Why the NFL Proves Managers Are Born NOT Made

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Written By DonaldMoon

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Before getting into the secret of successful recruiting, however, I want to respond to HR trainers, consultants, college professors, and coaches out there who may have concerns about my thesis that “real managers are born not made.” The logical extension of this statement is that training (or education) is not required for managerial development. On the contrary, I firmly believe training is crucial for developing people no matter their role or job description. I contend, however, that training delivers the best results when trainees possess the correct aptitudes for their particular work. If trainees have these innate abilities, they’ll naturally be more inclined to seek relevant training in order to become better. Plus, their desire to improve will make them more attentive and more engaged students in the classroom. What this means for trainers, consultants, professors, and coaches is that everyone is best served by having a classroom full of students who possess the aptitudes needed to be successful in their specific job or the job to which they aspire. Why? Because trainees who possess the innate abilities required for their job will be more engaged in the training process, more capable of grasping the curriculum, and more motivated to apply the knowledge gained in their work.

With that said, let’s turn our attention to a lesser-known, recruiting method I hinted at earlier. In fact, this personnel recruiting game-changer was discovered over 40 years ago by none other than the National Football League (NFL). But, before I reveal this secret, let’s learn some NFL history. The key to understanding the NFL’s longstanding success lies in the evolution of the NFL’s recruiting philosophy from the 1920s to the present day. Hence, our historical review begins in the 1920s when the league was initially formed. NFL stars of that era were Jim Thorpe, Red Grange, and Bronko Nagurski to name a few. Certainly these are familiar names to diehard football fans, but in those early years, there were also lesser known players such as 5 ft. 1 in., 119 lbs., blocking back, Jack “Soapy” Shapiro. Surprised? You may ask yourself, as I did, “How did a 5 ft. 1 in. running back make the roster in the NFL considering the uber-sized, gargantuans of the gridiron we see today?” NO WAY could Mr. Shapiro slip into a team’s roster in modern times due principally to his physical shortcomings. So, what happened to the league’s recruiting philosophy between the 1920s and now that significantly reduced the chances of athletes like Mr. Shapiro becoming players in the NFL? Answer: The introduction of the NFL Combine. The Combine was formed in the early 1970s to serve as a talent screening process for college athletes interested in playing in the NFL. By qualifying athletes via the Combine, based on their “natural born” aptitudes for playing football, the league consistently filled team rosters with ONLY “good to great” players. [1]

How did the NFL accomplished this recruiting magic? In the science of statistics, there are graphical representations of data called normal bell curves. As students of statistics know, the bell curve is used to represent the universe of probabilities of a given population being measured. Consider for a moment the population of NFL football recruiting prospects for the years 1920 and 2010 respectively. Now, visualize just beneath this NFL recruiting bell curve there are probability percentages of 68%, 95.5%, and 99.7%. These percentages tell us the statistical confidence level that an NFL prospect will score “weak” vs. “strong” (talent-wise) or somewhere in between. In 1920, the NFL experienced a normal curve distribution of talent. That is, in the 1920s there was an equal chance (about 50-50) that a pro football prospect would be classified as weak or strong talent. This makes perfect sense and explains why Soapy Shapiro was able to qualify for the NFL way back then in a role that competed against players like Jim Thorpe. Essentially, what the NFL recruiting process yielded then was an equal mix of weak, average, and strong player talent across the league. For this reason, the football talent in the NFL of the 1920s and 30s, on balance, was probably not much better than that of a top ranked, state high school, championship team today.

Let’s fast-forward to the NFL of 2010. Referring once again to the bell curve example, what you see for 2010 represents the extraordinary change in talent recruitment philosophy adopted by the NFL and implemented in the early 1970’s via its NFL Combine. As many of you know from your statistics courses, the far right or far left tail-end of the bell curve is where you find the “exceptional” members of a given population. In the 2010 NFL world, the far right positioning of the recruiting bell curve reflects the “best of the best” of recruiting prospects. So, what you see today is an NFL that, via the Combine process, learned the secret of how to recruit ONLY from a pool of the VERY BEST TALENT available in college sports. Moreover, due to the effectiveness of the Combine’s aptitude screening process, the NFL no longer was forced to accept under-sized or under-talented, Joe Lunchbucket walk-ons as they did in the league’s early years. Nothing against Mr. Shapiro or others like him who braved the professional gridiron with less than a full complement of physical tools. I have no doubt they were great players in their day. However, players like that are no longer considered viable by NFL personnel managers/recruiters today because the pool of qualified prospects is now restricted to just the aptitude-rich athletes (in the far right-end of the bell curve) – those with the football talent to pass the Combine’s regimen of physical and mental tests with flying colors. In effect, via the Combine, the NFL shrewdly figured out how to shrink its population of potential recruits from a huge number of available college athletes to a fraction of this number to include only the very best athletes suited to playing football in the NFL.

The NFL Combine concept is nothing short of recruiting genius! And, the proof is in the pudding of the NFL’s spectacular success. Just look at the NFL’s explosive growth over the past few decades: in fan base, audience ratings, game attendance, team merchandise sales, etc. NFL results are through the roof by almost every performance measure. Financial success is great, but where’s the proof of this recruiting method’s efficacy on the field of play? Just turn on your TV on any given Sunday and watch an NFL game. You’ll quickly acknowledge the very high-caliber of talent on both sides of the ball. Without doubt, every one of these players at every position is an exceptional athlete, and waiting on the sidelines, are their backups with more of the same high level of talent. This is why you barely notice any fall off in performance when a team’s first string player is replaced with a backup player. What does all of this mean? In the NFL, active players are superb athletes who are the product of their God-given aptitudes as proven by their high scores on a variety of skills, abilities, and agility tests conducted by the NFL Combine. The result: Only exceptional athletes with “natural born” talents for playing football are accepted into the NFL.

Okay then, how does the NFL Combine methodology prove that great managers are born not made? I provide the details in my book, Natural Born Manager. [1] However, I’ll give you the condensed version here. Superstars in the NFL are no different than superstars in any field of work including management. Why? If an organization like the NFL can successfully acquire outstanding player personnel by testing the innate talents (a/k/aaptitudes) of prospective players, the same can be done with managerial candidates or any other job candidate. The bottom line is that the NFL Combine is a highly successful recruitment model that others can emulate. How? Perhaps if I were as wealthy as all the NFL owners put together, I’d create a Combine-like testing process for every job on the planet for others to use. Unfortunately, I don’t have that kind of wealth, but I don’t need it because there’s a viable alternative. It’s a nationwide non-profit organization that provides scientific aptitude testing for a vast array of career types. This organization is the Johnson O’Connor Research Foundation (JOCRF). In fact, JOCRF has performed aptitude testing for almost 100 years helping hundreds of thousands of people find their ideal careers. Just as the NFL draws exceptional player talent from the right tail-end of the bell curve using its Combine process, CXOs, HR directors, and recruiters can use JOCRF to scientifically test prospective employees for the aptitudes required to excel as a new-hire be it butcher, baker, candlestick maker, or manager. [2]

Now that you know the NFL’s recruiting secret you can match its success by using JOCRF to identify and deploy HUGMs or simply to help you identify the best employees with the strongest aptitudes needed to produce the next generation of career SUPERSTARS.

Finally, let’s “connect the dots” of the key points presented in this article…

  • NFL players are born NOT made! This means NFL players are born with a unique mix of aptitudes that give them a competitive edge in the career of professional football.
  • These “natural born” athletes possess aptitudes that can be scientifically measured, and the NFL created its Combine to do just that, thereby identifying and hiring the best players for pro football.
  • The NFL’s unparalleled financial success is tied directly to its disciplined use of its Combine process to identify the best players through the scientific measurement of their athletic aptitudes for playing pro football.
  • The high quality of NFL player talent is proof that excellent employees can be identified (for any industry) by scientifically testing candidate aptitudes and matching these to specific job requirements.
  • Corporate and government entities can emulate the NFL’s success by scientifically testing candidate aptitudes and matching these to the requirements of open positions, including the job of manager and supervisor.
  • Organizational leaders and HR directors should engage JOCRF as their in-house Combine process in order to identify and hire the best talent for every job in their organization.
  • Organizational leaders and HR directors should initiate leadership transformation by qualifying managers via JOCRF’s aptitude testing to expedite the hiring of HUGMs to fill managerial and supervisory openings.
  • Organizational leaders and HR directors should routinely replace under-performing employees with exceptional employees by using JOCRF’s aptitude testing to identify candidate aptitudes that match specific job requirements.

[1] Natural Born Manager (Indianapolis, IN: Dog Ear Publishing, 2009), pgs. 4, 14, 18, 90, 95, 97-8.

[2] For more information on human engineering science and to learn what scientific aptitude testing has done to improve the careers of people just like you, visit the Johnson O’Connor Research Foundation homepage.