all meetings. Deal with potential risks and thorny issues immediately.
  8. Everyone on the team must care about the team more than themselves. Whether it is the Eagles or the Golden State Warriors, teams that succeed promote the team and no one superstar. Everyone matters.
  9. Football, and work, is both hard work and fun. If it is not fulfilling and fun, something is wrong. Even grueling work that pushes you to your limits can be fun if it’s fulfilling and the people are your family.
  10. At the end of the day, it’s all about the locker room. Is it the place you most want to be or the place you can’t wait to escape? The answer to that question is how you recruit the best and keep achievers — and how you win the greatest game of them all.

For an article on the leadership of the New England Patriot’s Tom Brady, see my blog entry last year here.  For more information on creating a culture of belonging and success, I encourage you to read Shane Green’s fantastic book on creating employee cultures Culture Hacker.

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