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Innovation Insights
by Stephen Shapiro

7 Success Traits I Learned from the New England Patriots

Yesterday I watched my American football team, The New England Patriots, reach 14 wins with no losses in the season. They are only the second team in history to do so. Whether or not you like the Patriots, you have to admit that they are a special team.

I have been listening to interviews with coach Belichick and his players throughout the season. From the various quotes I culled, you can quickly learn (some of ) the ingredients in the recipe of their success.

#1: The Whole is Greater than the Sum of its Individual Parts

The Patriots believe in a team mentality, sacrificing individual glory for team perfection.

A few years back, the Patriots bucked tradition and rejected individual on-field introductions before its first Super Bowl victory, instead “choosing to be introduced as a team.”

MVP Quarterback, Tom Brady continually deflects questions about his (stellar) performance and instead praises his teammates. He, until recently, conducted his weekly news conferences at his locker, not at a podium in the team’s press room, because he did not want to be set apart from teammates. I think the media circus has become too big for his preferred, casual approach.

Another example is the acquisition of wide receiver Randy Moss. The former Oakland Raiders player had a reputation of being a trouble maker and showboater. But he has since demonstrated the power of being a team player – a requirement of the Patriots. As club owner Robert Kraft once said, “Bill can assemble players, especially veteran players, who can acclimate to our culture. If people don’t adjust to our standards, they won’t be here.”

#2: Excellence is a Journey, Not a Destination

With the latest win, New England clinched a bye in the first round

and home field throughout the playoffs. Other than breaking more records, there is little else to be gained through additional wins during the regular season. But that’s not how the Patriots see it. For them, the pursuit of excellence never ends.

“We’re paid professionals. None of this taking a break,” cornerback Ellis Hobbs said.

“We’ll do what we always do,” Belichick said firmly. “We’ll play the same way.”

“Coach Belichick is not letting up, man,” Randy Moss said. “If y’all think there is any chance he is going to let up and give us a break, he’s not. Coach Belichick will never let a team like (this) slide.”

The attitude can be summed up in one quote from Belichick, “I think everybody could work on everything. I think that every player could work on every phase of his game. If Tiger Woods could go out and practice 14 hours on the driving range, I think there are things that we could do – all of us could do – to be better.”

#3: Be Humble or Be Humbled

Although the Patriots are great, they are not arrogant. They are proud of their success and strive to improve. I contrast this with the 1986 Chicago Bears who early in the season created a video called “The Super Bowl Shuffle” that touted (showboated) their excellence. Humble was not in their vocabulary. Ok, maybe I am a bit biased on this one. The Bears did indeed win the Super Bowl that year, crushing the (then inferior) New England Patriots.

“From Week 1 you heard about the humble pie,” Moss said. “No telling how much we are going to eat this week.”

According to Yahoo Sports, “The Patriots didn’t wear any special hats or T-shirts after the game to make note of their securing the No. 1 seed in the AFC. Instead, they donned fairly drab grey numbers that read ‘Be Humble or Be Humbled.’”


#4: Clear Leadership + Empowerment

Belichick is highly respected by the players and coaches. His word is final in the New England locker room. But he is not a dictator. He lets his players make their own decision. The right balance between leadership and empowerment is critical. Leaders must make decisions that better the team, not the leaders.

“He’s the best coach that ever coached the game. Whether he gets the (coach of the year) award or not, who cares? He doesn’t care. It’s all about winning games. You can get Coach of the Year, but if you lose in the first round of the playoffs, what difference does it make? We don’t care about that. Individual awards are what they are – individual. We love team awards.” – Rodney Harrison

“He’s a great leader and he’s a great coach to play for. We all believe in him and we trust him. He always says that he makes decisions based on the best interest of the team. He truly means that.” – Tom Brady

“He doesn’t let us get too ahead of ourselves. That’s one thing that I really love and I like about Coach because we can come out here and, like today, we put 48 points up but he’s still going to lay a couple of lashings on us when we get in as a team.” – Randy Moss


#5: Focus on What Matters

Breaking records is nice. But at the end of the day, success in football is clearly defined: winning the Super Bowl. Organizations often miss the mark and focus on short term gains and irrelevant targets. Get clear about what really matters.

“I don’t really care what’s going on during the regular season, as long as we have a chance to play for that trophy. I think a lot of guys feel that way. In the locker room – 14-0, second team to do it – guys mention it, but what are you going to do?” said Randy Moss.

#6: Celebrate Your Wins…and Move On

You must celebrate victories. This is important for morale. But victories are in the past. Learn from your wins (and losses) and use them to fuel future victories.

“Every win feels great. We’ve strung some together and it’s at 14 now,” Patriots linebacker Tedy Bruschi said. “It feels good to be 14-0, I can’t lie to you, but I’m going to feel good about it tonight and then tomorrow we’re going to move on. We have to get ready for the Dolphins and that’s just how it’s been the whole year.”

#7: Play One Game at a Time

The team’s philosophy is to play each game the best they can. They never set their sights too far into the future; they only worry about the next game. Businesses often take their “eyes off the ball” when they get too focused on the future.

“Winning the first 14 games is a feat in itself,” wide receiver Jabar Gaffney said. “We never set out to be 14-0, we just try to go one game at a time and try to win the next one and then the one after. We have done a really good job at that and we will continue to do that. We have the Dolphins coming in and we will go on and prepare for them and hopefully after that keep going.”

My favorite quote of all times goes back a few years. In 2004, the Patriots broke the records for the longest winning streak in NFL history–20 games in a row. At a press conference that followed, a reporter asked the team’s Head Coach, Bill Belichick, to comment on this winning streak. He replied, “We did not have a 20 game win streak. We had 20 one-game win streaks.”