Vince Lombardi on Leadership

“Failure is not getting knocked down; it’s not getting up again.” – Vince Lombardi

Today, I came across the above quotation from Vince Lombardi, the great coach who inspired the Green Bay Packers to three straight league championship titles and two Superbowl wins during the sixties. It led me to do a bit of research into the man. Reading his son’s (Vince Lombardi Jr) book What it Takes to be #1, on the Lombardi Leadership Model, I was struck by how familiar it all seemed.


The starting point for success is self-knowledge, he says. It flows from self-discovery. The message that “only by knowing yourself — your principles and values, can you hope to become an effective leader” struck me particularly forcefully. This, of course, is exactly the same language to be found in Stephen Covey‘s work.


“Once you understand yourself, you can start to grow and write your character. Along with good habits and competence, this creates the skills required for effective leadership.” You could be forgiven for thinking this might have come right out of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, but no, again, it is the Lombardi method as outlined in his son’s book.


The statement that “Character is the root of integrity: without character … there can be no integrity” reminds me of Covey’s insistence that what is missing from many recent treatises on the subject of success is the emphasis on building character. Indeed, if you know Covey’s work well, you may recall that the strapline for his best selling book (The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People) was actually ‘Restoring the Character Ethic’.


“Integrity provides the foundation of leadership,” says Lombardi. It is the culmination of the process (and the journey) from self discovery, through the phases of developing a strong character that understands what we stand for, to the place where we are prepared and equipped to be able to lead. This, of course, is the very essence of what Stephen Covey calls ‘principle-centered leadership’.

It should not really strike me as in any way odd that there should be such great similarity in the writing of these people on the subject of leadership. After all, these are either principles of success or they are not; they either work or they don’t.

What is particularly pleasing, in the case of Vince Lombardi, is to hear these principles espoused in the words of someone who achieved so much during his life. It is refreshing to hear the familiar messages of Covey’s work being validated by a man who produced such outstanding results.

Also, in Vince Lombardi Jr’s book, I came across The Lombardi Rules for leaders:

Embrace Paradox

Emerson said it best: A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.

No Excuses

Help people take responsibility—and then don’t accept excuses.

Build Accountability

Paint the picture, provide the tools, and get out of the way.

Treasure Your Legacy

Appreciate what’s been given to you. Give as much to someone else.

When the players take to the field of play, Lombardi understood that his work as a coach was largely done and that the outcome of the game was now in their hands. However, he had prepared them meticulously to accept that responsibility during the run up to the game.

Here, in these four simple rules, we get a glimpse his management method. It involves empowering the players, giving them everything they need to perform and then getting out of the way and allowing them to do give their absolute best.

Some Vince Lombardi Quotes:

“Success is like anything worthwhile. It has a price. You have to pay the price to win and you have to pay the price to get to the point where success is possible. Most important, you must pay the price to stay there.”

“Once you agree upon the price you and your family must pay for success, it enables you to ignore the minor hurts, the opponent’s pressure, and the temporary failures.”

“A man can be as great as he wants to be. If you believe in yourself and have the courage, the determination, the dedication, the competitive drive, and if you are willing to sacrifice the little things in life and pay the price for the things that are worthwhile, it can be done.”

“Mental toughness is many things and rather difficult to explain. Its qualities are sacrifice and self-denial. Also, most importantly, it is combined with a perfectly disciplined will that refuses to give in. It’s a state of mind – you could call it character in action.”

“Perfection is not attainable. But if we chase perfection, we can catch excellence.”

“There’s only one way to succeed in anything, and that is to give it everything. I do, and I demand that my players do.”

“The difference between a successful person and others is not a lack of strength, not a lack of knowledge, but rather in a lack of will.”

“Leaders are made, they are not born. They are made by hard effort, which is the price which all of us must pay to achieve any goal that is worthwhile.”

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