Goodell to Great: Lessons from the NFL Commissioner’s Visit to UNC

Coyte Cooper, Ph.D.

roger-goodellIt is not often that you get a visit from one of the most influential leaders in the sports world.  So, when you do, it seems natural to do a follow-up based on the unique lessons that were learned from interacting with such a high profile leader.  During NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell‘s visit to the University of North Carolina and the Department of Exercise and Sport Science, we had the chance to visit with him in a small Q&A session with our Sport Administration students, and there were several lessons worth passing on to folks interested in working in the sport industry.  It is rare to get this type of interaction with any major commissioner so we made sure to get it on video.  The first video segment is included below with the top lessons learned from the commissioner’s visit.

Lessons from the NFL Commissioner:

1. Learn to add value to organization: When asked about career advancement, Commissioner Goodell was quick to mention the ability to add value to an organization.  Rather than focusing on raises and being promoted, it is important to look around and assess your organization to find ways to add value to it.  As he mentions in the video below, this sometimes involves seeking out the toughest challenges and finding ways to address them in a proactive manner.  When you do this consistently, there is a strong chance that other folks will notice and you will advance in the organization.

2. Invest in internships to jump start career: As illustrated in the video, Commissioner Goodell mentioned that internships are a great way to figure out exactly what you would like to do during college and early in your career.  Interestingly, he emphasized that you need to pay attention because it will also give you a good idea of the things you don’t like to do as well.  On top of this, as you narrow your focus you are provided with a great opportunity to develop your skill sets.

3. Never listen to your own press: When asked about being named as the most powerful BErQKeCCcAAOb23.png-largeman in sport, Commissioner Goodell quickly dismissed the article and said that it did not matter one bit.  Instead, he said that listening to this press (which is meant to sell magazines) can hurt your ability to lead because you lose focus on the important tasks that need to be tackled.  It is far more important that you stay locked in on making the right decisions for your organization.

4. Make decisions that are right rather than popular: One of the central themes about the Commissioner’s visit is making decisions based on what is right.  When asked about leadership, he discussed the fact that it is important to take on tough issues that are important to an organization’s long-term health.  While these issues are sometimes controversial, he emphasized that strong leaders are willing to take the criticism in order to achieve long-term success.

5. Learn more each day than you teach: During interactions, Commission Goodell mentioned that he almost always learns more each day than he teaches.  In other words, he is consistently on the lookout for ways to learn and grow because he knows this is what it will take for the NFL to continue to advance towards full potential ($25 billion in revenue).  Towards the end of one question, he stated that the day that he stops learning is the day that he needs to step away from his position.


While there are certainly more lessons that can (and will be discussed) about Commissioner Goodell’s visit, these were central themes that emerged from the discussion section.  Not surprisingly, the one thing that was clear is that he is passionate about his job and has a vision for where he wants to take the NFL.  So, as a final lesson that I learned from him, spend time to know what you are passionate about and then actively pursue it every single day.  And in his own words, “be stubborn and adament” about the things that truly matter to you.

“I don’t expect to try to get people to like everything I do. I want them to respect what I do” (Roger Goodell)


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