Bill Walsh Had One – What is Your Leadership Legacy?

The Super Bowl – the championship game of the American National Football League –  is Sunday, February 1. That got me thinking about past coaches who have won the Super Bowl. The coach who sticks out in my mind the most is Bill Walsh. He coached three Super Bowl winners for the San Francisco 49ers. What could be even more impressive is his legacy, shown through his “coaching tree.” Look at his assistants who became head coaches, and their assistants who became head coaches, and their assistants who became head coaches. One tree is here  but is a little outdated.

Here is another example that is a little bigger, a little more up-to-date as well:

Six coaches from the tree have eight Super Bowl wins between them (Holmgren, Gruden, Shanahan, Seifert, Billick, Dungy), still others have gotten to the Super Bowl, but lost (Callahan, Fassel, Fisher, Fox, Reid, L. Smith, Wyche; Holmgren also has Super Bowl loses). A lot of former and current NFL head coaches are on the Walsh Coaching Tree.

You can even trace one of the coaches of this year’s Super Bowl, the Pittsburgh Steelers coach Mike Tomlin, back to Walsh. Tomlin was an assistant under Tony Dungy, who was an assistant under Dennis Green, who was an assistant under Bill Walsh. Oddly enough, Dennis Green helped build, shape, and draft much of the present roster of the other team in this year’s Super Bowl, the Arizona Cardinals, before he was fired in 2007.

That’s an impressive legacy. Consider though, Walsh is a branch off of legendary coach Paul Brown’s coaching tree – who are others on that tree? Don Shula (2 Super Bowl victories, most career NFL wins), Bud Grant (4 Super Bowl loses with Minnesota Vikings), Weeb Ewbank (won a Super Bowl coaching the New York Jets, what many consider the most important game in NFL history), and Chuck Knoll (4 Super Bowl victories).

Another Bill Walsh legacy that I just found out: Walsh pushed the cause for black coaches in the NFL. He worked with the NFL office to help black NFL assistants prepare for being head coaches by creating the Minority Coaching Fellowship.

With a new U.S. president, that also got me thinking about legacy. Bush guiding the U.S. through the 9/11 terrorist attacks and not having a terrorist attack on American soil after 9/11 could be one of his lasting legacies. Financial support of AIDS research could be another legacy. Troubles in Iraq or a bad economy are more than likely what many would consider to be his legacy, at least right now.

Will Barack Obama’s legacy be largely that he is the first African American president of the United States, or will some act, some policy, some deed, be his legacy?

Research conducted at CCL found that a majority of the 182 leaders surveyed wanted their legacy to be around an improved organizational culture or financial stability. Development/retention of employees and enhancing business operations were not that far behind.

What is your leadership legacy? Will it be the people who worked for you or who you mentored? Will it be some act or decision you make? Will it be that you averted disaster or brought prosperity? Will it be that you raised a family, were an outstanding husband, father, wife, mother? Will it be your ethical nature?

Let’s hear your thoughts – how do you as a leader want to be remembered? What is your leadership legacy? I look forward to seeing what you write.

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About Bill Gentry

William (Bill) is currently a Senior Research Scientist at the Center for Creative Leadership (CCL) and also an adjunct assistant professor at several colleges and universities. In applying his research into practice, Bill’s current focus is on helping leaders who are managing for the first time in their life. His research interests are in multisource (360) research, survey development and analysis, leadership and leadership development across cultures, leader character and integrity, mentoring, managerial derailment, multilevel measurement, and in the area of organizational politics and political skill in the workplace. He received a BA from Emory University and an MS and PhD in Industrial-Organizational Psychology from the University of Georgia. Follow Bill on Twitter: Lead_Better
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10 Responses to Bill Walsh Had One – What is Your Leadership Legacy?

  1. avatar Nancy Probst says:

    I’d like to be remembered as a leader who cared as much for each of my employees as I did the success of the business. We have a leadership crisis at the moment. Employees are disposable. Leaders will be challenged to produce results unless they can convey that their employees are a valued part of their organizations.

  2. avatar Dan McCarthy says:

    Bill –
    I love the “tree” concept! What a great way to show the impact that one man can have on an organization when he’s developing future leaders.
    Another interesting example is Bill Belichick, It appears his “genius” may not have been transferred to Crennel and Weiss.

  3. avatar William Gentry says:

    Nancy, I encourage you to concentrate even more on the “relationships” side particularly at this point of time. We are all thinking about the task, many of us are letting the relationships fall. Relationships are extremely important now more than ever.

  4. avatar William Gentry says:

    Dan, thanks for writing. I thought about putting up the Belichick tree, which stems from Bill Parcells. Those from the Parcells tree are Bill Belichick, Tom Coughlin, Sean Payton, Tony Sparano, Al Groh, Charlie Weis, Nick Saban, and Eric Mangini from the NFL and college ranks. Romeo Crennel just got fired and Josh McDaniels just got hired by the Denver Broncos.
    This website is really good about coaching trees:
    http://www.sports-central.org/sports/2008/02/22/the_nfl_coaching_tree_2008_pt_1.php
    I hope one day you can make your own tree and see just how many people you have influenced, at work and away from work.

  5. avatar Dave Mackzum says:

    When leaders talk about empowering employees for future leadership positions I think this is an excellent example. What is more challenging than preparing future leaders for your current position? To inspire that kind of confidence, interest, and motivation for people to want to achieve, is truly Walsh’s legacy. What a recruitment tool for organizations to utilize.

  6. avatar William Gentry says:

    Dave,
    So many leaders are afraid to “let their people go” to different groups within the organization, to bigger and better things, or fear that their employees will replace them. They say “Why mentor others who may take my job?” A true leader sees the value in others, and wants to develop their skills and abilities. By looking at a tree such as Walsh’s or anybody else, one can see just how their influence spreads over decades. You are correct, it is a great recruitment tool. More importantly, do it for yourself to see just how much you have mattered to others – instant feedback.

  7. avatar Dave Mackzum says:

    William,
    That was an interesting perspective on “mentoring others who may take my job.” If you are threatened by people taking your job then you have already “lost it.” I contend that if you have people who do not “aspire” to move up to your position than you may have a hiring issue when selecting people.
    At minimum, if you do not develop relationships with people to know what their career aspirations are, then you cannot truly develop them.
    Dave

  8. avatar Rob Kaiser says:

    Very provocative post, Bill. The legacy concept is how you transcend ego and death, and I’m not being fascetious. The irony about the ego part is that it is a BIG ego that often keeps one from investing in the next generation–because of a fixation on ME and MY direct accomplishment. Perhaps it is the STRONG ego that lives on after the trophies have tarnished.

  9. A leadership legacy…honestly, who cares. No one will remember a dang thing about it in 100 years or so. So…yea, why bother trying to bust out an awesome legacy?

  10. avatar Anthony DiMaio says:

    Funny how the issue of keeping your job is a theme… couple things about Walsh’s legacy, his first legacy act was to hire right. Second thing is that Bill Walsh was a winner (.609), he picked great quarterbacks.

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