Dan Rooney

The Art of Leadership, Pittsburgh Steelers style


On Thursday this week, I was lucky enough to be invited to an event in Derry where the great Dan Rooney was talking about leadership.  Dan Rooney is Chairman of the Pittsburgh Steelers (his father Art Rooney founded the team in 1933) and current US Ambassador to Ireland.  Last time I ran into him was in the White House in March – he was standing next to me.  Anyway – this is what he had to say.

He started by remarking on how much he likes the Hewlett Packard story – which endeared him to me straight away.  One of my favourite bits of the Jim Collins book, Good to Great, is the description of Level 5 leadership as demonstrated by Dave Packard & I just love the fact that his eulogy pamphlet described the great man as “Rancher, etc”.

As you would expect from someone with a lifelong immersion in competitive sports, Dan uses sports analogy to make all his points.  He talked about the 3 levels of leadership in his own sports world as being:

1.       The President as leader – the president’s role is similar to that of any business CEO.  They are responsible for setting the scene, making sure everyone’s doing their job, actually getting the players…I can relate to that.  I see recruitment as one of the most important things I do as a small business MD.  Dan himself was President of the Steelers from 1975 until 2002 & it’s clear from the way he talks about the role that it was something he enjoyed very much.

2.       The Head Coach as leader – the coach is responsible for all player related issues and for making sure the team is ready & able to play at their best on a Sunday.  The coach deals with any people issues and keeps everyone focused on winning.  The Steelers had only 3 coaches in 30 years.  Their legendary head coach, Chuck Noll, was there for 23 years (1969 to 1991)and 4 Superbowl wins, more than any other head coach in NFL history.  Impressive.  Noll is known for his meticulous attention to detail which included going back to basics with new players to the extent that he would re-train them in basic fundamentals that they would already be familiar with.

3.       The Player as leader – this one is interesting as it’s less obvious than the other two.  Dan Rooney cited the example of the intelligent player in the locker room that knows what’s going on & is willing to do what it takes.  He used the example of Steelers stalwart, (Mean) Joe Greene – leader and anchor of the “Steel Curtain” and one of the most dominant defensive players in the NFL during the 1970s.  A player with an intense desire to win, no matter what that would take, and who would rally everyone else on the team.

Dan Rooney left us with a great quote about leadership – “when things are good, always be at the back; when things are bad, always be in the front” – a variation on Jim Collins observation about the window & the mirror I believe.  Eloquent & to the point – rather like Ambassador Rooney himself.

Growing old can still be a lot of fun


The photo above is one of our neighbours here at the Ocotillo Lodge in Palm Springs, Ed Rooney.  Yep – Ed’s part of our Irish diaspora & when he isn’t sunning himself over the winter in Palm Springs he lives up in Portland, Oregon – which as everyone knows is more like Ireland than Ireland itself – even the weather is the same.  Ed visited Ireland a year or two ago with his son, Ted Rooney.  Ted’s an actor (isn’t everyone in southern California?) who’s been hampered throughout his acting career by simply being too tall – all the romantic leads are automatically snapped up by short men because all of the Hollywood starlets are tiny.

Ed is exactly how I hope I’ll be when I’m in my mid 80s and he’s a shining example of how a person can still have a lot of fun, even when they’re getting a bit older.  He’s independent, keeps himself active, he’s out & about every day, has loads of friends and he’s always got plenty of stories to tell which I love to listen to.  I snapped the pic yesterday just before Ed was going for a swim.  He’d just been telling me about how his brother Art used to try & pass himself off as THE Art Rooney when they were young, growing up in Pittsburgh.  I’d been telling him about how I was next to Art’s famous son, Dan Rooney, in the White House last month on St Patrick’s night – Ed wasn’t too impressed by the whole White House thing but he was impressed that I’d met Dan Rooney.

I wonder to myself why it is that Ed’s the way he is – so positive and so cheerful.  Is the answer as straightforward as having been born with a sunny disposition or is there something more that we can do to as we get older to make sure we maintain a positive outlook.  Ed has a computer & keeps up to date with what’s happening in the world.  He uses skype to keep in touch with his family & many grandchildren.  He was a schoolteacher & reads more than most people I seem to meet these days.  So is that his secret?  Remaining plugged in & up to date with current affairs?  Look forward to your thoughts on this subject.

There’s a big outcry in the US at the moment re the price of petrol – it’s $4.50 a gallon in Palm Springs (it must surely be 3 x as much as that in the UK).  Everyone’s baying for blood on this – especially as the oil companies’ (massive & obscene) profits were announced this morning.  Ed’s talking about trading in his big saloon car for a Mini Cooper – someone’s told him they’re perfectly comfortable for guys 6’3” & taller – I’m only sorry to be leaving Tuesday & missing out on going out for a spin in it.  I hear someone in the desert is selling Mini Coopers that have been “Kiss” customised – gonna see if I can persuade Ed to get one of those before I leave…