Whether you're a sports fan who tunes into WFAN every morning or staunchly refuse to watch the Super Bowl and World Series, you'll agree that the best professional sports coaches know a thing or two about managing talent, motivating lower-rung employees, and leading through crisis.

In this country, sports is a business and business is a sport. "Great coaching is just as important to success in the office as on the field," Sarah Green, senior associate editor of Harvard Business Review writes in an article on some of the wisdom coaches have shared with the publication over the years. Below, read five leadership lessons from a pair of legendary NFL coaches.

1. Tell it like it is.

Bill Parcells, who coached the NFL's New York Giants, New England Patriots, New York Jets, and Dallas Cowboys, made his name as a leader by turning around losing teams. His strategy, which he wrote about in an HBR piece in 2000, started and ended with the truth. 

"You have to be honest with people--brutally honest," he writes. "You have to tell them the truth about their performance, you have to tell it to them face-to-face, and you have to tell it to them over and over again. Sometimes the truth will be painful, and sometimes saying it will lead to an uncomfortable confrontation. So be it. The only way to change people is to tell them in the clearest possible terms what they're doing wrong. And if they don't want to listen, they don't belong on the team."

2. Apply pressure as needed. 

Parcells believes in pushing people hard to reach their potential. "If you want to get the most out of people, you have to apply pressure-- that's the only thing that any of us really responds to," he says.

When former players reminisce about his style, he says, they usually bring up a phrase his father used when coaching him: "I think you're better than you think you are." "There's a lot of truth to it--people can do more than they think they can," he writes.

3. Set small goals when people are underperforming.

Parcells is known for having turned around the Giants', Jets', Patriots', and Cowboys' losing ways. He says incremental progress is the key. Audacious goals are great to dream about when you're a scrub, but that won't get you anywhere. "When you set small, visible goals, and people achieve them, they start to get it into their heads that they can succeed," he writes. "They break the habit of losing and begin to get into the habit of winning. It's extremely satisfying to see that kind of shift take place."

4. A balancing act.

The late Bill Walsh, who coached the San Francisco 49ers to three Super Bowl wins, brought a more sophisticated strategy to the league than his counterparts. In 1993, he explained to HBR his style:

"You are actually striving for two things at the same time: an organization where people understand the importance of their jobs and are committed to living within the confines of those jobs and to taking direction," he told HBR. "And an organization where people feel creative and adaptive and are willing to change their minds without feeling threatened. It is a tough combination to achieve. But it's also the ultimate in management."

5. Manage individuals like individuals.

Walsh applied the school of thought that a team was made up of individuals with very specific needs. Having coached two of the NFL's all-time greatest quarterbacks, Joe Montana and Steve Young, he explained how his coaching style changed when dealing with each player.

"Early on, we had to encourage Joe to trust his spontaneous instincts. We were careful not to criticize him when he used his creative abilities and things did not work out. Instead, we nurtured him to use his instincts. We had to allow him to be wrong on occasion and to live with it," he said. "In the case of quarterback Steve Young, it was almost the opposite. We had to work with him to be disciplined enough to live within the strict framework of what we were doing. Steve is a great spontaneous athlete and a terrific runner. But we found that we had to reduce the number of times he would use his instincts and increase his willingness to stay within the confines of the team concept."

Walsh also stressed that you have to pay more attention to the lower-tier players than the stars. Walsh said the stars can almost take care of themselves, but the others ultimately provide the edge your team needs. "The difference between winning and losing is the bottom 25 percent of your people," he told HBR.

Published on: Feb 25, 2015