The Soul of a Team by Tony Dungy with Nathan Whitaker. Tyndale Momentum. 224 pages. 2019
The latest book by NFL Hall of Fame Coach Tony Dungy is unlike his other books. This one is written as a leadership fable, similar to books by Patrick Lencioni, Ken Blanchard and Mark Miller. He tells us that the number one topic he is asked to speak about is teamwork. In this book, he tells an interesting story about the three-year old fictious Orlando Vipers professional football team, at times drawing on actual people and incidents he has observed. He then summarizes his main points in a “Putting the Principles into Practice” section, which includes definitions, diagnosis and development sections. The book also includes a helpful “Group Discussion Guide”. The author writes that while the story may be set in professional football, the principles apply to all teams, whether within a family unit, a company or church, or a high school drama club.
The Vipers had missed the playoffs in the final week of the season, and team president Terry is looking to make major changes, including the firing of key personnel. He reaches out to his friend Tony to do some consulting, to give him a fresh perspective and tell him what is wrong with the team. The Vipers general manager is Gym and Joe is their head coach. In three years, Joe’s record is just 23-25. He is in danger of losing his job. The team is owned by Owen, who is wanting a new stadium to replace their current dated stadium in Orlando. If he doesn’t get the new stadium, he is threatening to move the team to Oakland. In order to build fan support for the team, he needs a winner. The pressure is on.
Tony begins by meeting with the team leadership, including Whit, the team’s offensive coordinator and “DC”, the defensive coordinator. He then gets to know a few of the team’s key players, such as quarterback, Austin, wide receiver Wickie, and running back Don.
The story takes us through the staff getting ready for the college draft, where neither the scouts nor the coaches ever openly addressed any character-related issues—good or bad—when they discussed their target players. They then proceed to minicamp.
After spending a few months with the team, Tony meets with Terry and tells him that in his opinion, the biggest problem with the team is that it’s not a team. There is infighting among the staff, some players are only playing only for themselves, while others are not doing their jobs, and there is a lack of positive core values guiding their decisions and moving them forward. In other words, the problem revolves around teamwork.
Tony introduces the concept of SOUL to the team. SOUL is an acronym that represents four essential principles practiced by truly effective teams. He tells them that he has yet to encounter a successful team that doesn’t practice these principles. SOUL stands for:
O – Ownership
U – Unity
L – Larger Purpose
Will Tony be able to convince the coaches, players and staff and owner to buy into the principles of SOUL? The future of the franchise in Orlando and several key jobs on the team will depend on it. The book, which takes us through the following season, is a quick-read, and would be a good book to read and discuss with others on your team, but it at work, church, etc.
As I read the book, I highlighted a number of passages. Here are a few of my favorite quotes:
- Teams that exemplify the principles of selflessness, ownership, and unity—teams working toward a larger purpose—are naturally stronger, healthier, more productive, more dedicated, and more successful.
- Unity isn’t just about everyone getting along; it’s also about making sure everyone feels they’re included, valued, and contributing to the larger purpose.”
- Simply put, a team that has SOUL can and will accomplish far more than one that doesn’t. It’s what gives a team its identity, its focus, its drive, and its sense of being. It’s what inspires individual members to do their best and to come together as one to achieve something as a group that wouldn’t be possible by any one person.
- Great leaders set the standard, model excellence, and hold others accountable—and that needs to happen at every level for a team to be successful in the long haul.
- Putting your interests aside for the good of the team ultimately benefits both you and those with whom you work.
- No matter your role or position, you must be selfless and realize that it’s not all about you. You are a part of something bigger.
Uncommon: Finding Your Path to Significance by Tony Dungy. Tyndale Momentum. 288 pages. 2009. Audiobook read by Tony Dungy.
This book was released shortly after Coach Tony Dungy announced his retirement from coaching the Indianapolis Colts in the National Football League. I read the book when it was first released and recently read it again. The book is addressed to men, even more specifically to young men, though men of all ages will benefit from reading it.
Dungy writes that two young men were the motivation for him to write the book: “Two boys, two different backgrounds, two different upbringings. Both followed the “wide road” and ended up in prison, which tells me that our society is facing a widespread problem. It is not an inner-city problem, or an economic problem, or even a religious problem. The kind of ideas our young people are buying into and the pressure to conform are causing our teenagers to follow the path of least resistance.”
He states that the book came about due to two separate but related causes. First, after the release of his first book Quiet Strength he received a number of letters and emails from men, particularly young men, who indicated that they were struggling with what it meant to be a man in today’s culture. Second, he noticed that young men coming into the NFL were increasingly less prepared to be a man, and in need of more direction.
In thirty-one short chapters, Dungy shares a lifetime of wisdom, much of which he learned from his parents, on a wide variety of topics all designed to help develop what he calls an uncommon man. A few of the takeaways I had from the book were:
- Character. How you do things is more important than what you do. We build character through the little things we do.
- Integrity. Integrity is doing the right thing when nobody is watching. Dishonesty will eventually catch up with you. We can’t control our reputation (what others think of us), but we can control our integrity.
- Humility and Availability. Don’t blow your own horn. There is a fine line between confidence and pride. Billy Graham and Tom Landry were examples mentioned. God often works through ordinary, humble and available people.
- Stewardship. Stewardship recognizes that life is not about us, but about and owned by God. Stewardship is not ownership. How we steward our time and gifts is important.
- Convictions and Principles. It takes courage to stick with our convictions and principles. Don’t give in to peer pressure.
- Treating Women. The way you treat a woman will impact all other areas of your life. Many men have not had good role models in this area, having fathers who were either too strong or too passive.
- Fathers. Children need positive role models as fathers. Be present – don’t be an absentee father. Watch how you speak to your children –words matter. Make memories with your children.
- Friendship. What benefits do you bring to your friendships? Choose your friends for their values.
- Mentoring. Mentoring is building character into the lives of others and leaving a legacy.
- Work and Purpose. Be careful about making job/career decisions primarily based on money. Leave work at work. Be fully present with your family. Don’t be so busy making a living that you forget to live.
- Failure. Failure is part of the journey to success. The uncommon man stays focused on his goals and values during times of adversity.
- Style over Substance. Many men find their significance in status and success. Choosing style over substance obscures what is really important in living a significant life. A life centered on Christ will re-direct our focus to direct our priorities to what really matters. It is never too late to adjust our priorities. Don’t confuse your value with what you do.
- Sexual integrity. Sexual activity was designed for those in a marriage relationship. Run from sexual sin (porn, affairs, etc.).
- Platform/Role Model. Use whatever platform you have been given to positively impact lives. Right or wrong, someone is always watching you. It’s important to see yourself as a role model. Dungy shares the positive impact his parents and uncles have had on his life as role models.
- Faith and Relationship with Christ. You were created by God and He cares about you in every circumstance.
- Purpose. We were intentionally designed by God to have a unique and significant impact on those you meet, and also on those you will never meet.
- Significance. God calls us to be faithful, not successful. God’s scorecard is different from ours.
At the end of each major part of the book Dungy helpfully summarizes the key points from that section. At the end of the book is a 32-page “Q&A” with Coach Dungy in which he answers 73 questions that relate to each of the chapters of the book. This would be an excellent book to read not only individually, but also with a son or as a part of a Men’s study group. Since the publication of this book, Dungy has continued the Uncommon theme with The One Year Uncommon Life Daily Challenge (which I read daily) and Uncommon Marriage: What We’ve Learned about Lasting Love and Overcoming Life’s Obstacles Together.
The Mentor Leader: Secrets to Building People and Teams that Win Consistently by Tony Dungy with Nathan Whitaker. Tyndale. 2010. 256 pages. Audiobook read by Tony Dungy.
This was Tony Dungy’s third book along with Nathan Whitaker, the first two being Quiet Strength and Uncommon. Dungy was an NFL player and coach and is best known for winning Super Bowl XLI in 2007 as coach of the Indianapolis Colts. He retired from coaching in 2009. I read this book when it was first published and recently listened to the audiobook read by Dungy. It’s one of my favorite and most helpful leadership books.
Dungy writes that in his life and career he has seen all kinds of leaders, but the ones that had the greatest impact on his life are the select few that have been not only leaders, but also mentors. He indicates that much of what he has learned has been due to two men in particular – his father Wilbur and Chuck Noll, his head coach when he was a player and assistant coach with the Pittsburgh Steelers.
He indicates that mentor leaders have a direct, intentional, and positive impact on those they lead. At its core, mentoring is about building character into the lives of others, modeling and teaching attitudes and behaviors, and creating a constructive legacy to be passed along to future generations of leaders. He doesn’t think it is possible to be an accidental mentor.
Throughout the book, Dungy offers interesting illustrations from his time as a player and coach in the NFL, and he teaches the reader what it means to be a mentor leader. He ends each chapter with “Action Steps”, taking the most important learning points from the just completed chapter and putting them into action form for the reader.
He states that if the reader takes only one thing from the book it is that relationships are ultimately what matter – our relationship with God and with other people. The key to becoming a mentor leader is learning how to put other people first. Dungy writes that the question that burns in the heart of the mentor leader is:
What can I do to make other people better, to make them all that God created them to be?
Dungy writes that the single most important factor that differentiates mentor leaders from other leaders in any setting is their outward focus on others.
He advices leaders that as they build their leadership skills it is important to remember that why you lead is as important as whom you lead. Leading for the benefit of others is a much more compelling and powerful motivation than leading merely to get ahead or to hit an arbitrary target.
Dungy states that the regenerative aspect of mentor leadership sets it apart from other leadership paradigms. He writes that it is one thing to lead high-performing teams that can perform at that level time and again and can also spawn other high-performing teams. He tells us that the key to creating new generations of leaders is looking beyond yourself toward others – toward those you have been called to lead, and growing them into new leaders through intentional mentoring relationships. He states that it is “about them, not us”.
Dungy states that a compelling vision and a clear mission statement are absolutely critical to effective leadership and a leader’s ability to lead. However, in the process of planning and looking ahead, too many people lose sight of the present and forget to enjoy the journey along the way. For the mentor leader though, life is about the destination and the journey.
Dungy believes that as important as a shared vision is for leadership in an organization, character is even more fundamental and essential. He writes that if people are not comfortable with their leaders – who they are and what they stand for – they won’t stick around long enough to hear about the vision. Vision matters, but character matters more. Dungy believes that character is the glue that bonds solid and meaningful relationships.
Dungy describes trustworthy traits as those internal qualities that form the bedrock of our character. Regardless of the situation or circumstances, these traits are simply a part of who we are. He identifies four primary trustworthy traits as competence, integrity, security and authenticity.
Leadership attributes that Dungy feels are intrinsic to mentor leadership include demonstrating courage; leading by example; keeping others focused on the organization’s vision and mission; exercising and modeling faith; and always being willing to examine and change paradigms.
He then looks at relational qualities of a mentor leader. He states that being accountable is one of the most important things a leader can do. He believes that it is closely aligned with character. It is hard to have true character if you can’t be accountable.
Mentor leaders are both available and approachable. They also exhibit loyalty to those they lead, shepherding and protecting their followers.
Dungy writes that we all need to realize the platforms that we have and take advantage of the mentoring opportunities they provide. He tells us that it is easy to get wrapped up in our own busy lives, but there are opportunities all around us where we can make a difference in someone’s life – we just need to look for them. He indicates that opportunities for influence may arise when least expected.
Dungy writes that you will be known for what you model to others – through your words, your actions, your faith, and your heart. He cautions us to make sure that our actions mirror our words. If they don’t, there’s no surer way to a credibility gap and resulting crisis of confidence for those who follow you.
He states that faith is the foundation and strength of the mentor leader, the guiding principle behind everything that a mentor leader does.
He writes that every team member is important to the whole, yet the team can move without any individual. Coach Noll called this “Important but not indispensable”.
In chapter 8, Dungy takes the reader from theory to practical application. For those who want to become a mentor leader and add value to other people’s lives and to their organizations, he gives some specific ways to put mentor leadership into action. He looks at seven key words, all beginning with the letter E that describe a progression of steps that will help you mentor others while you lead them to reach their potential as team members. The seven key words are:
Engage. Dungy believes it is critical for mentor leaders to engage with those they lead. It is impossible to mentor from a distance. Without engagement, you cannot lead effectively.
Educate. Education is an essential building block of mentor leadership. Workers who are new to a task cannot be empowered and elevated until they’ve been educated in what to do.
Equip. Mentor leaders create an environment in which others can be productive and excel. They set the parameters and guidelines for the task or project, and continually recast the vision, and then provide the tools and equipment needed for everyone to be successful in their assignment and to ultimately accomplish their mission.
Encourage. Encouragement is one aspect of leadership that you can’t delegate – you simply have to master it, whether you are predisposed to it or not.
Empower. At some point, a mentor leader must turn others loose to do their jobs.
Energize. Great leaders energize and inspire those they lead. Even as they face their own daily struggles and stresses, mentor leaders look for ways to energize and motivate the people around them.
Elevate. Many leaders struggle with this essential concept. Elevating is difficult, writes Dungy. However, raising up leaders is the truly selfless goal of every mentor leader, the culmination of focusing on others. To elevate your followers means to help them reach their potential, even if it means that you prepare them to leave your organization for better opportunities elsewhere.
Dungy relates that several of his assistant coaches have left his staff to make their mark elsewhere as leaders, and that he is proud of each one of them. He states that perhaps the result he is most proud of is the elevation of Jim Caldwell who ended up replacing Dungy himself in Indianapolis.
Dungy summarizes a mentor leader by saying that they add value to the lives of others and make the lives of other people better.
The book ends with a helpful chapter of “Questions and Answers”, organized by each of the book’s chapters. You can find out more about Tony Dungy and read or listen to the first chapter of this book at: http://www.coachdungy.com/index.php/product/the-mentor-leader/