Michael Gervais, the Seahawks’ high-performance psychologist, had just finished a long, passionate explanation of how the program Seahawks coach Pete Carroll has put together can, in a “loving, compassionate, empathetic way,’’ help people realize their full potential.
Carroll, who was also participating in the Zoom call, chimed in with a slight chuckle.
“We just want to do that so we can kick ass,’’ he said. “This is the way we think we can do it best.”
By now, Carroll’s relationship-based approach to team building has become his calling card. He partnered with Gervais about 10 years ago to help crystallize the science behind it, and now the two are putting their philosophy out in an Audible Original entitled, “Compete to Create: An Approach to Living and Leading Authentically.” It will be released July 9 exclusively on Audible.
While Gervais says that Carroll embraces the self-actualization theories of Abraham Maslow (whom the coach studied for his Masters Degree), the humanism of Carl Rogers, and the self-efficacy teachings of Albert Bandura, his motivation is more visceral than scientific.
As Carroll alluded, he believes that by enabling players — and coaches, and staff — to achieve fulfillment, they will be more productive in helping the entire Seahawks organization “kick ass.”
“Call us crazy,’’ Carroll said, “but we really believed if you cherish the people in your organization and saw them as the unique, extraordinary individuals they are, with all of the special things they offer your environment, and you celebrated that, everything about your business, everything about your environment, everything about your club, your team, is going to be better.
“It’s really a simple thought, but you do it by loving and caring for the people you already have around you. And if you wholly do that … everything about your environment is going to improve. You’re going to have more fun, you’re going to enjoy it more, it’s going to be richer. So we hope to share that approach through our stuff, extended from football. Maybe it hits home, if we’re lucky.”
Indeed, Carroll and Gervais believe their humanistic approach doesn’t just help build winning football teams, but is applicable in all walks of life — and never so important as in these fraught times. And that it all begins with the process of self-discovery they feel leads you to what Gervais calls “the potential that lies dormant in us” and “the extraordinary edges of human potential.”
Both were intrigued by Michael Jordan’s emotional, widely replayed lament in the “Last Dance” documentary about the price of leadership and winning. As Gervais said, “There’s a cost of loneliness to people who are committed to the frontier.”
But Jordan’s method of leadership diverges from that put forward by Carroll and Gervais.
“If you think about that our mind has seeds, and we water those seeds based on our thoughts and our actions — one of (Jordan’s) core seeds was borne out of frustration and contempt and a malice towards his competitors,” Gervais said.
“So there’s a unique suffering to that approach. It doesn’t mean that is the only approach by any means. Compete to Create would say there is other ways that are built on the seeds of love and compassion and an exploratory approach to life …. Those seeds are the ones we found to be valuable, and we want to show the science and the practice that would support those for the individuals.”
Carroll, furthermore, believes that finding one’s own purpose can help break down the barriers and divisions that are rampant in our society today.
“You can’t worry about the other people,’’ he said. “You can be concerned about developing your own position and mentality and philosophy and approach. More people have to be centered in what’s really the truth to them.
“There’s still going to be divisions. There’s people firmly cemented in being a white supremacist, and they think that’s the world for them and that’s how they’re going to live it. There’s going to be division. Hopefully through the course of time, we come together. I think there’s nothing like the power of leadership to help us do that.”
And ultimately that is what Carroll has been trying to convey to his players since joining the Seahawks in January of 2010 and vowing to build a team “better than it’s ever been done before.”
That quest has had peaks and valleys, and hasn’t resonated with every player — at least not long-term — but his own belief hasn’t wavered.
“We’re trying to help guys understand who they are, what they’re capable of,’’ he said. “Help them create the vision of what they want to become with the help of their coaches … Then our coaches keep our guys in connection with that vision until they make it manifest and it’s created right before their eyes, and they become that which they had dreamed of becoming.”
As he awaits the start of an NFL season that remains problematic because of the ravages of COVID-19, Carroll provided a succinct summary of his philosophy.
Whether or not it will help the Seahawks “kick ass” in 2020 — if there is a 2020 — remains to be seen.
“We’re driven to take these seasons as one lifetime, and create a whole new life, and see how far we can take them.”