Tony Dungy's 'Uncommon' Path to Excellence

What you do is not as important as how you do it. Those are the words that keep coming back to me when I am tempted to choose what is expedient over what is right. People who bend the rules to get ahead usually get caught in the long run. But even if they don't get caught, they will always know how they made it to the top. And at some deep-down level, they'll know that they're frauds and that maybe they didn't have what it took to accomplish such achievements on a level playing field. The other problem is that, at some point, somebody who does care how the game is played—a boss, a board of directors— may well find out. For me as an employer, how you do your job has always been more important than what you do. Can you be counted on to do things the right way? Do you have the appropriate habits to get you through a tough situation, or are you the type to cut corners and hope things turn out all right? Your character will determine the answer. When I was growing up, my folks were very clear about the importance of character. "Your word is your bond," my mom would say constantly. The thought that someone might think of her as unreliable or untrustworthy was the worst thing possible. That's how she taught us to choose our friends—not by where they lived or what their parents did for a living. She wanted us to have friends we could trust.

Today, I have friends of all ages, races, and economic backgrounds. But my closest friends are people of high character— and I don't hang around with people I can't trust. My mom believed that a person's character reveals what he or she really believes about life. It it important to be honest? Is it important to obey your parents all the time, or just important not to get caught disobeying? Is there a God who really rewards good character, or is it okay to do whatever it takes to win? That motherly guidance has impacted me professionally as well. Because of the premium my mom put on character, I look for it in the people I work with. My style in creating a coaching staff is to hire talented coaches and teachers and let them do their jobs. This means that I have to have people I can trust implicitly, because I'm not going to spend my time checking on them. I don't want coaches or players who are not going to represent us well, either on or off the field.

Character begins with the little things in life. I must show that I can be trusted with each and every thing, no matter how trivial it may seem. By the time I was a teenager, my dad let me stay out pretty late playing basketball with my friends. It didn't happen right away—I couldn't be out at midnight when I was thirteen. But gradually, my parents gave me a little more freedom—and usually with someone they knew would keep an eye on me. By the time I was sixteen or seventeen, they knew that if I said I was playing ball with my buddies in East Lansing or Ann Arbor, that's exactly what I was doing and I wasn't involved in anything that could get me in trouble. They had watched me grow and had given me enough opportunities to test my character that, by then, they knew they could trust me.

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