April 27, 2016 | by Steve Lawrence

Whatever You Do, Don’t Quit

The Pittsburgh Steelers on team building and leadership

Lynn Swann grew up understanding that in football, as in life, “there is always someone bigger, stronger and faster.” But, the Hall of Fame wide receiver says, “My folks taught me that whatever you do, you don’t quit. You get knocked down, you get up and keep going.”

Four-time Super Bowl winner, unsuccessful candidate for Governor of Pennsylvania, and veteran sportscaster, Swann told the Carbon Conference audience, that the championship Steelers key to success was that “we were a totally collaborative team.”

He does not trot out a laundry list of keys to success. The totally engaging sports icon just tells his story, on the field and off, and manages to pack in some pretty good advice in the process.

The Steelers “always practiced the basics,” he said, “we worked on technique every day.” The coach, Chuck Knoll, “was never a ‘rah rah’ kind of guy. He did not give speeches to fire us up. His attitude was ‘you are a paid professional, so do your job’.”

But he also knew that “we all had to understand the capability of the team, so that each of us was able to see opportunity and take advantage of it. One time Terry [Bradshaw, the Hall of Fame quarterback] called a play we didn’t have in our playbook. But we all understood what we could do and we knew we could do it. I scored on that play.”

To be a totally collaborative team, “you have to listen. That’s how you build a team. That’s how you get to know your strengths and weaknesses. It is the only way you get to know who you are and who you aren’t.” Leadership lessons from a genuine champion.   

For more on leadership, see our professional development programs on leadership.

Train up potential future leaders through MSCI's executive education programs.