Visions of Victory: taking a lesson from Pete Carroll on how to lead a team to success.

Living in Seattle, it’s close to impossible not to get caught up in the Seahawks and Super Bowl frenzy. With the Seahawks winning their first Super Bowl title in history, the city is electric with blue and green. Never before has Seattle felt so unified. The energy is contagious.

As the buzz lingers, we find ourselves talking more and more about the man who helped the Seahawks to their big win. Coach Pete Carroll built an environment that motivated individuals to their best performance while also celebrating the team as a whole – all without ever losing sight of the end goal, the championship. What can you learn from this? So often business leaders forget (or discount) how important it is to support individual and team performance in the push to be more competitive.

So, how does Coach Carroll do it? And how can you apply the same approach to your own workforce? A few key concepts rise to the top:

Create a vision: Pete Carroll drives his players to live, work and play like champions every day, and in every aspect of life. The end goal? To approach all of life’s opportunities with a “winner” mentality and to “compete for life.”1 With a clear and consistent vision, he is able to focus his team every day on long-term success. While perhaps you can’t expect your employees to have quite this level of dedication to their careers, you can create a set of core values for your organization, values that support your business goals, brand, and culture. Think about how you want your team to behave, and set your values around that behavior. Then make those values a central part of your organization and employee philosophy in order to align your team to a common focus.

Be an inspirational leader: In his recent book Carroll asked himself, “What if my job as a coach isn’t so much to force or coerce performance as it is to create situations where players develop the confidence to set their talents free and pursue their potential to its full extent? What if my job is really to prove to these kids how good they already are, how good they could possibly become, and that they are truly capable of high-level performance?”2 What could be more inspiring than a leader who instills confidence and helps the individual team members realize new capabilities in themselves? Take a step back, give your people challenges, and support and guide them as they start to grow. Build a supportive culture built on trust and the celebration of achievement.

Trust your people: Yes, trust again. Linebacker Bobby Wagner has said that “He allows you to be yourself and do certain things because he trusts you. He trusts us and we trust him.”3 Where employees feel trust and empowerment, they are much more likely to give back buy-in and engagement. Hire well, then step back and show your employees that you trust them to do their job, embrace team values, and work towards the team goals.

Raise the bar: Although Carroll empowers his team with a high level of freedom, he also sets extremely high expectations that are clear to everyone. He has said, “We run this program with extraordinary standards in how we prepare every day, with expectations that they’re going to be working their tails off every single step of the practice.”4 Make sure your expectations for your team are communicated clearly. There’s nothing wrong with expecting high performance from your team; in fact, setting a high bar will inspire your team to rise to the challenge. Just be prepared to maintain a high bar for yourself, too!

Encourage a team mentality: “Rule #1 is to always protect the team, you represent us, not yourself.” Coach Carroll asks players to think of bigger team goals and less of immediate returns as they strive together for greatness as a team and as a family.5 You can encourage this same mindset in your organization. Celebrate when the team achieves a goal rather than relying on individual performance goals, or worse, pitting employees against one another. Clearly communicate team goals, and celebrate together when you achieve them.

Celebrate wins and have fun: Carroll’s energy is contagious. You don’t have to look hard to see his genuine excitement as his people rise to do their best. He celebrates every win and every milestone. He also creates a daily environment where people have fun with each other. As he says, “To accomplish the grand, you have to focus on the small; to exist in the eternal perspective, you have to live in the moment.”6 Live in the moment with your team. Don’t cordon yourself off in the corner office. Celebrate even the small achievements with honest, true excitement. Trust and your team will thrive on it.

Carroll is undoubtedly an inspirational leader. And while he’s created a winning team, it’s not just about winning on Sunday, or about winning a Super Bowl. It’s about creating the type of atmosphere that drives team members to want to win every day – together. Carroll believes that by finding the best people and challenging them to find their own best selves, they will bring it. And that they have – and so can you!



About the author:

Sara Gaccione, PeopleFirm
Sara joins PeopleFirm with over 15 years of experience in human resources and organizational development. Sara’s approach is to design innovative and creative solutions that deliver business results. She has led large-scale change efforts, designed non-traditional performance management solutions and delivered people strategies that are customized to enhance company culture. Prior to PeopleFirm, Sara worked at REI, leading the organizational development and business partner team for the headquarters’ divisions such as IT, Marketing, Finance, and Adventure Travel. PeopleFirm’s value of “think straight, talk straight and act with integrity” is a core operating principal for Sara.


1 “The essence of Pete Carroll’s ‘Win Forever’ philosophy” January 29, 2014
2 “Pete Carroll’s new book simply says “Win Forever” July 15, 2010
3 NY Daily News: “Laid-back style of Pete Carroll has Seahawks in Super Bowl” February 2, 2014
4 “Pete Carroll’s new book simply says “Win Forever” July 15, 2010
5 “Pete Carroll’s Positive, Profound Approach To Football Working Wonders In Seattle” September 13, 2013
6 “The essence of Pete Carroll’s ‘Win Forever’ philosophy” January 29, 2014
Photos: RedBox Pictures, Newsday