Vision. Plan. Clarity. Big picture. As Chargers fans, these are not words we’re accustomed to hearing associated with our favorite team. Let’s face it, the Spanos family has run their multi-billion dollar cash cow like a corner lemonade stand for most of the last three decades and we’ve suffered for it. Sure, they’ve stumbled and reeled their way into brief periods of success every so often like a drunk feeling his way through the dark, but those fleeting moments were almost always undone by dysfunction, ego and flat out incompetence. It was inevitable. It was – the Spanos way.
They’re suddenly competent and I’m not sure how to process it. I mean, I see it and I’m enjoying it, but I’m just not sure I believe it. They’ve enjoyed two excellent drafts in a row, every decision they make appears to be part of a larger plan, and they’re making difficult personnel decisions even if it means accepting extreme short-term financial pain for long term gain. It’s overwhelming, but it’s true – the Chargers are all grown up.
The question is; why are the Chargers suddenly operating like a well-oiled machine? The answer is simple, really; it’s new head coach Anthony Lynn. Let’s call it the Anthony Lynn Effect. What we’re seeing, arguably for the first time in ten years, is a living, breathing example of effective leadership.
I know, I know - I’m making some pretty grandiose statements in support of a head coach who has yet to coach a single game for the Chargers. Trust me, I get it. That’s why rather than just making vague proclamations about Anthony Lynn as a leader, I’m going to illustrate my point using five characteristics I think embody an effective leader - vision, communication, poise, presence, and humility.
Vision may sound clichéd but it’s about understanding how you’re going to create, modify, or change the culture and purpose of your company/team. The first step of having a vision is knowing or understanding where you want to go, but more than that it’s about understanding the numbers and your people well enough to know who you need to surround yourself with and what they need to do to get there.
If there is one thing I know about Anthony Lynn, it’s that the man has a vision. He has a firm grasp on how he wants to win, the types of players he needs to get there, and the roles they need to play; and it’s evident in every personnel move they make. The Chargers new head coach sees players for what they are, understands their strengths, and designs roles to accentuate those strengths. In other words, his global vision for the team is fueled by his individual visions for each player on the roster, and he doesn’t waste his time adding players for whom he doesn’t develop a plan while evaluating their tape.
Don’t believe me? Fair enough. Hear it from coach Lynn himself when asked about his plans for his rookie class during an interview on the team’s website on May 3:
“I envision (how a player will fit in) when I’m watching him on tape,” he explained. “As we watch a guy on tape, if we don’t start creating a vision for him, he’s probably not a good fit. When I was watching Mike (Williams) I was already seeing how I wanted to use him. If we can’t see it, we’re not going to draft him.”
And from his general manager, Tom Telesco, during a pre-draft interview for the team website:
“(From) what I’ve seen from the new coaches, they’ve been (number one) good evaluators, and number two, most importantly, they can really communicate to us what they’re looking for. That’s really important for any scout and any GM; that the coaches know exactly the traits that fit the scheme that they want to run and be able to explain that really easily to us.”
Communication may be the most critical trait of an effective leader because of how it bleeds into everything he does. One who can’t communicate can’t connect with his people, teach, articulate group and individual expectations, set goals or objectives, evaluate performance, explain the types of people he needs in the organization in order to succeed, or hold people accountable. Simply put, to lead is to communicate across many levels of the organization and with many types of people, and coaches who can’t communicate won’t succeed.
Outside of his vision, the thing I most appreciate about Anthony Lynn is the way he handles himself in front of the media. Whether it’s an interview with a national writer, an organized press conference or a Facebook Live interview after practice, he approaches every question as an opportunity to speak directly to his players. He gives direct answers to direct questions, each word measured and targeted while delivering clear messages to his players in the process – and I love it. But again, don’t take my word for it – hear it from Coach Lynn himself:
This might be the best example and it came while Coach Lynn explained what he looks for in young quarterbacks during an interview for the team website, but it’s pretty clear who he was talking to/about:
“Taking care of the football is number one. That is something that we are going to do a lot better this year. Accuracy and leadership at that position. Whether you like it or not, you are the leader of that offense.”
This was Coach Lynn’s response during a May 23 press conference when asked how open his kicker and punter spots were to competition:
“We ranked 32nd in special teams last year, so I’d say they’re very open for competition.”
Here is another quote from the same press conference, when he was asked about Mike Williams’ back tightness:
“I don’t know how it happened. Mike is young and a rookie and I told him I’d like to see him back on the field next week because he’s falling behind.”
Poise is all about being calm under pressure, trusting the information at hand and, when necessary, trusting one’s gut in the face of adversity. Good leaders don’t crumble when things don’t go exactly as planned and have the tenacity and courage to trust their process even when it may not appear to be working.
The best example of Coach Lynn’s poise took place during the draft. When the second round of the draft began, Forrest Lamp, whom the Chargers coveted and was considered by many the best lineman in the draft, was perched atop the Chargers draft board after slipping out of the first round. Coach Lynn wanted him desperately (had at least entertained trading back in the first for him), and spent much of thatFriday morning trying to find a way to trade for the first pick in the second round.
The team explored its options, analyzed its draft board, assessed what the teams ahead of them were looking for, and determined they could get Lamp without moving up. Even though the head coach loved Forrest Lamp, and even though they could have guaranteed themselves a shot at him by moving up, they trusted their process and waited for Forrest to come to them. This couldn’t have been an easy decision for a team with a gaping hole at right guard, but the poise and discipline exhibited in the approach they chose speaks volumes of just how prepared they were for the draft.
Presence is about expressing, of exhibiting, confidence and control through body language. It’s about giving the impression of being in complete control through the use of nonverbal cues like posture, eye contact, projecting one’s voice and an absence of nervous tics (like pinching the bridge of one’s nose, rubbing one’s head, or a lack of eye contact). All of these things suggest a person is comfortable in his own skin and is in control of his environment.
Everyone knows Anthony Lynn is in charge the second he enters a room, stands behind a podium, or looks into a camera. It starts with the way he trains his eyes on whoever is asking the question, but it’s really about his perfect posture, booming voice, and broad shoulders. He has the look of a man who is in complete control at all times, a man who is doing exactly what he’s supposed to be doing. It may seem like a small thing, but it isn’t.
This is best illustrated by comparing Lynn to his predecessor. Just picture a Mike McCoy press conference for a second (I’d ask for a more enduring mental image but I’m afraid you’ll nod off on me). McCoy cowers behind the podium, his visor askew, his right hand running through his hair in frustration. He’s visibly ill at ease, the media contingent knows it, and they’re ready to pounce as a result. He’s lost control before the first reporter asked his loaded question. Mike McCoy was never comfortable with his media duties and his body language exhibited a complete lack of presence.
Humility is a fairly simple concept – it suggests one has the ability to not only admit they’re fallible but to acknowledge and laugh at their mistakes. A leader’s humility plays a crucial role in his ability to connect with and relate to his people. Let’s face it; no one wants to work for someone who takes himself so seriously that he can’t admit when he’s wrong.
Humility was probably the first trait Anthony Lynn demonstrated upon agreeing to become the Chargers head coach. It seems like it happened ages ago, but you may remember his introductory press conference at the StubHub Center when he opened with this gem:
“Good afternoon. I am so proud to be the head coach of the San Diego ... uh, L.A. Chargers. Oops.”
It was funny and provided plenty of fodder for bitter fans and media members, but it was at least mildly embarrassing and could have derailed his moment had he not been able to laugh at himself. Instead, he laughed it off, showed he was comfortable with his own fallibility and pressed on. His untimely slip of the tongue actually wound up being a nice little ice breaker with fans and players considering the move was only days old at that point, and I’m sure his players appreciated the way he handled it.
With every passing day, I become more of an Anthony Lynn fan. Why? Because I believe he gets it. This is a man who, in my opinion, was born to lead. He has the all-important vision, which is critical, but he also is able to communicate that vision, exhibits uncanny poise, has an incredible presence about him, and even demonstrates some humility. He has handled the offseason brilliantly and, in my opinion, has the Los Angeles Chargers pointed in the right direction.
The question is, will the leadership we’ve seen throughout the offseason shine through when things inevitably crumble around him during the regular season? We'll have to wait and see.