x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Leadership lessons from Super Bowl siblings

The Life: Two brothers are going head-to-head as coaches of opposing Super Bowl teams - and corporations would be wise to tune in to their family's take on leadership, writes Tommy Weir.

San Francisco 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh (pictured right) and his brother, Baltimore Ravens head coach John Harbaugh. REUTERS / Jim Young
San Francisco 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh (pictured right) and his brother, Baltimore Ravens head coach John Harbaugh. REUTERS / Jim Young

Tonight, for the first time in sporting history, brothers take their posts to coach the opposing teams in the Super Bowl.

John and Jim Harbaugh are just a year apart in age and spent their childhoods sleeping centimetres apart in the same bedroom; now they are coaching 48 metres from each other on opposite sidelines for American football's highest honour as John's Baltimore Ravens face Jim's San Francisco 49ers.

Coaching is the family business and clearly in their blood. Their father, Jack, started the family in the football business, as he was a successful player and coach.

This generational and brotherly success even extends to their brother-in-law Tom Crean, a highly successful college basketball coach whose Indiana Hoosiers are ranked number three in the nation. This pedigree made me wonder: "Is there a secret to reproducing talent?"

The secret has to be more than where kids sleep, as there are many siblings who shared the same room but not the same level of success. Dissecting the Harbaughs for insights, we find the importance of instilling the right attitude and being a role model.

The brothers both tell the story of how their father dropped them off at school every day with this little reminder: "Attack this day with enthusiasm unknown to mankind".

This did bring some difficult moments for Jack and Jackie, the boys' mother. During elementary school days, the principal would call and complain of the boys' intensity on the playground.

But rather than backing down, Jack kept preaching his message of enthusiasm. And I am sure now he is now glad that he did.

The brothers admit that this one saying stays on their minds 24 hours a day. The intensity that this enthusiasm brings is among the things they share in in their coaching styles. Jack was more than a coach on the field; he was a coach to his boys. He spent time developing both boys through their coaching tutelage.

While Jim was still a successful quarterback in the National Football League, he began his coaching career as an assistant under his hero head coach, his father, at Western Kentucky University. John also learnt the tricks of the trade from his father as he started his coaching career as an assistant to his head coach dad.

Even Tom Crean, the brother-in-law, picked up coaching tips from Jack early in his career, as he coached basketball at the same schools where his father-in-law was the football coach.

Jack was a role model coach, who actively helped his boys learn how to become successful coaches in their own right.

His investment in others has proved his legacy well as his sons and son-in-law have achieved greater success then he ever could. This is the true mark of a leader, bringing out the best in others to excel to their potential.

Being a role model coach is not limited to the father - both of the sons are producing head coaches from among their own assistants. As a twist in the family business, the third generation is beginning coaching school with Jay, Jim's son, working as a coaches' assistant under his uncle John.

The insights from the Harbaughs is reminiscent of what we discover from the top 20 companies most admired for leadership.

They, too, have role model leaders who are obsessed with grooming leaders.

Some bosses produce followers, others leaders. From Jack Harbaugh through his boys, we learn that a great leader develops other leaders.

Tommy Weir is an authority on fast-growth and emerging-market leadership, an adviser and the author of The CEO Shift. He is the founder of the Emerging Markets Leadership Center