This NFL Team is Adapting Its Leadership to Engage Millennials

Generational gaps are not nearly as evident in any other industry as they are in professional sports; particularly, in across the National Football League. This is an industry in which, every year, the dynamics of each team changes as eager millennials join the ranks. These teams already have established ways doing things, and now those ways tested.

When San Francisco 49ers head coach, Jim Tomsula, was asked about his position on social media, he responded. “I don’t like it at all. I don’t know anything about it. I don’t do it. I don’t use it.” Leadership of millennials? Fail!

The 49ers average an age of 25.2 years old, so it didn’t take long for Tomsula to change his stance on social media. About a month after his initial statement was made, he began to understand how critical social media would be to the success of his team, as well as his leadership of the rookie millennials.

A recent article, The NFL Team That Is Solving Millennials, recently ran in the Wall Street Journal. It described the various things the San Francisco 49ers are doing differently when it comes to the leadership of millennials.

  • Reverse Mentoring:  Tomsula sets aside time to learn the new apps and latest technology his players use in weekly meetings.
  • Shorter Meetings:  Meetings last 30 minutes instead of 2 hours. They focus more on visuals and interacting.
  • Going Digital:  They no longer print schedules. Now, the players receive digital reminders on their mobile devices

Some 49ers fans and staff are a bit skeptical of the changes being made. They’re thinking, “Why should we cater to millennials?”

Nobody wants to be coddled, and leaders shouldn’t cater to millennials. However, it is 2015 and business should reflect that fact. The world is not going to revert to a time when technology was scarce. It’s here to stay. Technology and the Internet have changed our lives forever, and they will continue to change. Millennials were simply caught in the crossfire and became the blamed for such changes.

In a related blog post, Tim Elmore provides a different point of view. In contrast to Coach Tomsula’s millennials approach, Elmore states that one should “coach as a missionary.” He suggests becoming a pioneer, leaving the comfort zone to study and learn about different cultures. First, study and learn the values of the culture. Then, it’ll be easier to relate to those people and share a message.

Coaches aren’t the only ones who have to make adjustments. I, recently, had the extreme pleasure of hearing five-time NFL MVP, Peyton Manning, give a keynote presentation at a conference. He spoke about an ongoing need to “adapt his leadership to the next generation [of players]” by keeping his expectations, perspectives, and vocabulary fresh. Manning uses the missionary approach; learning first, and then earning the trust and leadership of the millennials.

World renowned leadership expert and author, John C. Maxwell, taught something similar on stage. He spoke about posterity and legacy, explaining that leaders have to pass the baton. Moreover, leaders must pass the baton at “full speed.” They should not be on the sidelines, out of touch with today’s technology. They should be in a full sprint, completely aware of these exponential times in which we live, work, and play.

Coach Tomsula is pushing his leadership to new gears. He knows that millennials (along with the entire 49ers team) can only go to the next level if he achieves higher speeds.

Are you ready to change gears?

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