I grew up near Washington D.C. and became a fan of the city’s famous football squad. As a result, I never imagined that one day I’d be quoting the coach of their nemesis on the ball field, the Dallas Cowboys. But since this is from Tom Landry, I’ll make an exception.
Landry was a World War II veteran. As an Army Air Corps pilot, he completed 30 B-17 combat missions over Europe, and even survived a crash landing. After the war he played college football, then played professionally for the New York Giants. After six years he transitioned to assistant coach, where he worked alongside another future famous coach: Vince Lombardi.
When the Cowboys became an expansion team in 1960, owner Clint Murchison recruited Landry as head coach, a position he held for the next 29 seasons. After a rocky start, under his leadership the team enjoyed 20 consecutive winning seasons, and earned 13 divisional titles, five conference titles, and two Super Bowl Championships.
On the side lines during games, Landry was always impeccably dressed in a coat and tie and wearing his trademark fedora. He was also the picture of self-control. With arms folded and a stoic expression on his face, looking at him, you would never know if the Cowboys had just scored a touchdown, or lost a fumble.
Here’s what he said about the role of a leader under pressure:
Leadership is a matter of having people look at you and gain confidence, seeing how you react. If you’re in control, they’re in control. — Tom Landry, former Dallas Cowboys coach Click To Tweet
When we are in a position of leadership, people look to us for cues as to how to respond to what is happening around us. Landry believed that if we allow emotion to control us, we become ineffective as thinkers and leaders.
He realized that emotions are contagious, and was careful to model the mental mindset he wanted in his players. For the same reason, he was not one for motivational speeches or pep-rallies. He said, “I don’t believe in team motivation. I believe in getting a team prepared…”
Keeping his cool under pressure, and a firm grip on his emotions helped him lead one of the most successful football franchises of the 20th century. As an added testament to his leadership: five of his former assistant coaches went on to become NFL head coaches in their own right.
Landry showed us that the better we control ourselves, the greater our opportunity to influence the outcome for our teams.
Credit: Landry statue photo By Jim Bowen – originally posted to Flickr as Tom Landry, CC BY 2.0, background removed.