Pete Gogolak

OK, first an important point of context: when I was about six years old, I got an autographed picture of Pete Gogolak. For any of you who don’t know him (that would be most of you!), he was the place kicker for New York Giants during their particularly dismal years in the early 70s. The fact that he’s the Giants’ all-time leading scorer only masks the fact that in my earliest memory, he was often the Giants’ only scorer since they rarely found the end zone.

So I was pretty happy to see the Giants win last night. But buried beneath all of the post-game hype was an intriguing sub-plot to the unlikely rise of the Giants.

Tom Coughlin, the Giants’ head coach, is notoriously old school. I won’t bore you with the details since they’ve been well documented by sports journalists. The important fact is that his approach simply wasn’t working the last few years. He alienated players, grated on the media, and nearly lost his job. He was in charge of an under-achieving team in a big market.

After the Super Bowl, Coughlin was interviewed by a reporter who brought up the changes the coach had made this season to get his team back on track. While the details of that change are interesting (click here to read a little more about it), I was struck by two other aspects of his supposed transformation. First, he did it later in life. Coughlin’s not a rookie coach – he’s been around coaching for around forty years. But he decided to change his long-established patterns and, at least to some extent, was successful.

The second thing that hits me: he made the changes because he found something he cared deeply about, something that motivated him to change. No management guru convinced him. As far as we know, he didn’t just want to be nicer for its own sake. Instead, he became convinced that he had to change if he wanted a chance to lead a team to a championship.

It just goes to show you that when we can find someone’s natural motivation, they are capable of extraordinary changes. Think about it – how could you help someone in your team find that sort of motivation?