The Essentials of Solid Leadership – The Lombardi Model

What it takes to be #1 - Vince Lombardi on Leadership

This article is inspired by Vince Lombardi Jr’s book:  What it takes to be #1 – Vince Lombardi on Leadership.

Vince Lombardi is known as one, if not the greatest coaches in American Football history, who never suffered a losing session in his NFL experience. Not only was he a legendary football coach, he was also famous for his leadership expertise. Primarily because: “He is a demanding fundamentalist, intolerant of those who fail to meet their own potential. But he is also a tireless teacher who respects the intellect and spares no effort to make a depressed Starr into the great quarterback is,” as described by Earl “Red” Blaik, head coach at West Point who taught Lombardi much of what he knew about coaching football.

I read the book What it takes to be #1 – Vince Lombardi on Leadership last year as I was looking for ways to soar as an entrepreneur and it marked a turning point in my life as it helped me shape my purpose. The author of the book is the legendary Coach’s son Vince Lombardi. Jr.

Here are the essentials of great leadership according to Vince Lombardi:

Rule #1: Know yourself. “You can’t improve on something you don’t understand

Isn’t it remarkable that Lombardi’s leadership model begins with self-knowledge? You know why? Because success fundamentally begins and ends with us. “Self-knowledge is important because it is the source of informed and creative action. When we know ourselves, we know where to work on ourselves.”

Self-knowledge is important because we bring our attitudes, perceptions, prejudices and opinions to our work, communications, relationships, and interactions with others. We see life, people, and events through the lens of our experiences and personal thoughts. We comprehend the world not as it is, but as we are. A person who knows themselves understands their strengths, gifts and talents; they are aware of their character and weaknesses as well. And so they know how to engage in their work in order to operate at their highest potential, bringing others in to help as needed.

Purpose can’t be defined as what you do; it’s who and what you are.

The books teaches that you can only know yourself through self-discovery. This requires asking yourself questions like: What am I about? Where is my faith? Where is my spark? What is my life worth? The answers to these questions lead us to a better understanding of the values and principles that are important to us and also the existing strengths we need to build on. These are the roots of maturity and hallmarks of our identity that are tied to our purpose.

When faced with a crisis, a leader must draw from resources within himself to meet the challenge, this is tough to do if you don’t know your inner strengths.

Rule #2: Build your character

Character is derived from ancient words which mean “engraved” and “inscribed”. Character then is inscribed in us, it’s who we are. Everyone has a character, but not all of us are of character. Character is founded on unchanging principles. It is your underlying core. It is unspoken power, it is solid and resolute, and it doesn’t blink. Character is learned from the people around us, our heroes and our role models.

The book teaches that you can build your character by: 

  • examining heroes, how you can be like them and also why you’d like to be different from them;
  • by seeking the truth – never tell people what you don’t believe in, because they’ll know the truth, and you will know the truth and they will know you are deceiving them. Leaders must always be in search of the truth;
  • by finding and keeping the faith – human beings are spiritual in nature and we yearn for that which is universal, unchanging and inclusive. It is important to find that connection. Look for ways to develop in faith;
  • by practicing humility – humility is a quality of being un-pretending, it is giving credit where credit is due. It’s as simple as “if you did it, take credit. If you had help, recognize those who helped you,” explains the author. Humility embodies truth and reinforces character. You can be both proud and humble;
  • and by showing respect and compassion for others – the process of building character begins within, but must be eventually brought to the world. Great leaders value others. The author writes, “Everybody can like somebody’s strengths and their good looks. But can you like somebody’s weaknesses? Can you accept him for his inabilities? That’s what love is. It’s not just the good things.”

Rule #3: Earn your stripes.

“No leader, however great, can long continue unless he wins battles. The battle decides all.”

You must earn the right to lead by winning. Leaders manifest character and integrity, and they get results. This explains why great leaders are results-oriented.

Rule #4: Think big picture.

The big picture is your road map and rudder. It can’t change in response to minor setbacks. But it must change as the competitive environment changes.” Through their personal example of enormous energy and unflagging commitment, effective leaders move individuals and organizations. They are able to inspire people to go the extra mile, and to give more into the work or cause than they thought they were ever capable of giving. Demand total commitment first from yourself and then from others.

Rule #5: Leaders are made, not born.

“Leadership grows out of self-knowledge, character and integrity, competence, and a comprehensive vision. When these building blocks are in place, the leader can lead.”

Vince Lombardi sums up his leadership model in these words: “All of you possess leadership ability. But leadership rests not only on outstanding ability. It also rests on commitment, loyalty and pride. It rests on followers who are ready to accept guidance. Leadership is the ability to direct people and – more important – to have those people accept that direction.

Leadership really should be a strengthening experience; inspirational and motivational. Everyone of us can be great at what we do, if we understand and practice these fundamentals. Be your #1.

You can purchase a copy from Amazon: What It Takes To Be #1, by Vince Lombardi, Jr.


  1. Amazing! This is all that I thought it would be. Leadership and success in business and life require a degree of intensity that is calculated and planned. It doesn’t just happen! Thanks for another masterpiece!

  2. U are most welcome, Sis Nicky. It does, after reading this book was when I began to really work on developing my strengths … one of which was writing. The Rising Star was conceived after reading this book. Glad u enjoyed it.

  3. “”Build your character””….
    I reckon it is impossible to creat any progressive community cohesion without the right attitude.It is very difficult to have the directing or principal part in a course if we don’t have the right attitude/disposition and manner.we might succeed as individuals but to really lead others i reckon we always need to have the right attitude in place.Thanks for those brilliant underlining points that you made(under “build your character”).
    Excellent write-up.It was really educative reading.

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