Could Seahawks’ Coach Pete Carroll Be An Emergent Leader?

Kathleen O'BrienWhen I got an email yesterday from an EMERGE Alumni suggesting (with a giggle) that Pete Carroll, the victorious Seahawks coach, might be an emergent leader, I didn’t laugh it off. I’d read an article Jerry Brewer wrote for the January 31st Seattle Times on the subject of Carroll’s leadership style and insisted my husband read it, along with all the other pre-game stats. I found it intriguing.

Reading Brewer’s article (and then some other internet blurbs) I didn’t come away thinking Carroll was an emergent leader per se. The model we use for the EMERGE Leadership Project requires an explicit commitment to being a force for social change in the world (beyond one’s personal and/or organizational success) and I don’t know that about Carroll.

First, I need to confess that I am the least likely to be writing about a football coach; my leadership considerations for the last 30 plus years have been focused on one thing only – creating a sustainable built environment.

However, some things did catch my eye. The fact that Carroll gives people who others have dismissed a second chance. Brewer claims this “ability and willingness to get the best out of people who others would dismiss as too much trouble…is the secret ingredient to the Seahawks’ success.” Says Brewer in his article: “(Carroll) looks for the best in people. He considers all challenges an opportunity to do something extraordinary. So he can interact with people on the margins — in terms of character or even talent — and cull greatness.” When I read this, I thought of the centerpiece of the leadership component of our EMERGE Leadership Model — Servant Leadership. As those familiar with servant leadership know, the “The best test (of leadership)…is: do those served grow as persons, do they grow while being served, become healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous, more likely themselves to become servants?” It does seem like Carroll looks for talent, but asks for personal growth and in the end — performance. And he certainly got it at the Superbowl this past Sunday.

And, apparently the example of Carroll’s leadership style has now filtered into local activism. Brewer’s article reports how a former gangbanger uses the coach’s philosophy for his youth outreach efforts.

Another thing that caught my eye in post-game reviews is both the emphasis on team performance over individual stars, as well as the use of special teams within the team to accomplish their win. Okay, Carroll clearly gets the bounty of collaborative process and has somehow convinced these BIG guys of the same. Collaboration is the foundational piece of the Community component of the EMERGE Leadership Model.

So from this very distant vantage point, Carroll does seem to exemplify some significant aspects of the emergent leadership approach. And you do have to like the results. Go Hawks!