leads to confident rest while its adversaries toil.


    is  both an art and science. Good strategy will result from neither independently.


    can be overlooked when resources are abundant and margins for error are wide. But when environments are competitive, strategy separates those who survive from those who perish.


    kills organizations. It’s people drown in an ocean of activities whose undertow moves faster than it’s the strongest swimmer.


    organizes and induces a resonant oscillation that knocks down every obstacle, scales every wall and wins every battle.


    never  tires. It only expends critical energy and resources on the highest value activities.
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Pete CarrollBusiness owners, company executives, coaches and leaders of any organization can learn from Seattle Seahawks coach, Pete Carroll. His example could be the exact antidote for the things that ail your organization. Recently, I caught an interview of Cliff Avril, the NFL all-pro from the Seattle Seahawks. The Seahawks have been arguably one of the top two prolific teams over the past 5 years. What I heard in this interview peaked my interest, so I dug in a little deeper. I learned that Pete Carroll is a brilliant, strategic leader. Since he leads in the sport realm, many of you will think I’m just talking about his game-time “strategies”. But I’m not. He is an executive who is innovating strategic leadership in an arena where experimentation is more often met with overwhelming criticism and failure.

1. Strong strategy frees an organization

Interview Cliff AvrilThe interviewer tried to put his finger on what it’s like to “play for Pete”. He hemmed and hawed getting the question out… “Talking about Seattle’s philosophy… I don’t know, open-minded… it certainly seems like Seattle started that trend… ‘be you’… isn’t that the Pete Carroll thing?” Avril responds, “I think so, honestly, because that was the biggest adjustment for me… through your college years, if you’re with certain (NFL) programs… It’s more of a militant type of thing, we have to be hard on these guys so they play a certain way, kinda make ‘em afraid in a certain sense. But coach Carroll has a different approach he allows guys to be themselves within being able to play the game.”

The interviewer continued to press this “Be you” style of leadership. He was trying to poke holes, “But the other side of it… jawing on the field… and literally pointing fingers… does that carry on after the game?”


Avril then defends Carroll’s approach, “That’s a part of thing that Coach Carroll has created in a sense of allowing guys to voice their opinions… that makes you stronger as a team… people aren’t afraid to call another person out… now don’t get disrespectful about it… but if you call another player out because your gonna’ go to bat for him… you need him to do the same… (and then) I need to up my game to match his…”


This may not seem remarkable to some, but Pete Carroll has succeeded, in a place where extreme violence MUST be perfectly and precisely managed, to allow for a great deal of creativity, style and personal opinion.  In fact, many of his players, like Cliff Avril, believe this is the source of differentiating success. His organization plays free, loose, fun and creatively, yet with extreme prejudice to win created only through personal ownership and team (corporate) loyalty. Just don’t make the mistake that most do.  Many believe this is just the contagious nature of Carroll’s gregarious and competitive personality, and no doubt that has something to do with it, but he has designed, implemented and expertly cultivated every aspect of his organization’s culture with this exact end in mind. Carroll’s strategy frees the Seahawks to complete at their best and is a great example of what strong strategy can do, not to control an organization but to breath autonomous, fluid and personal ownership into it.

2. Strong strategy establishes clear and unwavering norms

Press Conference Shaquil GriffinAfter watching this interview with Avril, I jumped over to Seahawks.com and watched the first player interview I could find. It was the second day of rookie camp, so I watched an interview of a cornerback from the University of Central Florida, Shaquill Griffin. He talked about his first day on the Seahawks practice field. If there is one thing the Seahawks are known for it is their Legion of Boom, led by all-pro safeties Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor and all-pro cornerback Richard Sherman. Yes, they are fabulous athletes, but I was surprised to hear Griffin say, “it’s totally different for me it’s a whole new technique… they told me whatever you learned in college, just throw it out.”

This made me reflect upon the brilliance of Carroll’s leadership even further. In a world where athletes are already highly skilled and have played at the top of their games since the 5th grade, it is very natural for them to not want to change everything in terms of style or technique. And yet, Carroll’s organization changes everything. I watched press conference after press conference and heard the same theme repeatedly. Though the team enjoys a sort of freedom like no other team, many things are still very specifically scripted and every player is held to the execution standard of conformity and perfection. The remarkable thing however, as Avril articulated, is that the players love the environment, the culture. It is apparent that Carroll expertly dreamed of a balance between very specific guidance AND freedom to play and enjoy the game. Then he planted it, cultivated it and grew it to fruition.

3. Strong strategy builds the right guardrails and opens freedom-highways

This is perhaps where Carroll’s personality plays a bigger role. Balancing centralized authority and non-wavering expectations with high levels of personal ownership. To support the freedom to create, to take risk, to fail and to learn while at the same time elevating a culture that embraces conformity to some of the most minute execution details may be easier for him becomes to some degree it comes naturally. But I would bet, if you asked Carroll, he would say that he has often made mistakes managing this balance, but that he continue to return to his strategy in order to continuously improve his ability to live in the tension between these two extremes.

So what should Carroll’s example inspire us to do?

As managers or coaches who desire to be strategic leaders, we ought to aspire to live in the tension between extremes. Pete Carroll’s affirmation comes often comes from what his players say in public. Avril says (and I paraphrase), we are great because our leaders give us tremendous and sometimes dangerous freedom. Griffin says (paraphrased), the Seahawks are great because our leaders hold us all accountable to even the smallest of details. They describe, freely and authentically, the results of an organization being driven by a great strategic leader. And therefore we should ask ourselves, what do our employees, our players our members say about us as leaders? Do they brag about the personal ownership they feel? Do they act as if they have vast freedoms in anything not specifically prescribed within the culture? And, those things with specific guidance, do they talk about how important they are to execute really well? Do they boast about how the culture self-polices the right execution of these no-debates? Is the tension that exists within your organization between the extremes toward which you are encouraging them to go, or is the tension a result of dysfunction?


Strategic leaders live in the tension between freedom and hyper-executional-discipline. And it is there, that the great ones, like Carroll, erect the right guardrails and then let the freedom-highways operate at high speed.

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