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Lombardi's Leadership of Character & Integrity

Who is Vince Lombardi?

For those on this side of the pond who are unfamiliar with Vince Lombardi, he is known as arguably the greatest NFL American Football coaches of all time. However, it is not his coaching skills that Lombardi is best known for, but his leadership skills.


There are countless leadership books, blogs, YouTube videos, even films out there on what it means to be an effective leader. But few focus on the person behind the leader as much as Vince Lombardi did. His philosophy was all about turning yourself into a leader from the inside out. In other words, it was the character and mental toughness of his teams which made them so successful.

Character and Integrity

“What kind of leader are you capable of becoming?” - It’s purely reflective, but critically this question is not in line with the normal narrative of ‘everyone can become an effective leader if they follow XYZ’. It’s challenging - Are you willing to put in the work? Are you willing to maximise your potential? And if you do, what are you capable of? In other words, he’s asking, do you have the courage and the determination to chase the ‘what if?’.


If there are two characteristics that marked Lombardi out more than any others, it was the strength of his character and the integrity with which he operated. These alone were enough to inspire his teams into the art of the possible because they trusted and believed that he could get them to where they wanted to go.


But if you were to ask me: what character and integrity are, I’m not sure I could give you a simple answer. So, I consulted Google:

  • Character: the mental and moral qualities distinctive to an individual.

  • Integrity:

  1. the quality of being honest and having strong moral principles.

  2. the state of being whole and undivided.


Part of Lombardi’s appeal was the strength of his character and the trust in his character. His players felt a clarity of the person he was, creating a sense of trust in the man standing in front of them. He did this by passionately standing for something, and by communicating that passion through raw, uncensored emotion. His players felt the integrity of his character, or the sheer honesty of it and that in turn became mirrored in the undivided nature of the teams that he produced.

So what did he believe in?

“Winning is not a sometime thing; it’s an all the time thing. You don’t win once in a while; you don’t do things right once in a while; you do them right all of the time. Winning is a habit. Unfortunately, so is losing.”


The key: self-motivation


One thing that often marks great leaders out is the motivation they exude. It’s simple, if you have to be held accountable for the small, daily tasks in order to get them done, you’re not going to be a very effective leader. In that sense, the typical rhetoric rings true - lead by example. But it goes deeper than that. Effective leaders are fulfilled as much by the mundane daily tasks as they are by the title winning touchdowns. Spinning it back round to character and integrity, Lombardi believed the measure of a person’s character and integrity was their ability to follow the truth. A person guided by the truth acts wholly based on what they believe in - they are 100% authentic.

As Lombardi said: “Faithfulness and truth are the most sacred excellences and endowments of the human mind”


Whether a leader acts with integrity is black and white. They either follow what they believe in or they don’t. Their character however, the ‘what’ they believe in, this is constantly changing. An effective leader is intrinsically motivated by the process rather than the end result. It is the journey that is the victory, the evolution of character. This is why a top achiever always strives for more and is never satisfied, because it is the process of achieving that motivates them. But most importantly, it is the firmness of their beliefs, the unwavering integrity with which they operate that anchors them.


“We thought of life by analogy with a journey, a pilgrimage, which had a serious purpose at the end, and the thing was to get to that end, success or whatever it is, maybe heaven after you’re dead. But we missed the point the whole way along. It was a musical thing and you were supposed to sing or to dance while the music was being played.” - Alan Watts

This ‘never reaching the destination, always striving for better’ attitude, is one of the reasons why sports teams and their coaches are so admired. They have to constantly invent, and reinvent themselves in order to find and sustain success. But, to summarise, those few that achieve sustained success follow Lombardi’s: “To create something, you must be something.”


It isn’t a leader’s job to be all things. Their job is to see all things, these minute evolutions of character, both in themselves and in others. Their job is to inspire those around them through the integrity of their vision and the integrity of their daily actions.


How does this relate to the business world and digital transformations?

I’ve spoken about leadership and I’ve spoken about visions but what can we learn from Lombardi to create a winning habit. It is an “all the time thing” after all. If you look at the research, there are countless statistics out there telling us that the majority of change initiatives fail - they’ve created a losing habit. But how do we flip the odds?


The truth: Employees aren’t motivated. They don’t understand how they fit into the big picture or how their daily toil contributes to the ultimate objective of the organisation. If they had a clear vision of the future the company was trying to achieve and how they could contribute, they would be self-motivated to complete their part of the puzzle to the best of their ability. In some cases, they would even be inspired to go above and beyond. In other words, there’s no integrity to the company, vision or the digital transformation vision. The lack of truth means a lack of clarity and with it a lack of strength in the message of change.


Digital transformation initiatives have become fashionable, they make for great press releases and exciting publicity, but are they given the same attention and the same respect behind closed doors?

I would say that in the majority of cases the answer is no. Business leaders aren’t spending time speaking to their employee base to understand what their most critical problems are and whether this new technological investment addresses these problems. In other words, it’s not the process or the journey that inspires them but the headlines in the weekly business news. Business leaders are asking themselves questions like how do we get to the end as quickly as possible? They’re missing the point that innovation, like life, is a “musical thing”, it’s creative, it can’t and, more importantly, shouldn’t be rushed.


Lastly, and arguably most critically, Lombardi talks about turning 'Winning' into a habit. In order to achieve long term success through digital transformation, an organisation needs to create this same winning habit. It does this by creating a habit of innovation. I mentioned this when I spoke about Sigmoid curves. Initially, as the employees within an organisation get used to the idea of change and the idea of innovating, there will be natural resistance, this is the Learning Phase of the Sigmoid Curve. But as they get used to it, as they turn innovation into a habit, they will become more used to the uncertainty caused by change and will better understand the potential opportunity change presents. Removing obstacles to change, like resistance, and creating an atmosphere of motivation through opportunity, drives the organisation up the Sigmoid Curve into a Growth Phase. Now innovation has become a habit - the process itself instills a source of motivation within the employees of your organisation.


To conclude “To create something, you must be something.” Are you innovative? Do you have integrity? If you look at yourself completely objectively, what are your truths? Do they align with what you truly believe in?


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