During the run up to the Super Bowl showdown between the San Francisco 49ers and the Kansas City Chiefs, I saw a segment with Hall of Fame, 49er quarterback, Steve Young. His topic was the genius of Bill Walsh, architect of the West Coast offense, Hall of Famer and Steve’s head coach with the Niners.
His revolutionary concepts and offensive philosophy were the initial source of his genius. He diverged from the ground-and-pound, running game that had dominated the NFL from its inception in favor of a vertical passing game. Not only was the offense unique, but Walsh also had a particular eye for details, process and operations that set his organization apart. Those San Francisco teams won a lot of championships and forever changed the game.
The sudden, shocking death of Kobe Bryant, his daughter and seven other people cast a pall over the same week — from the Grammys to the Super Bowl and beyond. Hearts were heavy, and I believe a lot of minds were focused on the legendary, basketball artist who made his mark just down the coast in Los Angeles.
His athletic gifts were unmistakable, but one theme that emerged over and over was his relentless, work ethic. He branded it the Mamba Mentality. The cultural impact of Kobe on popular culture around the globe is truly astonishing to me, but it’s the Lakers connection with an LA-based band that comes to mind for the purposes of this article.
As a music lover and guitarist of a certain age, the Red Hot Chili Peppers are one of my favorite bands. I don’t think it’s possible to wear out a CD by endlessly playing it on repeat. If it were, I would have worn out Blood Sugar Sex Magic. This Hall of Fame band published an ode to their beloved Lakers with “Magic Johnson” off Mother’s Milk. If they were slightly younger, maybe the song would have been dedicated to Kobe. One of the big radio and MTV hits from Blood Sugar Sex Magic was “Give it Away,” and that is precisely what Coach Walsh and Kobe Bryant did. They packaged their expertise and gave it away.
Walsh took meticulous notes, recording video and audio of his teaching sessions, and he effectively gave away his philosophy to a coaching tree in the NFL that is unrivaled in its success. In fact, this year’s winning Super Bowl coach, Andy Reid, is part of that tree. Steve Young noted that Walsh would freely share his knowledge with his assistant coaches while preparing them to take their own head coaching jobs one day. He wished each assistant good luck with their new teams with the caveat that he wanted to compete against them in the conference championship game or Super Bowl, whichever came first.
In his 2013 article, “Book of coach,” Seth Wickersham details the making of what is widely considered the sacred text of the West Coast guru, called “Finding The Winning Edge.” Similarly, Kobe’s basketball and personal ethos were packaged for consumption. The “Mamba Mentality” was about process as well as the game, and it has achieved reverential status beyond the game of basketball.
What does this have to do with thought leadership? Everything.
We can build our own brands and thought leadership by sharing our experience and knowledge. Yes, we can give it away either for free or profit, but the idea is the same. Pass it on. What Walsh and Bryant achieved in their respective sports earned them Hall of Fame status. What they passed along cemented their legacies beyond the relatively short window of their processional careers. What will you pass on?