[ June 2, 2021 by Paul Epstein 0 Comments ]

Culture is The Competitive Advantage

As a consultant in the space of organizational culture, I often get asked to define culture. Frankly, one of the challenges we face when we address culture is that we overthink and overcomplicate it.

Microelements such as values, beliefs, norms, perceptions, desires, expectations, assumptions, and attitudes all boil under the surface, and we try to associate them with culture. That’s a lot to juggle, and it muddies the waters, leaving us confused about what culture is and the work we can do to better it. I’m not suggesting these elements don’t influence culture, but I am suggesting that we can simplify them by bringing everything to the surface level for us to easily see.

Simply put, culture is how you show up. How you show up is comprised of your actions, behaviors, and decisions. As a result: CULTURE = ACTIONS + BEHAVIORS + DECISIONS OF ANY GROUP

These groups can be your direct team, your department, your organization, even a group you associate with outside of work—each has its own local culture. What makes culture more empowering is that all core elements (actions, behaviors, and decisions) are fully in your control. That’s the internal context. Now let’s add some external context.

Think of any competitive advantage that exists in your team or organization. Then, ask yourself:

• Can it be outsourced? If so, it’s not your competitive edge.

• Can it be disrupted from an external source at any time? As an example, can a competitor copy or mimic your advantage? If so, it’s not your ultimate edge.

• Is it reliant on an uncontrollable customer preference that may shift away from your advantage over time? If so, it’s not your sustainable edge.

Using these external lenses, competitive advantages such as product, technology, features and benefits, labor systems, or process are difficult to distinguish and endure as the edge you need over time. They’re too easy to disrupt or lose control of.

What’s not easy to disrupt are the unique elements of your internal assets: the people in your locker room. Their distinctive mix of strengths, talents, and passions cannot be replicated. Your people and how they show up define your culture.

• You can’t outsource culture.

• Culture cannot be disrupted unless you do it to yourself.

• Culture doesn’t rely on external stakeholders.

Culture is an inside game and is birthed from the depths of the organization. The strongest indicators are typically behind closed doors but to bring culture to life, it must be front to the forefront.

We all have a workplace. Some settings may be grander than others, but ultimately, no matter how beautiful a physical space might be, it never has heart or soul until it’s animated by its employees. People are at the heart of our culture’s brand and identity. Our people become the culture champions and evangelists needed to inspire our internal locker room so that we can eventually win over the marketplace.

So, where do we start? Is culture a top-down initiative? Or is it a groundswell from the front lines? The reality is it’s a combination, but it does lean toward one of the two dynamics. While the top-down message and vision are important, culture is by no means a “push” program. There is no wand to inspire employees to love the company and one another. People need to make those decisions willingly and on their own terms.

So, if it’s less about the top-down approach, how do we inspire the front lines to animate a gold jacket culture and bring it to life? The answer lies in the Latin definition of inspire: to breathe life into.

Breathe life into your employees, and they will breathe life into your culture.

Excerpt from The Power of Playing Offense by Paul Epstein

[ December 15, 2020 by Paul Epstein 0 Comments ]

Leaping Toward Passion and Purpose

I believe we all have a treadmill with our name on it.

In my case, I was climbing the ranks of the professional sports industry—until I took a leap of faith (away from sports) based on passion and purpose—and realized I landed on the treadmill I was always supposed to be on.

You too have a treadmill. One that makes you feel alive. One where the time moves slow, you daydream about, feeling whole and complete, perhaps a healthy obsession is already brewing. Gone are the days of a job, in are the days of a career turned calling. A calling of daily purpose and impact—where you’re inspired and empowered. Authentic to your mission. Destined for greatness and legacy.

Game on.

My hope is that this short read will expose some of my thought process leading up to this massive decision and subsequent leap—as you may have one in your future.

The payout. Feeling alive. And isn’t that what life is all about?

Excerpt from The Power of Playing Offense:


I was heading up sales and business development for the San Francisco 49ers, loving my coworkers, loving my team, and loving life—in and out of Levi’s Stadium. With a vision to prepare myself for the C-suite, I knew I had some holes, some of which could come back to haunt me. To date, all of my functional experience was in sales and marketing. With aspirations to lead a sports organization, I needed to gain the knowledge of how business unit heads across all verticals think, operate, and make decisions. So, I made a bold decision of my own—one that was not the norm in my industry. My decision led me to an environment I never anticipated returning to. After a thirteen-year gap, I was going back to school.

With a concentration in leadership development, I entered the Executive MBA program at the University of Michigan. I joined the cohort based in Los Angeles, where we would spend about 80 percent of our time over the twenty-one-month journey; the other 20 percent was back at the mothership in Ann Arbor, strategically timed in the nonwinter months. We Angelinos aren’t a very pleasant people when it dips below a brisk fifty degrees!

This was my opportunity to level up as a leader and surround myself with some of the best and brightest across industries and roles so I could return with an elevated career trajectory and a broadened perspective.

In the sports business, I always had mentors. Within my MBA program, for the first time in a business setting, I had an executive coach. Little did I know that our first coaching call would open my previously fixed mindset. That mindset was set to continue the climb within my dream industry—an industry you don’t leave on your terms when things are going well.

I still remember my former boss in the NFL League Office saying the easiest thing to do is stay on the treadmill you’re on. My executive coach challenged that notion. By the time we hung up the call, I started to believe there could be other treadmills to run on.

You want the details? Let’s do it.

My coach got a feel for my role, then asked a series of questions: “What do you love about it? What do you hate about it? What’s in between?”

After I answered, she asked me to go deeper on what I loved about my job.

I said, “I love the people side. I love being a coach, just like you. I love molding, growing, and developing talent. I love motivating with the hope of inspiring. I love when people max out on their potential because of the belief I poured into them. When they break through, it literally lights me up.”

She excitedly responded, “That’s fantastic! Now, on a good day, what percentage of your time are you doing that?”

Ugh. I started to slouch down in my seat, knowing the reality was far from ideal. Purely to save face in the moment, I padded the truth and said 20 percent. She then probed, “If I were to wave a wand and you became your boss tomorrow, would that number, 20 percent, go up, down, or sideways?”

In my head, I thought, More strategy, less people. So I said, “Down.”

Then came the question that changed everything. It turns out, it would go on to alter my entire career and life plan.

My coach asked, “So, what are you after?”

It was a simple yet profound question that I had never thought of, but was ready to hear. I had been fixated on this linear path. This treadmill where A led to B then to C. It was predictable. I could see each step. I knew others that had already taken the path. I too was capable of continuing on the treadmill. It was just a matter of time until the next opportunity tapped me on the shoulder. I felt fully in control of my destiny.

Processing my thoughts around “what I was after” left me with a feeling I had not sensed in over a decade. One of freedom. One of possibility. One of opportunity. One of “What if . . .?”

I was excited to not know all the answers. Excited about the blank canvas. And excited for the ability to pave my path and author my story.

But how could I?

I had invested nearly a decade and a half of sweat equity in the sports business. I loved the industry more than words could describe, and I loved the 49ers organization to no end. They were first class through and through—treating my family like gold. I loved our leadership. I believed in our culture. I adored my team. My career was on a fast track. I was running away from absolutely nothing.

And yet, prompted by my coach’s question, there was an undeniable tug in my mind. I was now thinking about what I was running toward versus what I could be leaving behind.

This unanticipated feeling was building momentum. It was not optional; I was going to get off the treadmill.

But when? To do what?

The Power of Playing Offense will fill in the holes of my story—and I hope encourage you to write yours with renewed passion and purpose.

To learn more about The Power of Playing Offense, visit powerofplayingoffense.com

[ November 10, 2020 by Paul Epstein 0 Comments ]

Before You Lead Others, You Must First Lead Yourself

There has never been a time our world needed courageous leadership more than now. Leadership that is bold, enduring, authentic, inspires trust, builds inclusive communities, and is founded on purpose. A world where before we lead others, we each lead ourselves. The Power of Playing Offense: a Leader’s Playbook for Personal and Team Transformation is written through this premise.

As we each step forward in our leadership journey, with a pursuit to maximize our potential and unleash our impact, a natural question inevitably emerges. “Who’s coaching the coaches?”

Sure we could go at it alone. Or we can meet somebody at the 50. A partner for leaders and coaches alike. To support, challenge, motivate, hold accountable, cover blind spots, provide diverse perspective, help avoid land mines, and guide us toward the success and significance we’re after.

This blog is delivered from a spirit of partnership, as I serve as a leadership coach in your corner. Consider this inaugural post a prequel to the larger read, The Power of Playing Offense: a Leader’s Playbook for Personal and Team Transformation, scheduled to launch in November 2020. As you dive into a short excerpt from the book’s preface, my hope is that by the final word you’re inspired to take the next step in your quest, as a leader, ready for the transformation ahead.

Preface excerpt: The Power of Playing Offense, scheduled to launch in November 2020

Trillion Dollar Coach author Bill Campbell once said, “Your title makes you a manager; your people will decide if you are a leader.” The Power of Playing Offense was written to transform managers into leaders, so that every reader can and will inspire a followership to level up their lives, both personally and professionally.

So now I ask you—without title, influence, or authority, would anybody follow? Think of the leader you would follow to no end. Likely none of those external factors caused you to choose whom you did. Odds are she or he inspired you to be your best, coached you to your full potential, and believed in you from day one.

Now, how are you showing up? Are you inspiring a team that would follow you to no end? Are you acting as the leader you wish you had?

Are you a leader who puts people first when it matters most?

The challenge is, many of us work and lead in organizations that preach from the mountain tops that they put people first. Until they don’t. This short-term, results-obsessed mindset has a ripple effect where we lose trust, connection, and the loyalty of those who are closest to the work.

What if there was a playbook to spark the exact opposite?

To transform our teams from paycheck-driven to purpose-driven, from adversity to achievement, from disengaged to inspired, from controlled to connected, from success to success and significance.

If you want to show up as a leader who inspires people to follow, builds thriving teams, and cultivates championship culture, all while delivering best-in-class results—this is the playbook to show you the way.


Over a fifteen-year run in the business of professional sports, I became immersed in the world of high-performance teams and the impact of leadership on people and culture. As I began to understand the mindsets, habits, and practices required to show up and perform at your best, I was fascinated by what separated the elite from the pack—and how those elites led others to do the same. Over time, I recognized how these all-too-rare leadership skills could materialize into transformations. I seized the opportunity to implement and refine these practices. I’ve now curated these lessons and insights into an innovative framework of five pillars— which you’ll soon learn in great detail.

I call it playing offense.

Playing offense is an all-gas-no-brakes methodology for personal and team transformation. It is a mindset that will inspire action and empower you to lead in business and across all aspects of life.

There are two types of people around us. Those who play defense—and those who play offense.

  • Playing defense is playing from your heels. Playing offense is playing on your toes.
  • Playing defense is playing not to lose. Playing offense is playing to win.
  • Playing defense is letting the market dictate the terms. Playing offense is operating on your terms.

Playing offense is where leadership starts—with an inward look, competing with yourself, and taking full ownership of your actions, inspired by the possibilities and opportunities in front of you. After coaching this methodology within the sports business and other industries, I have seen the optimized performance and heightened levels of impact that result.

This is playing offense—and I wouldn’t want to live or lead any other way. By the end of this book, I trust you’ll feel the same.

To join the Playing Offense community and receive news on the official book release, along with exclusive content including leadership activities and exercises you can implement on Monday morning, subscribe at purposelabs.us