“A Game of Inches”: Leadership on Any Given Monday
Recently, my family decided to watch Any Given Sunday, the 1999 iconic football movie starring Al Pacino, Cameron Diaz, Jamie Fox and a slew of other stars and unexpected cameos ranging from LL Cool J to Lawrence Taylor (of 1980s NY Giants fame), who comprised the fictional Miami Sharks, an extremely dysfunctional pro football team/franchise.
It looks at everything from money and egos to injury and politics surrounding the NFL. Not my typical first round draft pick for Sunday evening family time, but I was outvoted… and I’m glad.
While my husband eagerly took every opportunity to point out plays, dangers of concussions and other “teachable moments” to our 13-year-old son (who, unsurprisingly, was far more interested in the movie than the lessons), I was drawn in to the way the characters talked to each other, and when efforts at leadership succeeded and failed.
Most importantly, I couldn’t help but notice how much the challenges on the football field, in the locker room, and in the board room all have in common. For example:
- Seemingly incompatible priorities held by ownership/management and the players/employees
- Executives who viewed the players as property rather than as people
- Star players driven by their egos
- A young female president/co-owner trying to prove herself in an industry that is historically and undeniably a “man’s world”
- Work-life (im)balance and resentment
- Life-or-death (money or safety) choices
- And of course, the coach who had to navigate among all these groups while trying to do his own job and keep it all together if they were going to have a winning season, which was what everyone wanted.
But what really “scored points” with me was the inspirational locker room talk coach Tony D’Amato (Al Pacino) gave to the players toward the end. (You can watch it here.) Talk about someone whose delivery is credible and authentic. His verbal, vocal, and visual (physical) communication are in perfect alignment, all conveying exactly the same message, and that’s what makes his team – and the viewers – buy into it… because they buy into him.
He describes football as “a game of inches,” and how those inches are everywhere. He drills into them that the difference between winning and losing is being willing to fight and die for that inch, and a crucial component in that motivation is knowing that the guy next to them is working for the same inch, working together to reach team goals that are bigger than themselves as individuals.
As he tells it, it’s “the six inches in front of your face,” that make all the difference.
While that summary may sound cliché, (watch the original clip, it was great, as was the rest of the movie), I started to think about the professional “inches” that are all around us. So often we get tunnel vision, focusing on the total yardage we need to score the big points in signing new clients, completing big projects, meeting sales goals, delivering killer presentations, or nailing the interview to land next big promotion, but lose sight of the inches in between.
The kicker is, your reputation drives much of your ability to score, even the likelihood of getting opportunities to score. But your reputation is built in the moments in which you are not typically trying to impress. Your reputation is built in the everyday patterns, interactions and experiences people have with you when there isn’t a formal audience, and you’re not officially performing. In other words, your reputation is built in the inches.
At work, those inches might be the way you give or receive negative feedback, your attitude (contributions, body language, or tone of voice) during the drudgery of the weekly Monday morning meetings, or the balance of confidence and humility you demonstrate in speaking with others above, below and beside you.
You gain or lose inches based on how proactive you are in getting to know other people in the office, offering to help others because it’s the right thing to do even if it’s not officially in your job description, and peacefully but diligently working through conflict rather than letting disagreements fester in silence and become toxic.
Those “six inches in front of your face” show whether or not you’re in the moment: during an important discussion, are you listening to someone so you can formulate your rebuttal, or are you truly listening to understand? Trust me, they’ll know the difference. And it will reflect on your reputation for integrity. And over time, it’s integrity that scores points.
So ask yourself: On any given Monday, are you mindful of how you choose to navigate the inches of the day? Because the person who is, is the one who will lead the team into the end zone, and to victory for all.