At the beginning of every NFL season the reset button is hit for the 32 franchises, and each team restarts, sporting a 0-0 record and invigorated with the hopes of winning a world championship. While some franchises are striving to reverse recent misfortunes, others are fighting to keep their foothold at the top of the heap. We recently had the opportunity to talk with Charles Way, Director of Player Development for the New York Giants, about a number of topics, but when asked about turnarounds, his response was succinct and focused on values and delivery.
Charles Way was drafted in the sixth round of the 1995 NFL draft by the New York Giants. A University of Virginia graduate, Way earned a degree in civil engineering and a reputation as a classy hard worker. A driven and passionate player, Way saw his ups and downs playing for the Giants from 1995 to 1999, and was eventually sidelined by career ending knee issues. During his time as a player, Way was part of some struggling teams, and one division championship. After he finished up as a player, he traded in his pads for the intriguing role of supporting players off the field. As the Director of Player Development for the Giants, Way considers his role to be something like a consultant, objectively observing and offering insight when asked or needed. He’s officially a liaison between players and coaches, but says to the players, “All I’m here to do is be your mirror.” He wants to see the team and its parts succeed, and to do so he’s honest and forthright with what’s working and what isn’t.
When asked about turnarounds, Way points to Coach Coughlin, the Giants head coach who has achieved success at the highest level in part because of his willingness to listen and adapt. Way says, “Coach Coughlin is a prime example of someone who stood by his core values, never waivered in his core values, but changed his delivery.” In any hierarchy, leaders can seem aloof and stern. They make the rules, enforce the rules, and sometimes make decisions that aren’t favored by the larger team. If the delivery is distant and uncompromising, followers may not buy in and in extreme cases, even rebel. As the head coach of the NY Giants, Coughlin is subject to the same level of scrutiny as any other leader, but when he was stumbling with his delivery, he embraced change.
Best captured in a wonderful ESPN piece, the story of Coughlin’s recent efforts to make changes was fueled by Way. In a conversation Way had with Coughlin as far back as 2006, Coughlin was not always aware of his need to convey himself in an inviting manner. Way spoke candidly with Coughlin about his delivery and how it impacted players, suggesting that he had to do more to show the players that he cared. As Way told us, “He cares, but the reason he has rules is to provide structure.” This message was once lost on the players, and rather than embracing Coughlin’s structure as a symbol of his compassion, they questioned it as an unnecessary and unwelcome symbol of control. However, with time Coughlin changed his ways, spent more time with the players, showed himself as a regular person rather than a figurehead, and insured that the players knew he cared. Through his efforts his rules became a part of the larger plan, which was to win. In winning last year’s Super Bowl, Coughlin proved that his personal turnaround had come full circle. He embraced Way’s insights, and worked to make himself more accessible to the players while proving that he genuinely cared. Once the players saw Coughlin as caring, they bought in, played for him, won for him, and brought home a championship.
Charles Way works an interesting job. Every day he watches people perform at the highest level of their profession, and considers how and if he can help them get better. He shares his insights strategically, knowing that the professionals around him have excelled without him. But every now and then someone will hear him, and make changes in the name of becoming better. Sometimes turnarounds start with individual actions, but to be effective all turnarounds need a foundation of truth. For the Giants, Way is the truth. An objective mirror, Way is there to reinforce strong values, but ensure that delivery and execution are up to par with World Championship standards.