Career Lessons from the Youngest NFL Head Coach

One of the younger teams in the NFL, led by the youngest-ever NFL head coach, will take on a team led by the winningest active head coach and a quarterback who has been to the Super Bowl nine times in 18 years. Regardless of who you root for on Sunday, the rise of Sean McVay, the LA Rams head coach, is undeniable and something to take note of.

Here are four lessons from McVay’s rise to help you in your career:

You have to start somewhere.

McVay started his NFL career as an entry-level gofer. Yes, his family has history in the NFL, but they didn’t get him his first job and they weren’t the reason he eventually got promoted to assistant coach and then to head coach. That was hard work.

Ask yourself where you ultimately want to be in your career and figure out what you need to do to get there. Don’t try to figure it out on your own, either. Ask your manager for guidance or learn from those in the role right now. What did they do to advance their careers?  If you really want something, you have to work for it. There are no shortcuts. The notion that you start in the mailroom and work your way up still applies and it is executed by those who are eager and want it.

Be curious.

Mike Shanahan of the Washington Redskins said McVay asked “questions at a young age that most people wouldn’t ask…he wanted to know the whys behind everything.” Other articles talk about his meticulous attention to detail and knowledge of every aspect of the game, and his desire to constantly learn more.

I always say one of the top things I look for in a candidate during an interview is their sense of curiosity. You don’t grow and get to the top by being stagnant. Those who succeed don’t settle with what they already know. They’re hungry to learn more. To dive deeper. To know how and why things connect. And why others don’t. To understand how to connect people and learn more not only about others but to learn more from others.

Fun is important.

The Rams have an outgoing, young team and McVay embraces that. His players talk about how he knows when to get down to business and when to have fun. They embrace social media and show off their goofy side, making them a fun team to root for while also building their own unique team culture. McVay is managing people, not players. He’s building camaraderie and cohesiveness.

Work should be fun and people should be themselves at work. McVay gets it. Most people spend more time at work than they do elsewhere, so why not enjoy it. Take your work seriously, but not yourself.

Don’t be the smartest one in the room.

From McVay’s texts with his opponent, Belichick, dissecting plays and games to his hiring Wade Phillips, a veteran defensive coordinator and previous Super Bowl winner, it’s clear McVay wants to learn from the best around him. There’s no ego or need for him to prove that he’s the best or smartest person in the room. At 33 and with the success he’s had, he could easily get swept away in his ego, but he hasn’t. And that’s what makes him so good.

Staying humble throughout your career is crucial. Regardless of where you are in your career, you can always learn from those around you. Understanding that there is always room for growth and knowing that there’s always someone who knows more to learn from.

Regardless of the outcome on Sunday, there’s a lot to be learned from Sean McVay’s rise to the top that you can learn from and apply to your career.

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