Bill Walsh and the Art of Elimination

Walsh never second-guessed his process of developing the criteria because he had conviction in his road map. 

The secret to finding talent lies in elimination. If you don’t know what you’re looking for, how can you find anything? 

At least that’s what Bill Walsh thought. Walsh, the Hall-of-Fame former San Francisco 49ers head coach, loved the NFL draft but didn’t love the process most teams used to assemble their draft boards. Walsh was never interested in hearing about the lack of talent or quality in the draft and hated when scouts badmouthed players. He was only interested in asking a simple question: Does the player fit for our scheme and culture? 

Walsh believed passionately in scouting inside out, not outside in. He had specific criteria established for every position, on and off the field, so he eliminated those who didn’t qualify when he searched for talent. Walsh was secure in his beliefs that if someone eliminated became successful, he would either admit an error in the elimination process, seeking to correct the mistake, or was content to know the player simply wasn’t a fit. He never second-guessed his process of developing the criteria because he had conviction in his road map. 

“If you don’t know where you are going, any road will take you there,” he would often say.

Walsh defined his road with confidence, understanding and a plan to develop the talent when it arrived. You don’t have to run an NFL draft or be a head coach to define the criteria required for each employee of the company. As the leader, you must set the standards, plan the path and decide what road you will ultimately take. You have been trusted to lead the organization; why would you delegate how you wanted to build it? Each person selected is a reflection of your vision. Walsh didn’t want the scouts to determine the road; he wanted the scouts to find those who fit the criteria. Walsh knew what he wanted, so he made sure he trained those around him to search for those qualities in the available talent pool. 

Walsh knew he was the leader, which meant he knew he was charged with always doing the right thing. He knew the scouts were managers, charged with doing things right. Giving those who helped search for talent a road map was the right thing. 

Ever wonder why some teams have more success in the draft than others? It’s simple really. The ones that succeed know what they are looking for. The others are just taking any road.