Feb 4, 2019

Bill Belichick: America’s Top COO

The New England Patriots have just won another Super Bowl. Their success under Coach Bill Belichick over two decades has been mind-boggling. The storied franchise has enjoyed 18 straight winning seasons, 15 out of the last 16 division titles, six wins out of nine Super Bowl appearances.

As its defacto GM, in addition to his role as Head Coach, Belichick is the Patriots’ COO - guiding all of the team’s operations both on and off the field. What makes Bill Belichick so great is that for many if not most of his teams, he only had one superstar - Tom Brady. Yet even when he lost Brady, to an ACL tear in 2008, the team won 10 out of 15 games under perennial backup Matt Cassel. So if it isn’t only Tom Brady, what accounts for Belichick's success?

Belichick's Five COO Skills

1. Be Prepared

During a grueling 16 game NFL season, each week poses new challenges to players and coaches alike.  There is no coach better prepared for his opponent than Bill Belichick: “We try to take the game, whenever the game is and then work backwards... Same thing for the players... they should know physically and from a preparation standpoint - their physical rest, recovery, energy - ...where they are five, four, three, two, day before the game.” Belichick is also known to randomly quiz players that he sees during the week about their assignments for next week’s matchup - and expects all of his players to know the answer

2. Hold All People Accountable

After leading his team to a record six Super Bowl Titles, one would think that Tom Brady would be beyond reproach in most leadership circles. Not so with Bill Belichick. The Patriot’s head coach is known to publicly chastise Tom Brady for situations where he did not perform as planned. In fact, Belichick is probably harder on his superstar than he is on most of his other players - because he realizes that he has an outsized impact on the team’s performance. For his part, Brady accepts these accountability lessons, because he knows they are not meant to embarrass him, but to set an example for the rest of the organization.

3. Outwork Your Competition

If you are a New England Patriots player, then you have heard of “Mount Belichick”. These are the two well manicured hills behind the organization’s practice facility in Foxboro - one short and steep and the other long and more gradual. After a grueling training camp session, Patriot players will head to the hills for extra conditioning. Many think the extra work is the endurance difference maker in the 4th quarter of tight games.

4. Teamwork

Another interesting detail about those hills - not only players but also coaches attack them. This builds a tremendous spirit and sense of common purpose across the entire organization. So when the Patriots are in the heat of battle, and one of the coaches makes what appears to be an unreasonable demand, you will do it because of the trust and camaraderie that has been developed.

5. Do Your Job

When all is said and done, when each Patriot or each member of your team shows up to work in the morning, there is a job to do.  When it gets bitterly cold on a December day in Foxboro, many Patriots players can be found wearing “Do Your Job” hats on the sidelines. In Belichick's words: “I think in terms of our players and our team, each of us has a job to do, and the only thing that we can do is do the best that we can.. improve on a daily basis, work hard, pay attention to the little details and put the team first. So whether it’s myself, a player or an assistant coach, it doesn’t really matter who it is, we all can only do what we can do.”

What is your #1 takeaway from this piece? How have you applied these five COO skills in your role as COO? Any others that you think are worth mentioning?

Next Steps:
  1. Draft a compelling Chief Operating Officer job description with this COO position spec template.
  2. Character is another important thing to consider when seeking a rockstar operations leader. Here are 5 traits of successful COO's.
  3. What role does your COO play in the organization? Here are the 7 roles of the COO as they relate to small businesses. 

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