What it takes to be #1; Vince Lombardi: notes

Vince Lombardi is one of the greatest football coaches in the history of the professional game.  In 10 seasons as a head coach in the National Football League–9 with the Green Bay packers and 1 with the Washington Redskins, Lombardi compiled a truly amazing record: 105 wins, 35 losses, and 6 ties.

His Packers played in six World Championship games and won five, including the first two Super Bowls. His post season record with nine victories and a single defeat is unrivaled in the history of professional football.

So how did Vince Lombard become number 1.  Without a doubt he is the epitome of DOMINANCE.  His record alone is amazing.

Vince Lombard, Jr. Wrote the book: What it takes to be #1, Vince Lombardi on leadership.  In this book the author gives us his fathers playbook.  This book summary/notes has a lot of depth to it.  This book was just that amazing.  I will try to capture the essence in my summary.

Vince Lombardi never talked about Luck with his players, he only talked about preparation.

Rule #1:  Know yourself.  You can’t improve on something you don’t understand.

Rule #2:  Build your character. Character is not inherited; it is something that can be and needs to be, built and disciplined.

Rule #3: Earn your stripes.  Leaders earn the right to lead. How?  They manifest character and integrity, and they get results.

  • No leader, however great, can long continue unless they win battles.  The battle decides all.

Rule #4: Think Big picture.  The Big Picture is your road map and rudder. It can’t change in response to minor setbacks.  But it must change as the competitive environment changes.

Rule #5: Leaders are made not born.  Leadership grows out of self-knowledge, character and integrity, competence, and a comprehensive vision.  When these building blocks are in place, the leader can lead.

I just outlined the basis of this book.  You now have the playbook of the great Vince Lombardi.  If you care to continue reading these notes, you will now see my notes for each of the chapters for this book.  Also, each of the chapters have something called Lombardi’s rules, these rules are the summary of what the chapter discussed.

Self Knowledge: The first step to Leadership

  • We comprehend the world not as it is, but as we are.
  • Define your values, who you are, and your core principles that never change.  All winning teams have this, but it begins with you defining that for yourself.  As a person, leader, and a teammate.
  • In business, it is incumbent upon each of us to figure out our own plays.
  • If you are not reflecting, you are not thinking.
  • Adversity is the first path to truth. Prosperity is a great teacher, adversity is greater.

Why is purpose so important?

  • It allows us to connect deeply with the spirit of life that dwells within each of us,
  • It allows us to express our unique gifts and talents, and
  • It allows us to feel that our lives matter.
  • Link goals to purpose.

Lombardi’s rules: 

  • Leadership begins with self-knowledge.
  • Self knowledge comes (only) from self discovery
  • You can’t build a team that’s different from yourself. 
  • Find your own tools
  • Link goals to purpose
  • Ask yourself tough questions
  • Know your spark
  • See of you see daylight between purpose and career. 

Character and integrity 

  • Character is founded on unchanging principles.  It is your underlying core.
  • Commitments are more important than self-interest.
  • No self-interest is worth your reputation.


  • Watch your beliefs; they become thoughts
  • Watch your thoughts; they become words.
  • Watch your words; they become actions.
  • Watch your actions; they become habits.
  • Watch your habits; they become character.
  • Your character is your legacy. 

Leaders must be both analytical and skeptical.  Ask questions.

  • Have humility.  Humility is defined as the quality of being unpretending.
  • Healthy ego:  Ego is belief in yourself.  Ego is pride that pushes you to accept nothing less than your personal best.

Lombardi’s rules: 

  • Write your character
  • Find the truth and your purpose
  • Act; don’t react
  • Study the past; live in the present
  • Have faith
  • Be proud and humble
  • Search out and story prejudice
  • Cultivate compassion

Developing winning habits

  • If you don’t think you are a winner, you don’t belong here.
  • The desire for the reward overwhelms the human instinct to quit and compromise, to take the safe route.
  • You can’t be courageous without fear.  Not the kind of fear that debilitates you, but the corporate pressures that motivates you.  Without that kind of stress, you’re probably doing mediocre work.


  • If you can’t get emotional about what you believe in your heart, you’re in the wrong business.
  • Theres nothing personal about any of this. Any criticism I make of anyone, I make only because he’s a ballplayer not living up to his potential. Vince Lombardi.
  • Passion and enthusiasm are the seeds of achievement.


  • I think you’ve got to pay a price for anything thats worthwhile, and success is paying the price. You’ve got to pay the price to win, you’ve got to pay the price to stay on top, and you’ve got to pay the price to get there.
  • Character takes sacrifice: the giving up of one thing for the sale of another.

Total commitment:

  • Id rather have a guy with 50% ability and 100% desire, because the guy with 100% desire is going to play every day, so you can make a system to fit what he can do.
  • Demand total commitment. From yourself first and then the others around you.
  • The only way I know how to coach the game is all the way.


  • Discipline helps you make the hard decisions.  It helps you endure the pain associated with change.

Lombardi’s rules:

  • Own your habits
  • Use your courage
  • Embrace your passion
  • Be prepared to sacrifice
  • Demand total commitment
  • Weed out the uncommitted
  • Work at it
  • Be disciplined on and off the field
  • Be mentally tough

Inspiring others to greatness:

Be authentic

  • Building trust is done through patient investment and long association.
  • The trustworthy leader tells people what to expect, with a bare minimum of sugarcoating.

Insist on excellence:

  • The word excellence come forms latin words that mean “to rise out of”. So excellence is the state of superior performance rising out of and original state of potential.
  • Chase perfection and settle for excellence.

Lombardi’s Rules

  • Be authentic
  • Earn trust through investment
  • Use your mission
  • Create a shared vision
  • Align your values
  • Know your stuff
  • Generate confidence
  • Chase Perfection
  • Live what you teach
  • Strike the balance

Building the winning organization

  • One must not hesitate to innovate and change with the times and the varying formations.  The leader who stands still is not progressing and they will not remain a leader for long.
  • Good leaders provide their people with what they lack including training, information, confidence, and discipline.
  • Common goals create drive and energy
  • Motivation comes from the gap between the way things are and the way an individual or team wants them to be.
  • Simplicity and flexibility are two core elements to success.  Keep it simple so everyone understands it, but flexible enough so you can make changes when necessary.

Lombardi’s rules:

  • Pick the right organization
  • Demand autonomy
  • Respect authority
  • Delegate the second tier stuff
  • Check your hat
  • Be brilliant, but don’t be stubborn about it
  • Import
  • Build skills
  • Let’em see you sweat
  • Build team spirit
  • Innovate without complicating

Motivating the team to extraordinary performance

  • People are motivated by things that promise to give their lives purpose and meaning.
  • Lou Holtz said it best:  Motivation is simple: You eliminate those who aren’t motivated.  People motivate themselves.
  • When two teams meet that are equal in ability and execution, it’s the team that has pride that wins.
  • You cant coach without criticizing, and its essential to understand how to criticize each man individually.
  • You need to create momentum through short rearm wins that give credibility and staying power to your vision. People must periodically see that their efforts are producing results.
  • Changes take time. They do not take place overnight.
  • Leaders enjoy a diversity of opinions.

Lombardi’s rules:

  • Offer people meaning
  • Keep enormous pressure on
  • Motivate the group
  • Counter expectations
  • Motivate the individual
  • Win respect, affection may follow
  • Motivate by inches
  • Go where the wisdom is. 

Vince Lombardi on winning: I’m here because we win.  You’re here because we win. When we lose we’re gone. 

  • Some of us will do our jobs well and some will not, but we will all be judged on one thing; the results.
  • Leaders get paid for one thing and that is results, not for being right.
  • If you are right all of the time, you are not taking enough risks.
  • Winning isn’t everything, its the only thing.  Lombardi is well known for this saying.  He also says that the “will to want to win” is one of the most important things.
  • In business you are either first or last.
  • Make your competitors react to you, be on the offensive and not defensive.
  • Even ugly inches count for movement.

Lombardi’s rules on winning

  • Run to win
  • Beware of the power of quotability 
  • Winning is the only thing–but only in context
  • Try to win them all, but play by the rules
  • Be a good winner
  • Block and Tackle
  • Play to jump on opportunity
  • Play for elegance, but take any win you can get. 
  • Play on tradition
  • Understand the dangers of winning

Epilogue:  Al the man there “is”.  You don’t do what is right once in a while, but all of the time.

  • Lombardi demanded one thing above all else, that was personal responsibility.
  • Three pronged approach to accountability: Tell people exactly what you expect of them. Giving players all of the tools to do the job.  Get out of their way and let them do it.

Lombardi’s rules

  • Embrace paradox
  • No excuses
  • Build accountability
  • Treasure your legacy

For many years Lombardi Jr. watched his dad do some amazing things as a leader and coach.  He captures his fathers leadership playbook in a well defined and easy to read format in this book. I challenge all readers, especially leaders and aspiring leaders to read the book or at least read these notes.

To your success and your future.





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