Q&A: NFL Personnel Boss Lake Dawson

Dawson with former Titans Defensive Coordinator Ray Horton

Dawson with former Titans Defensive Coordinator Ray Horton

For me, the variables that are most important [in evaluating prospective employers] are probably going to sound a little backwards to some people (but you’ll understand the way I think when I circle back in terms of why I turned down a big opportunity). Number one, it has to be about the people that you’re working with. When you’re an MBA graduate, having the right people in place is critical. It makes a real difference in your job. Some of the best teams that I’ve been on, whether it was as a player or an executive, [success stemmed] from the type of people we had in the building. When you’re looking for an opportunity, it has to be about the people. Number two, it has to be about your development, being in an environment where you have a chance to grow. Third, it has to be about passion. You want to be in a place where your passion and purpose is properly aligned with the organization. If it’s not, it’s going to make your job a lot more difficult. When your passion and purpose is aligned with that organizational vision, they’re going to give you a lot of latitude to grow, be innovative, and use those skills you gain through life’s experiences and through your MBA.

And the last thing to me is compensation. Sometimes, taking the right opportunity and best fit for yourself is more important than taking the job with the most money. In my opinion, I don’t think money should be the number one reason why you make a decision. Again, it has to be about the people and the situation, about your development and growth and your passion and purpose being aligned with that organization and what you’re trying to accomplish. I don’t think you can have success unless those things are properly aligned.

That dates back to when I was in college, playing in Kansas City, and going to a Super Bowl in 2005 (as an executive) with the Seattle Seahawks and seeing what a Super Bowl team looked like. That team was a team of synergy. Everyone was in it for the greater good. It wasn’t just about personal gain. That’s the environment that you should be looking for when you’re seeking out a job. It’s not going to all be perfect. There’s a reason why there was an opening; something was not the way someone wanted it. You have to keep that in mind as well as the fundamentals I discussed: People, development and growth, passion, purpose. Those things need to be in place to help you make your decision.

You mentioned how I turned that Miami job [to be the team’s general manager]. That was a great opportunity and a great organization – Mr. [Stephen] Ross is a great owner. He’s very passionate and he wants to win. In terms of vision and alignment, we weren’t on the same page. It wasn’t the best job for me and my family at that time. That was a difficult decision. I was very surprised. I couldn’t make decision basically until I prayed about it. I’m a man of faith and I believe whatever God has for me will happen for me if I put the work in. That just wasn’t the right one for me. If it’s meant to be, it will happen for me. I will continue to put the work in and God will open up that opportunity.

Dawson with Hall of Famer Elvin Bethea

Dawson with Hall of Famer Elvin Bethea

P&Q: You’ve been around amazing leaders ranging from Lou Holtz to Paul Allen. What leader has had the most influence on you and what were some of the biggest lessons that you learned from this person?

LD: I sound like I’m beating a dead horse, but the first person who came to mind while you were talking was Lou Holtz. Coach Holtz, to me, was like a father figure. He was a teacher. He was very relatable. It didn’t matter what you looked like, what your background was, or what your race was. First-and-foremost, he cared about you. But then he challenged you. He pushed you to be your very best. What I took away from Coach Holtz, and I apply this not only to my family life but also how I manage people and lead, is that whatever you do, you do it for a bigger reason than for just yourself. If you keep that in mind and you operate that way, you will be taken care of. Good things will happen for you. And it helps you keep the big picture of what you’re trying to accomplish.

I’ve always been involved in team sports. And I talked about synergy earlier. When I was playing at Notre Dame with guys like Jerome Bettis, Bryant Young, Aaron Taylor, Tom Carter, and Jeff Burris, we had that type of a team. We had that type of synergy where no one really cared about who got the credit. Our whole purpose was about playing for the University of Notre Dame and playing for our team and that brand and I carry that. And I operate that same way as a manager and as a leader in what prospective department that I’m in. You’re doing that job not just for yourself but for the greater good of that company. When you do that, good things will return to you. I just believe in that.

For me, some of those same traits that I saw in Coach Holtz I saw in other great teachers that I had along the way. I saw that in some of the other coaches that I had. For example, there was Al Saunders in Kansas City – he was a terrific teacher and a terrific coach. Marty Schottenheimer cared – there are countless videotapes of Marty crying and being passionate about the game of football and the players that he was with – there were certain intangibles there that correlated with what I saw with Coach Holtz. Ted Thompson is not an emotional guy, but he cares about the people he works with and he keeps his circle tight. And he also challenges you.

Paul Allen

Paul Allen

You mentioned Paul Allen. One of the greatest things that he does is that he hires good people and he delegates. He gives you the room and the resources to be innovators. He’s not going to hover over you. When we went to the Super Bowl in 2005, I believe it was because of Paul Allen’s strong leadership model of hiring good football people, delegating the responsibilities and relying on all of us to do our jobs. He put trust in Mike Holmgren, Tod Leiweke, Tim Ruskell, the entire organizational staff and provided the resources for us to be successful.”

So those are some of the intangibles that those leaders had and some of the lessons I learned from those people. But Lou Holtz is the one who comes to my mind and the one that I’m definitely most appreciative of.

P&Q: Is there any other advice that you’d like to give to our readers?

LD: Be humble and a team player within the organization you join. But also be self-directed, attempting to master the job and responsibilities you have been given as well as align your purpose and passion with that of the organization.  And lastly, don’t be afraid to be innovative.  When you are humble, a team player, self-directed, master your craft, align you passion with the right purpose, are innovative and put work behind your faith, then goals become closer, problems are solved and opportunities become boundless.


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