Leadership lessons from Jimmy Garoppolo – A conversation with Aroop Zutshi

I was visiting our corporate headquarters in Santa Clara for a senior leadership meeting in early November.  My boss and friend of over two decades, Aroop Zutshi, treated me to a game of American Football. The loyal fan that he is, (a season ticket holder), he was trying to induct me as another 49er fan. This is what fans do. They enhance their community membership!!!

The game was a disaster for 49ers and we left even before it was over. The 49ers had a terrible record this season.  The record stood at ten losses and just one win.  But fans never give up on their teams.  Aroop was still as excited about his team and also got me a team jersey.  I had officially been baptized into the 49er fraternity.

Something amazing has happened since.  The 49ers have won five consecutive games.  While I would like to think it was all due to me (their latest fan),the credit goes to the amazing debut that Jimmy Garoppolo has had as the new quarterback for the team.

For those unacquainted with American Football, it’s a big team sport.  There are 50 people in a team with separate teams for offense and defense.  Jimmy Garoppolo was the only one change in the team of 50 individuals that the 49ers had made since I had seen the game in the first week of November.  That single change has made all the difference.

Granted, the quarterback is a very crucial player; but how can one individual make all this amazing difference. Commentators and pundits are all praise for this incredible success story.  I caught up with Aroop to understand what is so different about Jimmy’s leadership style and what lessons there are for us in business.  Aroop’s key observations are as follows.

  • Jimmy has long been undergoing training under one of the best coaches of American football (Bill Belichick) and one of the best quarterback’s Tom Brady. He has been around some very successful people and he has learnt from the best.
  • He has a unique skill level that he brings as a great value to the team. He has an extremely fast release, makes decisions very quickly and sticks to his game plan.
  • He is a great coach and inspirational leader to the rest of the team. If you observe him on the field you will find him very engaged with the team. You never see bad body language from him, even though a team mate may have failed to execute the plan. He makes his team feel like superstars.
  • He was in a great frame of mind to make the success happen.  Even though, 49ers were on a losing spree, Jimmy himself came from a winning team.  He had won two games earlier in the season, when he had played for the New England Patriots. He had a winning mindset.
  • He was able to reinstate the players confidence in their abilities and skill. Jimmy had managed to inspire the team to perform at the highest level independent of whether the season was on or not.

The challenges in the real business world today are no different. The onslaught of disruptive technologies and new business models has put many a business on the backfoot.  Every company needs a Jimmy Garoppolo to bring back the habit of winning. We think there is a Jimmy Garoppolo in each of us.  We just need to bring it out.  And this is possible through discipline of action, engagement with the team and most importantly honing the new skills to win in this digital age.  Tell us about the Jimmy Garoppolo’s you have come across in business in recent times.  Let us also know of other leadership lessons you have learnt from his style.

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