Hearing from Coach Mike Tomlin

On leadership, turning points, being competitive

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Throughout the 2010 NFL season, Coach Mike Tomlin will provide his insight and observations to Steelers.com on a variety of topics pertaining to the team and the National Football League.

Q. As it pertains to sports, what is leadership?

A. Leadership is giving those who follow what they need to excel. It's a lot of things. And it has to be, particularly when you're talking about team sports because group components are very complex and have many layers. I think a leader is someone who has a definitive plan but at the same time is light on his feet, with a serve-it mentality. By serve-it mentality what I mean is simply providing to those whom they lead what they need to be successful in whatever the endeavor is.

Q. Beyond what a leader does, what qualities are inherent in someone who is a leader?

A. I've seen it manifest itself in many different personality types. I think the one thing that's always been something that stood out to me is they all are extremely comfortable in their shoes and have a great deal of belief in their plan. An unwavering belief. There are a lot of things you face in sport that cause you to question, to question your plan, to question yourself, to question things. And the dynamic leaders are the ones who were unwavering in their commitment and belief in their plan, and they stick to their personality, whatever their personality is. It can be charismatic leadership, it can be quiet leadership. They can lead through fear, they can lead through motivation and encouragement. Whatever it is, they generally stay in their lane, and they're generally very comfortable in doing so.

Q. In team sports, there is leadership from the coaching level, but there also are leaders among the players. Comparing it to the military, leaders among players could be compared to the master sergeants. Are they any different as leaders?

A. To me, they are no different. People who lead, the sergeants to use your word, they have to take the overall message and redeliver it in their own words, but it has to be the same. Those types of quality intermediate leadership guys are usually very good at doing so. Very good at being themselves and not being a parrot, but delivering the same overall message and approach, but doing it with their own persona.

Q. How does a leader emerge?

A. I just think they are who they are. Sometimes, it's dictated by circumstance, but that's not usually long-lasting. The ones who are long-lasting and generally successful, it's part of their makeup and DNA.

Q. Within the team, how does someone become accepted as a leader?

A. I think it starts simply with being accountable and committed. The day to day actions over a long period of time show that, and ultimately that's backed up and taken over the top by production. A legitimate leader has to be an accountable guy, has to be a detail guy, and ultimately he has to produce.

Q. Is there one leader on a team, or is that a fluid situation?

A. I think it's fluid, and it depends on the people involved. Some people are extreme personality types, and they emerge and separate themselves from others. And it's natural. In those situations, there is one and that one is easily identified. In other situations, you might have multiple people of like characteristics, and that can produce multiple leaders. Or maybe you don't have anyone who is particularly that strong or a standout, and you have a lot of guys who have some traits, you can have group leadership. It really depends on the situation and the circumstance, from team-to-team and sport-to-sport.

Q. Do you believe in turning points for a team, or in defining moments of a season?

A. In hindsight, there always are things you can point to, but there are many crossroads that teams go through. So much so, you can go back and pick and choose to paint whatever kind of story you want. Every week, particularly in football, you're at a potential crossroads and what happens inside stadiums could be a potential turning point for a team within a football season.

Q. People on the outside might choose to identify a turning point as having come after a loss. Is that accurate?

A. You're capable of that, or also capable of identifying those after a win. Again, the key component to that is hindsight. Show me a person who's capable of identifying crossroads before they happen and I'm interested in what they have to say. Every time you step inside stadiums you're writing your story, and each chapter – particularly at this time of year – is a significant one, When you look back at it when it's done, you'll be able to point to any one of these moments as significant.

Q. A team's performance is either good enough to win or it's not. But within those two categories, are there times when one losing performance is worse than another?

A. Certainly.

Q. What would make it worse?

A. Not being competent. Not being competitive. That's just simply what it is. It doesn't change the act that you didn't get the job done, because when you step in stadiums your intent is to win. But there are varying degrees of success and varying degrees of failure.

Q. Where do you put the loss to the Patriots?

A. It was miserable.

Q. Was that a failure to be competitive?

A. We got beat soundly, and in all phases. When that happens, it is not fun. If you're in this business long enough, we've all experienced it in some form or fashion. It's not something you're excited about happening again any time soon.

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