The Power of Two: 5 gold standards of leadership and loyalty in a 1st-class organization
Businesses can learn a lot from professional sports — which is a business after all
There are many examples of legendary team owners who have achieved remarkable success and earned unwavering loyalty from their players and staff. Eddie DeBartolo Jr. (aka “Eddie D” and “Mr. D”), former owner of the San Francisco 49ers (1977‒2000), is one of these legends. DeBartolo’s leadership style and ability to create a first-class organization has left an indelible mark on the NFL. His approach is a blueprint for other non-sports organizations to follow.
Put your people first!
DeBartolo believed that success starts with the people who make up an organization. He recognized the importance of building a strong and cohesive team, both on and off the field. He invested big time and big money in strategically hiring exceptional talent, not just in players but also in coaches, staff, and management (his list of well-known talent is endless). By prioritizing people, you can foster a culture of mutual respect, loyalty, and commitment.
Key take-away: Emphasize the importance of hiring the right individuals who align with your organization's values. Establish a plan to nurture a supportive environment where employees feel valued, motivated, and empowered to contribute their best efforts.
How do you promote a people-first culture?
- No fear. Address your team issues head-on
- Be open to the latest ideas
- Give credit where credit is due!
- Transparency in your organizational goals
- Well defined job descriptions and expectations
- Clear paths for personal and professional growth
- Inclusion and respect for everyone
Lead by example
DeBartolo’s leadership style was a hands-on approach. He set a high bar for himself and expected nothing less from his team. He actively involved himself in day-to-day operations, demonstrated his commitment and inspired his staff, by his own example, to deliver their best performances.
Key take-away: Effective business leaders should actively participate in the organization's operations. By showing their dedication and investment in the common goal, leaders can inspire their people to reach championship levels of success. Employees will go the extra mile when they know managers will jump in to work alongside them when needed. A leadership team may not always know the ins-and-outs of every position, but they can build goodwill by demonstrating their desire for understanding and displaying respect for every job.
Foster a family atmosphere
In researching Eddie DeBartolo Jr., one characteristic that really stuck out for us was his ability to create a family feeling within the 49er’s organization. “We’re all a family” he said in an interview after a big win. He really treated everyone like an extended family, promoting an environment of camaraderie, trust, and support. His personal touch and genuine care for people instilled a deep sense of loyalty among them.
Key take-away: Building a sense of community and belonging generates loyalty and improves performance. Encourage open communication, establish opportunities for team bonding, and find your own unique way to illustrate your genuine support for your employees.
Invest in success
DeBartolo spared no expense providing his team with top-notch facilities, cutting edge equipment, and the necessary support staff. By offering these tools for success, he enabled his players to focus on the game and reach their full potential.
Key take-away: Investing in your organization's infrastructure, technology, and training is essential for long-term success. Don’t be short sighted — or cut corners. Research and provide the necessary resources and support so everyone in your organization can thrive in their roles. This is how you will enable them to deliver exceptional results.
Celebrate success together
DeBartolo believed in recognizing and celebrating achievements as a team. Whether it was a Super Bowl victory or an individual accomplishment, he made sure that everyone associated with the organization felt like an integral part of the success. When the team came off the field, he was waiting at the locker room door to be the first to personally applaud them on a win or congratulate a player on their accomplishment. This inclusive approach solidified the bond between him, the team, and the fans.
Key take-away: Acknowledge and celebrate milestones and successes collectively — even when it may not be the result you thought you wanted. Include everyone to foster a sense of pride and unity within an organization.
Long story short
All roads lead to Rome, but Eddie DeBartolo Jr. has a proven recipe for organizational success. Love the 49ers or hate them, his approach to business and life resulted in a strong sense of loyalty and unity among his team. This gave the 49er’s a reputation for excellence — crucial when trying to attract top talent — which showed in their 13 division titles and 5 Super Bowl championships during his tenure.
Business owners and organizational leaders who follow this example will build winning teams ready to take on challenges great and small.