The Power of Playing Offense is a book that teaches you how to become a better leader by adopting a people-first approach that elevates purpose, performance, and impact. Written by Paul Epstein, a former sports executive and consultant, this book draws on his experience and insights from working with some of the most successful teams and organizations in the world.
Whether you are a seasoned leader or an aspiring one, this book will show you how to transform yourself and your team from paycheck driven to purpose driven, from adversity to achievement, and from success to significance.
A Leader’s Playbook for Personal and Team Transformation
If you want to learn how to play offense in your personal and professional life, and create a lasting legacy of leadership, then you need to read this book. In this review, I will share with you the main themes, strengths, and weaknesses of this book, and why I think it is a must-read for anyone who wants to level up their leadership game.
Leadership, Business, Self-help, Sports, Nonfiction, Motivational, Inspirational, Personal Development, Professional Development, Transformational
The Power of Playing Offense is a book that presents a leadership framework based on five pillars: Live with Championship Purpose, Be the Storm Chaser, Salute the Long Snapper, Embody Gold Jacket Culture, and Leave It Better Than You Found It.
Each pillar represents a key principle or practice that can help you develop a clear vision, overcome challenges, recognize and empower others, build a culture of excellence, and make a positive difference in the world.
The book is divided into three parts: Part One introduces the concept of playing offense and the importance of purpose, Part Two explains the five pillars in detail with examples and exercises, and Part Three provides a roadmap for implementing the framework and measuring your progress.
The book is also filled with stories, anecdotes, and lessons from Epstein’s career in sports and business, as well as from other influential leaders and experts.
I enjoyed reading this book and found it to be very informative, engaging, and inspiring. The author has a conversational and humorous tone that makes the book easy to read and relate to. He also uses a lot of metaphors and analogies from sports to illustrate his points and make them memorable.
I liked how he shared his personal and professional journey and how he transformed his own leadership style and mindset. I also appreciated the practical and actionable advice he gave throughout the book, as well as the tools and resources he provided on his website.
The book is not only a guide for leaders, but also a playbook for anyone who wants to improve their life and career. Some of the strengths of this book are:
- It offers a fresh and innovative perspective on leadership that is relevant for the current and future challenges we face.
- It emphasizes the role of purpose as the foundation and driver of everything we do, and shows how to discover and align our purpose with our actions and goals.
- It challenges us to embrace uncertainty and change, and to seek opportunities for growth and learning in every situation.
- It teaches us how to appreciate and leverage the talents and contributions of others, and how to create a culture of trust, collaboration, and excellence.
- It inspires us to think beyond ourselves and our immediate results, and to consider the impact and legacy we leave behind.
Some of the weaknesses of this book are:
- It sometimes repeats the same ideas or examples in different chapters, which can make the book seem redundant or long-winded.
- It sometimes uses too many acronyms or jargon that may not be familiar or clear to all readers, such as KSTAR, WOOP, or Gold Jacket Culture.
- It sometimes relies too much on anecdotal evidence or personal opinions, which may not be backed by scientific research or data.
Overall, I think this book is a valuable and worthwhile read for anyone who wants to learn how to play offense in their personal and professional life, and to become a more effective and influential leader. I would recommend this book to anyone who is interested in leadership, business, sports, or self-improvement. I would rate this book 4.5 stars out of 5.
Paul Epstein’s enthusiasm leaps off the pages of this thoughtful guide to sharpening your leadership capabilities and maximizing your team’s potential. The author, echoing contemporary workplace philosophy, urges managers to foster a values-based environment and a people-first approach. Attracting and retaining talent requires organizations to provide purpose and meaning, as well as a paycheck. Employees need to know they matter. They need you to acknowledge and appreciate their contributions. Epstein spent years working for professional sports teams before forming his own company, and he offers a rare understanding of the emotions of motivation.
- After 15 years as a sports executive, Paul Epstein turned his focus from play to purpose.
- Define your values to discover your purpose.
- When facing adversity, you can succumb or overcome it.
- Aggressive competitive approaches yield the best results.
- Leadership requires building trusting relationships.
- Experience is a great teacher, but success comes from best practices.
After 15 years as a sports executive, Paul Epstein turned his focus from play to purpose.
Paul Epstein loved his job as head of sales and business development for the San Francisco 49ers football team. Working for a National Football League team was exciting and prestigious – a dream come true for a lifelong sports fanatic.
But Epstein had higher aspirations. He decided to strengthen and expand his professional leadership expertise by entering the University of Michigan’s Executive MBA program. When his executive coach asked him what he’d loved most about his former job, Epstein cited the gratification he’d gained from helping people maximize their potential.
“I still remember my former boss in the NFL league office saying the easiest thing to do is stay on the treadmill you’re on.”
Pressed further, though, Epstein admitted that the bulk of his responsibilities with the 49ers had little to do with motivating and inspiring others. He once hoped to ascend through the organization one step at a time, yet he surprised himself by discovering that the idea of changing the course of his career intrigued and energized him. He had invested 15 years in the sports industry and considered the 49ers an ideal employer. But now his mind turned to the concept of “running toward versus what I could be leaving behind.” As he became more excited about the possibilities, he understood that change was inevitable.
Define your values to discover your purpose.
Epstein’s path in life first changed in 2016 with the insight and self-realization he gained from the 49ers’ two-day executive leadership retreat. He identified a significant misalignment between his sense of purpose and his daily routine with the NFL team. Before he left the 49ers and founded Purpose Labs in January 2020, Epstein established the 49ers Academy to help employees achieve a better understanding of their personal “why.” This matters because research shows that purpose-driven professionals find increased satisfaction in their work, and their organizations reap greater profitability.
Establishing your purpose requires examining the values that resonate with you. Some people prioritize kindness, courage and perseverance. Others focus on teamwork, growth and fairness. The list of values is inexhaustible; there are no right or wrong answers. Only you can determine which values define your purpose. When you do, strive to manifest and live those values every day.
“This rare experience taught me that our internal values and character have the opportunity to shine brightest in the most trying times.”
Epstein witnessed the 49ers’ commitment to principle firsthand the day after former quarterback Colin Kaepernick took a knee during the pre-game playing of the national anthem as a form of protest. Voicemails and emails expressing outrage at Kaepernick’s protest inundated the team. But instead of focusing on PR damage control, 49er executives explained at a staff meeting the next morning that the team supported the rights of all employees to express their views. That approach demonstrated to Epstein and his colleagues the importance of adhering to foundational values and principles – regardless of how others might react.
When you face adversity, you can succumb or overcome it.
Adversity is unavoidable. Sometimes it causes immense pain, sometimes mild discomfort. Adversity may linger or pass quickly, but whatever the duration, it’s never permanent. What matters is how you decide to deal with challenging events. Adversity presents priceless learning experiences. When you face a personal or professional setback, look for the lesson. In retrospect, ask yourself how adversity has helped you move forward and acknowledge the positive events that happened since – or even because of – your setback.
“Show me a storm that you come out of, and I’ll show you an opportunity to achieve things you didn’t think were possible.”
Only you can determine your perspective. You can see the stumbling blocks and hardships of adversity and decide they are impossible to overcome. Or you can recognize hope and opportunity and realize that overcoming the obstacles before you is worth the effort.
The 2020 COVID pandemic brought the world face-to-face with sudden adversity. Many people stepped up during the crisis to help those who needed it most.The pandemic created widespread fear, anxiousness and instability. It threatened people’s sense of security. COVID-19 posed an unprecedented health risk, and the feelings it triggered evoked reactions everyone has experienced during troubling times – fear, uncertainty, panic and hopelessness.
As you face a crisis, examine previous crises you negotiated – the death of a loved one, unemployment or a serious medical condition. Most people have undergone challenging transition points when they felt “things would never be the same.” Consider how you handled trouble in the past to understand that you have worked through adversity before and emerged on the other side – wiser and better prepared for the next storm.
Aggressive competitive approaches yield the best results.
You can’t afford to take a conservative approach in the highly competitive business environment of limited resources and talent and rapidly changing expectations and conditions. Playing defense means you’re focused on surviving instead of thriving. Playing defense means you’re being reactive, not proactive.
A couple of months after Paul Epstein launched Purpose Labs, the pandemic hit, wiping out his new company’s plans for the year. He had learned from his sales experience not to fret over prospective business he never had in the first place. To continue “playing offense,” Epstein circled back to his “why?” He re-invented his business with the goal of affecting, “one million lives by 2030,” and he used his pandemic downtime to write this book.
“Adaptability and agility became the name of the game. I detached from what I had built and treated my life and business as a rebirth.”
Recognize what you can and can’t control. For example, you can control your attitude, work ethic and behavior, but you have no control over the market, the weather or how other people act or feel. However, your sphere of influence may be greater than you suspect – particularly in a group setting in which members discuss their challenges and frustrations. Sharing information and outlooks often lessens anxiety and demonstrates the group’s potential for shaping processes and outcomes. The mental leap from “can’t control” to “influence” is often empowering.
Leadership requires building trusting relationships.
One measure of solid leaders is how they treat their people during turbulent times. Leaders are responsible for their teams’ safety and welfare, particularly when the going gets rough. Leaders who approach challenges with patience, understanding and honesty make an indelible positive impression on their people and earn their loyalty.
“There are leaders…I would follow to the end of the Earth based on how they treated me and looked after me during a storm.”
Trusting relationships are the foundation of leadership and all functioning partnerships. Leaders must be able to count on their people – and vice versa. Trust is achievable only through consistent, reliable behavior and action. You can’t demand trust.You can’t make someone trust you; you can only behave in a way that allows people to develop a belief regarding whether they trust you.Trust consists of the following elements:
- “Compassion” – Listen to others and appreciate their circumstances. Support your people and advocate for them. Pay attention to them and prioritize their well-being.
- “Character” – Practice honesty and follow through on your promises. Demonstrate the values you believe in and represent. Be generous with your compliments; give people a pat on the back.
- “Competence” – Do your job to the best of your ability. Strive for excellence. Show ambition and help others succeed.
- “Consistency” – Dependability, consistency and predictability are paramount. Support your core corporate values and try to make fair decisions.
Effective leaders acknowledge the contributions of every employee, not just the superstar salespeople or office do-it-alls. According to a 2019 Gallup poll, 65% of American workers are “disengaged,” so their organizations’ profit and productivity are suffering. To promote and sustain engagement, make sure all your employees know they matter.
“The next time you look around your office, remember that every seat has a story. Will you get to know it?”
To learn more about each of the team’s 250 employees, the San Francisco 49ers decided to videotape individuals who wanted to share their unique 49er stories. Other team-building initiatives followed, and soon the 49ers earned recognition as a leading place to work in California’s Bay Area.
Experience is a great teacher, but success comes from best practices.
Your experiences have undoubtedly sharpened your leadership skills, but they’re not sufficient. You also need a formal game plan you can follow to maximize your abilities and your employees’ engagement, satisfaction and potential.
“Your people are your greatest gifts and recruiting tools.”
The “People360 Blueprint” outlines some organizational best practices that can help you support your employees:
- “Recruitment and onboarding” – Your company’s talented people will determine its success. To attract top people, distinguish yourself from your competitors. For example, instead of publishing an ordinary job posting, tell candidates why your company exists, what values it represents, who your customers are and what your ultimate purpose is. Prospective employees who identify with your mission and message will find ample motivation to join you beyond earning a paycheck. Offer print and electronic media outlets to enable your employees to tell their unique stories.
- “Training and people development” – After you bring engaged, enthusiastic employees on board, give them the best possible training. Employees who feel cared for as individuals and as members of your workforce will be more likely to stay with your company. Institute a monthly development and learning program. Have experts from within and outside your organization discuss such topics as creating strong teams, having a positive attitude, being resilient and cultivating emotional intelligence.
- “Engagement and community building” – Engaged employees don’t need incentives to feel inspired. Responsibility and purpose motivate them. They believe their work matters. Statistics indicate that disaffected employees “who have quit without actually quitting” cost $550 billion annually in lost productivity. Vibrant, interactive workplaces encourage engagement, communication and collaboration among employees, teams, departments and divisions.
- “Evaluation and career growth” – Nearly 50% of employees don’t know if their companies offer growth opportunities. Many of your employees will earn promotions because they gain crucial experience and perform their jobs exceptionally well, but before promoting anyone, evaluate their ability to get along with others as a prerequisite for advancement. Employee assessments should reflect the person’s willingness to embrace corporate values.
Studies indicate that more than 75% percent of employees work harder when their bosses show appreciation for their efforts. Managers must recognize and compliment employees for their behavior and explain the positive impact they are having. Rewards and recognition matter.
“Until we find our reason for being … we will live in a world that feels scarce instead of abundant.”
Messages such as, “Because of you, we were so well-prepared for the client meeting that they signed on the spot,” share the company’s success and reward the employee’s dedication.
About the Author
Paul Epstein is founder of Purpose Labs and a former professional sports executive in the NFL and NBA.