The Lombardi Rules

UPDATED: January 21, 2011
PUBLISHED: January 21, 2011

1: Ask yourself tough questions.

The Lombardi code is founded on the belief that you can only become a leader after developing your character. Doing so requires self-knowledge. So, get to know yourself. You can't improve upon something you don't understand. Examine your career, your habits, your strengths and your weaknesses. What is your purpose in life?

2: Look the truth straight on.

Goals built on half-truths are almost certain to fail when push comes to shove. So, don't try to fake it. People have an unerring nose for dishonesty, fraud and pretense. Vince Lombardi once said, "The successman man is himself. To be successful, you've got to be honest with yourself."

3: Play to your strengths.

The trick is to find your own strengths, and to play to those strengths. As you start to answer those questions that lead to self-knowledge, certain strengths and weaknesses in your own character will become evident. (This is not a bad thing. Strong people tend to have strong weaknesses; as long as you're aware of them, they don't have to work to your disadvantage.)

4: Write your character.

Learn from hardship. It is at the most difficult times that we become most open to profound learning. Sometimes when we realize we don't have all the answers, we begin to ask the right questions.

"Improvements in moral character are our own responsibility. Bad habits are eliminated not by others, but by ourselves." –Lombardi

5: Think big picture.

Don't be swayed by minor setbacks. Don't confuse minor shifts with sea-changes. A bump in the road can–and should–be navigated without making major route changes.

6: Be completely committed.

Talent only gets you so far. A person with 100 perfect ability and 50 perfect commitment  can throw a wrench into the whole system through inattention, inconsistency and laziness.

7: Work harder than everybody else.

Don’t just work harder than the next guy. Work harder than everybody else.

"The harder you work, the harder it is to surrender." –Lombardi

8: Be prepared to sacrifice.

Lombardi often talked approvingly about the "Spartan" qualities of football. "When I speak of Spartanism, I'm speaking not so much of leaving the weak to die, but the Spartan quality of sacrifice and self-denial," Lombardi said. Pain and the fear of pain is no excuse to avoid sacrifice, he told his players. Its that sacrifice that equips you to hang in there against all odds. Sacrifice leads to success.

9: Respect legitimate authority.

“If you’re going to exercise authority, you’ve got to respect it.” –Lombardi

10: Chase perfection.

“If you settle for nothing less than your best, you will be amazed at what you can accomplish in your life.” –Lombardi

11: Be mentally tough.

Lombardi believed mental toughness was one of the most important leadership skills. In the Lombardi code, mental toughness is the ability to hold on to one's goals in the face of pressure and stress. It's the glue that holds a team together when the heat is on.

12: Balance humility and pride.

"Simplicity is a form of humility, and simplicity is a sign of true greatness. Meekness is a sign of humility, and meekness is a sign of true strength."  –Lombardi

13: Lead with integrity.

One reason Lombardi was able to extract an extraordinary effort from his players was that they understood he was making an even greater effort. He was leading with integrity, demonstrating the same commitment he demanded from his players.

14: Build team spirit.

15: Explain why.

16: Strike the balance.

17: Build confidence.

18: Use your mission.

19: Know your stuff.

20: Demand autonomy.

21: Act; don’t react.

22: Keep it simple.

23: Tailor your motivation.

24: Motivate by degrees.

25: Focus on fundamentals.

26: Run to win.

Read how Vince Lombardi's ability to motivate people to achieve greatness transcended football in the January 2011 feature in SUCCESS magazine.

Journalist, podcaster and southpaw Shelby Skrhak is the former director of digital content and social media for Before joining SUCCESSmagazine, Shelby launched the weekly suburban newspaper Plano Insider, and covered topics ranging from cops and courts to transportation and fashion. Her handwriting should be a font.