8 Lessons From Jim Harbaugh: Leadership, Strength and More | Exploring Markets

8 Lessons From Jim Harbaugh: Leadership, Strength and More

Jim Harbaugh is either genius or insane. There's a phenomenal piece about the NFL head coach in ESPN the Magazine. It's a raw look into Harbaugh's coaching method and personality. It's incredibly unique:

1. Harbaugh is well-read. More importantly, he is always trying to learn and educate himself. He studies quotes and insights from anyone across history:
"Lincoln, Hemingway, Johnny Cash, Shakespeare, God, Nelson Mandela, Judge Judy, Bo Schembechler and even Calvin Coolidge, make appearances in Harbaugh news conferences, speeches and conversations. And he doesn't just quote outside sources to inspire players. He uses them to speak for himself, often when he's demoralized. "A man can be destroyed," he said after the loss to Seattle in last year's NFC Championship Game, nodding to Hemingway. "But he can't be defeated."

2. Harbaugh's leadership is intense. But it is also deep. He thinks. Or he is insane:
"A speech Harbaugh delivered to the team a few days later, entitled "2014 1st Team Meeting," explained his approach to battle. He usually writes in a spiral notebook, but this was typed and eight pages long. 
"I will be your alarm clock and wake you early," he said. "It can be a great temptation to rest on the field and let the opponent have a play without making him pay for every inch. I must hold his pain where it is. Mine does not matter. The punishment I inflict, his fatigue, and that he is up against something that he does not comprehend is everything."
3. On Harbaugh's confidence and ego:
"There's a late-night bar story told in NFL circles about Peyton Manning's free-agent visit with the 49ers in 2012. Harbaugh and Manning were throwing the ball, so it goes, when the coach couldn't help but remark that his passes had more mustard on them than the still-rehabbing future Hall of Famer's did. You can guess how that went over."

4. He leads by example. This is essential. There is so much truth to the old adage, "talk is cheap." Here is how Harbaugh leads: 
"At the University of San Diego, where in three years he turned a joke of a program into a two-time Pioneer League champion, he ran hills with the players, sometimes pushing through his own vomit."

5. Harbaugh shapes the mindset of his team with philosophical investigations. In one of his speeches to his team, he said this about competing with an opponent:
"My opponent is going to have to die. But does he have to kill me too? He is killing me. But he has a right to. I have never seen a greater opponent than him. I do not care who kills who now."

6. Harbaugh learned an invaluable lesson playing for Mike Ditka. Never, ever give up hope on someone. There is always a way, and more importantly, your support is the greatest gift you can give:
"In his office, Harbaugh has a framed note from Mike Ditka. They famously exploded in 1992 after Harbaugh defied Ditka's orders and audibled to a pass play that was intercepted and returned for a touchdown. One writer wrote that on the sideline, "Ditka grabbed Harbaugh and shook the confidence out of him." Harbaugh later admitted that the ordeal left him gun-shy... 
Harbaugh's career in Chicago ended a year after that blowup. He had to start over. The will that produced Captain Comeback with the Colts in 1995 wasn't solidified in last-minute wins. It was the natural output of a healed scar. The note, which Ditka sent after Harbaugh retired, reads, "I am still -- believe it or not -- your greatest fan."
"Meant a lot to me," Harbaugh says simply.

7. Stats, data, and other scientific tools are remarkable skills to have. But there is still nothing greater than your own instinct. There's an unexplained greatness in feeling the ebb and flow of the happenings around you and acting as fluidly as possible within them:
"His instincts also cause trouble for opponents who know Harbaugh has just enough screws loose to dare to win. It's still amazing to think that in 2012, when the 49ers trailed the Saints late in the fourth quarter of San Francisco's first playoff game in nine years, Harbaugh had the stones to call a quarterback sweep with Alex Freaking Smith. Smith ran 28 yards untouched for a touchdown, and the call was pure Harbaugh: absurd, brilliant and even lucky. 
As he said in his preseason speech, "It is better to be lucky. But ... luck comes when you are ready."

8. Harbaugh is a transcendentalist. One of the oldest, most scholarly movements in our nation's history. In-fact, it roots itself in the history and success of Harvard University: 
"What is it about you that people find so difficult?"  
"Oh, I don't know," Harbaugh says.  
He leans back slightly, kicks his one-inch cleats in the grass. He suddenly seems tired, as if he thinks he gets a bum rap but doesn't want to admit it. I worry he's going to take the ball and fire it at my nose. He stares at me, not with the look he gave Seely, but one gentler, wiser, more weathered, the sun highlighting the gray in his short hair and deepening the creases around his eyes. He grins and, of course, enlists a little help.  
"There's a saying by Ralph Waldo Emerson," he says. "'As long as all that's written is said against me, then I feel a certain assurance of success. If people are heaping flowery words of praise upon me, then I feel exposed to my enemies.'" 
Now I'm the one staring blankly. Seconds pass. 
He says it again: "As long as all that's written is said against me, then I feel a certain assurance of success."