An Authetic Leader in America’s Game

When one thinks about the National Football League many things come to mind, high paid athletes and coaches, die-hard fans, huge stadiums, game time rituals, Steelers verse Ravens(die hard Steelers fan!), the list goes on. When looking deeper at the profession, being a current leadership student, classroom teacher, and football coach, I could not pass up the opportunity to write a blog post analyzing authentic leadership through the game I have loved since I was a young child. Throughout my journey of understanding leadership, I have always been intrigued by head coaches of all sports. In particular, NFL head coaches further stimulate my intrigue because as the title of the blog post suggest, they lead in a demanding cutthroat profession. Now this is not to discredit other professions and leaders, this is just an attempt to look at authentic leadership in a profession that is highly publicized with limited job security if the leaders (head coaches) do not produce wins. In the cutthroat profession of the NFL, if you do not produce wins, fill the stadium with crazed fans, your tenure as a head coach in the NFL will be short lived. Additionally, with the demand of the profession and the importance placed on winning, how does one go about leading an entire organization in an authentic way, when everyone is “dispensable?” Dispensable in the sense that the NFL is a production based industry and if you are not producing you will and can be replaced.   According to Bill George in his work True North: Discover your Authentic Leadership, George explains Authentic Leadership, as “what is most important to you, your most cherished values, your passions and motivations, the sources of satisfaction in your life.”(George,2007) Using this definition and the perceived notion of the NFL, I would like to briefly examine one of my favorite head coaches of all time, Mr. Tony Dungy and how his particular leadership style was in fact authentic.

Arguably one of the most popular and overall best men of the NFL, Coach Dungy served as the head coach of both the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Indianapolis Colts. Many remember Coach Dungy hoisting the Lombardy Trophy in 2007 as his Colts, with fan favorite Quarterback Peyton Manning after defeating the Chicago Bears. The Super Bowl win in 2007 and the joy shared by Coach Dungy and the entire Colts organization was a validation of the Coach Dungy’s unique but authentic leadership style. Coach Dungy has been long known as a “players coach” someone has “Quiet Strength,” which is the title of his 2007 book that outlines the principles, practices, and priorities of a winning life. His 2007 work is a phenomenal read and was a #1 New York Times Bestseller. Throughout his work, Coach Dungy outlines his experiences that have molded him into the man, mentor, father, and coach that he has become known to be. Coach Dungy epitomizes the definition as outlined in George’s work of how one discovers their True North and their authentic leadership style.

Coach Dungy credits the development of his leadership style to the strong lessons learned growing up in Jackson Michigan, with his parents and his three siblings. Growing up a Dungy, as defined by one of the chapters in his 2007 work outlines the key foundational lessons learned in the Dungy household that allowed Coach Dungy and his siblings to “figure things out for themselves and to explore and grow.”(Dungy, 2007) Throughout this chapter of the work and other examples, the lessons that he learned from his family during his childhood helped to create the values, leadership principles and ethical boundaries that George mention in his work as the basis for our True North and our authentic leadership style. Coach Dungy in his 2007 work provides many examples of how his childhood helped to develop him as a leader and lead in an authentic way that allowed him to be true to himself. For example, Coach Dungy’s mother was a high school English and public speaking teacher who he describes as a caring educator who always looked to get the best out of all of her students, but in particular the students who were not achieving their highest potential. The lessons he learned from his mother’s example were evident in his coaching career with marquee players such as Peyton Manning, Derek Brooks, Reggie Wayne, the list goes on. Coach Dungy also credits his father for his development as a coach, mentor, and leader. For example his father also was an educator and often told Coach Dungy “a good teacher is one who helps everybody earn an A and that you can’t just teach the A students.”(Dungy, 2007)  Mr.Dungy instilled in Coach Dungy the foundation of understanding that students or in his instance players are all different and learn in different ways so he must communicate in ways that make sense for each individual player. Throughout his time as a head coach, Coach Dungy looked to hire coaches that held the same values of teaching and communicating that he learned from his parents.

Discovering your “True North” as George explains it, takes leaders throughout a journey where they reflect on their past experiences, their childhood, the examples both good and bad of leaders in their life that they admire, and how leaders look to stay true to themselves and lead authentically. Coach Dungy was able to establish a great foundation for authentic leadership that allowed him to accomplish many goals, impact many lives, and lead based on his moral compass and stay true to himself. In a cutthroat profession where no head coach is alike, Coach Dungy’s unique style allowed him to remain authentic in his leadership which not only allowed him to be successful but all of those who were fortunate to be a-part of his journey.


Dungy, Tony. 2007. Quiet Strength: The Principles, Practice, & Priorities of a Winning Life. Illinois: Tyndall House Publishers, INC.

George, B., & Sims, P. (2007). True north: Discover your authentic leadership. San Francisco, Calif: Jossey-Bass/John Wiley & Sons.

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