Today in Seattle, people are extremely excited about the recent success of its football team (Seahawks). Such success is not normal for this town which has had one major championship (NBA championship in the 197-79 season) throughout its sports history. That franchise (Sonics), by the way, is no longer in town. While the Seahawks are still three difficult playoff wins away from a championship, people are excited about the foundation that has been built. This team is having success with a nucleus of very young players.
The recent progression of this team has some valuable lessons for any leader. First of all, owner Paul Allen and his executives were decisive when they planned to “go in another direction”. They let big-name coach Mike Holmgren go without offering him even a front office position. Then, they fired the “coach in waiting” Jim Mora, a local favorite, who was groomed by Holmgren after just one season. They had a plan in mind. They aggressively went after USC coach Pete Carroll and gave him extensive power, including authority over the general manager (inverse of the normal hierarchy). Thereafter, Paul Allen stood by his commitment by getting out of the way.
In the first two years, Pete Carroll and GM John Schneider made 502 player moves! They wanted to completely overhaul the team culture. The team became younger, bigger, faster and meaner. While Holmgren’s system is known for its finesse and intricate execution of his complex offensive system, Carroll and Schneider built an intimating in-your-face team. The transformation which took around two-and-a half years is astonishing.
As a business executive, I admire the decisive, “all-in” moves by the team’s ownership. You cannot change an organization in a “transitional” manner. You need this level of decisiveness. No doubt those were difficult decisions given the popularity of both Holmgren and Mora within the community. Furthermore, Carroll and Schneider were not afraid to make mistakes as they re-built the team. Five hundred and two transactions is a lot of experimenting and changing to build the team that they had in mind. Without question, some of the experiments were failures but they believed in their approach and were clear on their eventual goal to build a young, tough-minded team that can effectively run the ball and play stifling defense.
There is a lot that any leader can learn from the new Seahawks approach.