5 Management Lessons from Chip Kelly’s Firing

Don't be arrogant. Be a leader.

Photo Credit: Jeff Fusco

Photo Credit: Jeff Fusco

In pro football, it’s hard to separate truth from Internet rumor, but if you believe many accounts, Chip Kelly was an arrogant, unapproachable, stubborn guy who valued his system over the individuals working it. Now he’s out of a job and many people in and out of football believe that his personality had just as much to do with his ouster as his decision to re-shape the team with mediocre Sam Bradford and obviously-doesn’t-fit-the-scheme DeMarco Murray.

When Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie used the term “emotional intelligence” in his press conference announcing Kelly’s firing, you had to wonder if that wasn’t a jab at Kelly’s perceived inability to connect with players and staff.

As a leader, connecting with people is your main job. Finding the right Jimmie’s and Joe’s (and motivating them to thrive) is much more crucial than the X’s and O’s. That’s true whether you’re selling software or trying to win games in the NFL.

There are plenty of business and management lessons to take away from Kelly’s tenure with the Eagles, so I checked in with Marc Kramer, president and founder of Kramer Communications and columnist for BizPhilly and SmartCEO to break it down:

  1. Take Responsibility: Kelly said he wasn’t the general manager and shouldn’t be blamed for the team’s poor performance. But there’s little doubt that he reshaped the team during the previous offseason — getting rid of plenty of Pro Bowlers and landing mediocre players in return. That led to the forgettable 2015 season.
  2. Different People Have Different Personalities. Deal With It: Winning organizations are comprised of can-do people who stay positive and play well with others. There are flamboyant and opinionated people, quiet hard-working people and outgoing get-it-done people. But they can all work well together to get the job done. The Eagles got rid of DeSean Jackson and LeSean McCoy likely because one was loud and the other brash — but both were high performers whose value to the team was highly respected by their colleagues.
  3. Be Likable: Did you notice the outpouring of support from Eagles players tweeting or speaking highly about Kelly in the aftermath of his firing? Us either. That’s after one division title and two winning seasons. People who are liked, and of course respected, get people to go the extra mile, stay longer and take work home with them. Yes, Steve Jobs was not a people person, but he was truly brilliant with a long track record of success, and had a partner who balanced out his personality.
  4. Make Backup Plans: Kelly believed so much in his plan that he never altered it. When a product isn’t selling — which the Eagles offense wasn’t — you need to make adjustments. Good leaders evaluate and have a fallback plan. It was never evident that Kelly had one.
  5. Share What You Think: Even Mr. No Personality, Colder than Ice New England football coach Bill Belichick, who hasn’t had a losing season in 14 years and has produced four Super Bowl champion teams, is known for getting player’s input on talent, plays and other team’s defenses. But Eagle players reportedly complained about Kelly’s lack of interest in their opinions on how to improve the team. As a leader you might not agree with your employees, but if you want them to work hard, you need to listen. In any line of work, people in the trenches can provide a valued perspective that people in the back or on the side can’t see.

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