Bank Of America CEO Brian Moynihan: Great Companies Are Really Great Teams
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Bank Of America CEO Brian Moynihan: Great Companies Are Really Great Teams

Don Yaeger

When most Americans see a game of rugby for the first time, they think of the sport as a brutal and baffling event, akin to football without the protection of helmets and pads. Not Brian Moynihan. An avid rugby player from the time he was an 18-year-old freshman at Brown to the time he was a 32-year-old rising superstar in business, Moynihan sees beauty in an eight-man scrum. 

“When you experience a scrum from the inside, there's nothing more beautiful than feeling the eight people locking up their arms together and moving together in absolute coordination,” said the CEO of Bank of America on a recent episode of the Corporate Competitor Podcast. “At such times, each member of the scrum can feel exactly what his teammates are doing, where they are moving their man out of the way or buckling under pressure, in need of help. It’s the perfect metaphor for business leadership.” 

Moynihan should know. He co-captained his Brown team to an Ivy League championship in his junior year. As the CEO of Bank of America, Moynihan captains a team of more than 200,000 people. Under his watch, the firm has been nationally recognized among the best workplaces for diversity, working mothers, parents and people with disabilities. In 2020, Chief Executive Magazine named him “CEO of the Year.” 

Moynihan credits his Brown rugby coach Linton A. “Jay” Fluck with teaching a critical life lesson: dedication can be contagious. “Coach Fluck showed us what rugby would give us if we treated it right, which meant if we trained hard, competed hard, and showed up for our teammates every day. He did this for 40 years and not just for his stars — I wasn’t a star — but for everybody on the team,” Moynihan said. 

Contagious dedication can build rugby dynasties, and it is critical for leaders seeking to scale a company. “In my mind, scaling takes simplicity, messaging, discipline, and process,” Moynihan said in the podcast. “I’ve always believed in using communication to deepen and inform the organization about who we are, what we do, and why we do it. That’s your culture, and discipline and process ensure that nothing is left to chance.” In an organization such as Bank of America, whose divisions can number in the thousands, the power to keep culture alive draws on four classic principles of coaching and motivation. Here they are. 

  1. A team of solid performers will beat a team that relies on its superstar. Don’t settle for building your team around your best performers. “When the competition gets tough, your best performers are going to find a way to add value,” Moynihan said. “The goal is to be sure the weakest link on your team is also prepared for whatever comes your way.” Taking this kind of “whole team” approach helped Brown’s under-sized rugby team defeat larger, more athletically gifted teams such as Georgia Tech. 
  2. Fill your team with diverse people and talent. “One thing I love about rugby is that it accommodates every body type and style of play,” explained Moynihan. “Basketball players quickly get the teamwork and concept of moving without the ball; soccer players understand the continuous nature of play and football players can move right in as sturdy blockers and runners.” A winning team should draw from a wide range of skill sets, personalities, and backgrounds on the field or in the C-suite. “The worst thing a leader can do is build a team in his own image,” says Moynihan.
  3. Lead at the point of attack. Everybody is talking about agile business for a reason: it works. As the fly half or “quarterback” on his rugby teams or as a CEO, Moynihan constantly strives to ensure that every teammate feels ownership in the result. Says Moynihan, “Rugby is a player’s game. The coach makes substitutions and prepares the team, but once they’re on the field, the players need to be equipped to make decisions fast and under the most extreme game conditions.” 
  4. Learn from losing. Sports and business teams, alike, compete with other teams and must learn to deal with adversity. “Everybody loses games,” Moynihan noted. “The questions are, ‘Why did we lose and what can we do differently next time?’ Sometimes, you lose to somebody who is simply better. Then it may be time to make your team better.” 

How do you know when your team is performing at an optimal level? “Someday, your company will hit a crisis, and you’ll find yourself sitting back and watching your team solve the problem. You’ll be there to help them at the fringes, but everybody will know what to do,” he said on the Corporate Competitor Podcast.

“That’s my idea of a winning team.”

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I am a keynote speaker, 11-time New York Times best-selling author, host of the Corporate Competitor Podcast, corporate business leadership coach, and longtime associate

I am a keynote speaker, 11-time New York Times best-selling author, host of the Corporate Competitor Podcast, corporate business leadership coach, and longtime associate editor for Sports Illustrated.

As a speaker, I have worked with audiences as diverse as Fortune 500 companies, associations, and leadership forums regarding my studies of personal and team high performance. I have written 30+ books with, among others, Hall of Fame running back Walter Payton, UCLA basketball Coach John Wooden, baseball legends John Smoltz and Tug McGraw, and football stars Warrick Dunn and Michael Oher (featured in the movie The Blind Side).

I teamed with Brian Kilmeade to pen NYT best-sellers “George Washington’s Secret Six,” “Thomas Jefferson and the Tripoli Pirates,” and “Andrew Jackson and the Battle of New Orleans.” I live in Tallahassee, FL.