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Opinion: 'The Winning Game Plan:' what I learned from the Houston Texans origin story

Timothy G. Nash

When Emmy-award-winning broadcaster Jim Nantz and super sports agent Leigh Steinberg write an endorsement of your book, people take notice. "The Winning Game Plan: A Proven Leadership Playbook for Continuous Business Success" by Jamey Rootes not only has Nantz and Steinberg’s endorsement, but those of many other luminaries in the sports and business worlds.

What warms your heart about Rootes’ first attempt at writing a tome is his dedication and affection for his longtime friend and boss, Robert C. McNair. The book is dedicated to McNair with the simple, yet heartfelt phrase: “To my hero, Bob McNair. I will never forget the tremendous blessing he was, and continues to be, to me and my family.” 

Robert McNair, right, felt a job gave a person a sense of pride and worth, a sense of dignity, and a sense of belonging, Nash writes.

Recently I listened to an interview between McNair and myself from 2015, which in a holistic way might best describe McNair and the reason he hired Rootes. McNair came from humble beginnings. He was a product of and greatly believed in America's competitive, free enterprise system, the cornerstone of which is job creation.

During our interview with Michigan radio personality Frank Beckmann, he stated “the greatest gift one human being can give another is a job.” McNair felt a job gave a person a sense of pride and worth, a sense of dignity, and a sense of belonging. He believed it afforded people the opportunity to get married and start a family, to become part of communities, to pay taxes, to purchase homes and automobiles, to help establish Little Leagues, to support charities and, perhaps someday, to take a risk, start a business and create jobs for others.

To McNair, this was the foundation of the United States and the basis for the American Dream. He believed at its core that any successful business and job creation hinged on satisfaction of the customer, especially in today’s highly competitive and complex economy where constant invention and innovation drives productivity, change, job creation and progress at all levels.

McNair believed one of the best jobs he ever created was when he hired soccer executive Rootes to lead his newly minted Houston-based NFL franchise in January 2000, more than two years before the Texans began play in 2002. In hiring Rootes, McNair was not hiring industry experience; he was hiring leadership skills, ethics and vision.

Rootes outlines how the Texans moved from a mere dream in 1999 to winning their division six times since 2011. 

The 151-page book is packed with numerous examples and leadership gems outlining how Rootes, the McNair family and the Texans’ organization achieved operational success while developing a true loyalty with their fans and the city of Houston. I found two of the most powerful takeaways from the book to be Rootes’ 4D’s on leadership and his clear and powerful delineation between the roles of a leader and a manager and the questions they grapple with daily.

In his 4D’s on leadership, Rootes gives the reader insight into how to:

► Lead Up — how to work better with who you directly report to as a leader for your benefit and that of your direct reports;

► Lead Down — how a clear, decisive and well-executed plan plays a major role in the success of an organization;

► Lead Out — how others outside of your organization perceive and respect that you will play a vital role in their perception of the organization you represent, and their desire to do business with it;

► Lead Across — how to be an effective collaborator and a great teammate across all areas of your organization.

Rootes describes that what is most important to any organization is determining those who will be the best at managing and those who have the attributes to lead. He also makes clear that a good leader within an organization is constantly focused on who will be performing what jobs, how they will accomplish necessary goals, and why are they allocating resources as they do.

Rootes believes it is essential for all successful organizations to define the differences between the role of a manager and a leader. He also says it is vital to determine those who — with proper nurturing and guidance — can ascend from management to leadership. 

The book is a must-read for any person who wants to work for a high-powered, successful organization, or for the reader who would like to develop and lead one. 

Timothy G. Nash holds the McNair Endowed Chair in Economics and directs the McNair Center for the Advancement of Free Enterprise and Entrepreneurship at Northwood University.