Three Leadership Lessons Learned While Touring The New Dallas Cowboys Headquarters
I’m a firm believer that the best business lessons often present themselves when you least expect it. The ability to learn from unexpected sources helps to provide an actionable, human aspect to your development as a leader.
I had one such serendipitous moment of unexpected learning while on a behind-the-scenes tour of the new Dallas Cowboys headquarters/training facility called “The Star.”
For those of you who aren’t familiar, The Star is the 1.5 billion dollar, 91-acre campus in Frisco, Texas that hosts the headquarters and practice facility for the Dallas Cowboys.
To say that The Star is impressive would be an understatement. No matter where your football allegiances lie, there is no denying that the Cowboys have built a world-class facility.
The most impressive aspect, however, wasn’t the facility itself; it was the way that Jerry Jones and the leadership team transformed the physical location into a manifestation of their organization’s culture and ethos.
The lessons that are (quite literally) embedded in the walls hold true for any organization or leader, whether in sports or business.
Culture is defined from the top-down
As you roam the halls of The Star, there is no question as to what the team’s values are or who sets the tone for the organization. The shadow of Jerry Jones looms large over everything, but not in a self-aggrandizing way.
Instead, he uses his considerable presence to tightly control the expectations and culture of the team, staff, and leadership. Everywhere you turn, you see large, metallic quotes on walls that reinforce the culture he has set for his team.
One such quote reads “We need to win with class, and we need to win in a way that Dallas Cowboys fans are proud not only of the team but of everyone associated with the team.”
Many leaders, myself included, are often afraid to set out such firm expectations for their team. I know that in my case I’m always sensitive to looking egocentric or trite. However, when you don’t make cultural expectations clear, you allow others to set the tone for your organization.
The key takeaway for me was the realization that culture had to be defined from the top down and reinforced throughout the organization.
Trust your team, but run a tight ship
Steve Jobs once famously remarked that “It doesn't make sense to hire smart people and tell them what to do; we hire smart people so they can tell us what to do.”
While I still agree with the concept behind the quote, I think that it can be dangerous if taken too literally.
There’s a big difference between trusting in your team and letting them steer the ship. When I was earlier in my career, I often let my team dictate direction. I thought I was letting smart people tell me what to do, but in reality, I was guilty of letting the inmates run the asylum.
The Cowboys’ operation, on the other hand, runs like clockwork. Not only is the campus immaculate, but there is a pervasive sense of order that permeates everything they do.
From the formal greetings that the staff offers each other to the daily schedule that is posted on every television screen, it’s clear that Jerry Jones runs a tight ship. What was interesting, however, was the balance that was struck.
It was clear that there were a lot of smart people working for the organization, all of whom struck me as being empowered in their roles. However, there was also a strong and, frankly calming, sense of structure that permeated everything.
I believe that the structure and formality of Cowboys headquarters provided the team with the proper bumpers necessary to thrive independently yet still operate as a team.
No one is above the organization
Whether we’re dealing with business or professional sports, it’s clear that we live in a world of superstars and outsized egos.
This “rock star” phenomenon is as seductive as it is damaging. While high-fliers may draw crowds and make amazing plays, placing them above the organization as a whole can lead to disaster.
One quote that I came across while at The Star was “It is a privilege, not a right, to play, coach, and work for the Dallas Cowboys.”
It reminded me of what my mentor has often reiterated: “No one is above the company.”
At first, I was a bit taken aback by the brazenness of the statement. It struck me as somewhat arrogant, but then I realized that it was very much the opposite.
Making it clear that no one, regardless of their position, ability, or status, is above the organization as a whole reinforces the idea that the team stands for something greater.
It’s an important lesson for business leaders and entrepreneurs looking to grow. There will be the temptation to look the other way when high performers misbehave or go against the cultural expectations of the company.
It’s vitally important to stay strong in these situations and always remember that no one is above the organization.
I went into The Star expecting to see some football history and possibly spot a player or two. Instead, I got a crash course in leadership courtesy of Jerry Jones and his organization.
No matter which team you root for, you have to hand it to the Cowboys. They’ve managed to build an exceptional monument to their organization, culture, and expectations. Entrepreneurs from all walks of life should take note.