You are currently viewing Philosophy #9: Bill Walsh | Don’t Make Enemies!

Philosophy #9: Bill Walsh | Don’t Make Enemies!

How do you deal with enemies in your life and workplace?

Today, we discuss the philosophy and specific nuances behind making friends vs. enemies. Bill Walsh, the hall of fame NFL football coach, has a number of really incredible leadership and management lessons from his book “The Score Takes Care of Itself: My Philosophy of Leadership.

In his book, Walsh makes a strong argument to “Make Friends, Not Enemies.”

Enemies take up your time, energy, and attention—commodities too valuable to squander frivolously… That’s why I instructed everyone in our organization—players, staff, and all others—to do everything possible to get along with people who interacted with us, even when it might appear they were treating us unfairly. We simply couldn’t afford to waste resources fighting needless fights, whether with fans, media, vendors, sponsors, other teams, or anyone else, including squabbles among ourselves. You can quickly find yourself doing nothing but chasing so-called enemies.

Should You Engage with Enemies?

Over the span of my career, it’s taken me a while to understand how wasteful and fruitless it is to make enemies. My current philosophy has primarily focused on ignoring and dis-engaging with people who have wronged me, say bad and/or untrue things about me, or who waste my time.

But how much should you engage with enemies?

On a high level, there are 4 different models you could pursue:

#1. Dis-engage: Let go (of any blame or injury to you) and dis-engage from the person who wronged you

#2. Engage: Let go (of any blame or injury to you) but try to flip enemies into becoming friends

#3. Fight Back: Don’t let enemies get away from injuring you and fight back

#4. Overwhelming Force: Fight back but hit back with overwhelming force or hit back 10x harder

On a personal level, the choice of how to engage with enemies will be personal and situational. However, an interesting point Brett Nowak makes during our discussion (see below): enemies at the company or organizational level may actually be helpful to help align a team towards a common objective.

Just to be clear, my own philosophy aligns with Bill Walsh to avoid hostile relationships. However, unlike Walsh, I don’t try to flip enemies and instead follow more of the first model described above of disengagement.

From Walsh:

“Hostile relationships are toxic. Cultivate good relationships,” I cautioned. “Be available; avoid making enemies; don’t close off communications.” I taught those in the organization that it was necessary to initiate communication after a conflict, even if the other person had misunderstood you or wrongfully ridiculed you. And to understand that regardless of the cause of the animosity, negative relationships have ongoing negative consequences… I felt that positive or at least nonadversarial relationships were a tangible and significant organizational asset. I worked hard at following my own advice about having “no enemies,” and it paid handsome dividends.

Unnecessary Enemies: Competition, Decision Systems, and Mis-Communication

Unfortunately, I believe a lot of enemies are actually created unnecessarily. Three primary sources of creating enemies are, in my opinion:

  1. A dogmatic perspective on competition,
  2. Lack of a well-defined decision making system including owners, and
  3. Really shitty communication


Gary Vaynerchuk, the social media influencer and entrepreneur, often talks about 2 kinds of people and how they think about success. One kind of person tries to achieve success by building the biggest building in a city. And the other kind of person tries to achieve success by tearing down everyone else’s building.

The 2nd type of person is generally pretty frustrating to be around. It also relates to a life outlook about people who think of life as a finite vs. infinite game in the way written about by James Carse and popularized by Simon Sinek.

One of the advantages in the games industry is that we do see more people who view the world as infinite relative to more finite thinkers in other industries like say real estate for example. However, let’s be real, there are a lot of finite thinkers and just shitty people in our industry as well.

Decision Making Framework

Another key source of unnecessary drama and conflict is management’s fault! That’s right, maybe even you reading this right now. If you don’t have a clear system of decision making then you are INVITING unnecessary politics and drama.

It’s very important to have a clear system of how decisions are made and who is making the decision. Further, if you have created a culture that de-personalizes disagreements and fosters a healthy atmosphere of discussion and debate, you will completely eliminate a key source of wasted energy in which employees turn each other into enemies.


One issue that’s often discussed but all too often ignored is the importance of good communication. This is talked about A LOT, but then nothing actually is ever done about improving communication between employees.

I’ve seen way too many instances at past companies and even in my current company where misunderstandings and poor communication lead to the creation of unnecessary enemies. What people say and what they actually intend are often different. Even further, how people message or talk about an issue often requires more context into their thinking which often doesn’t get fully conveyed. As a manager, you should make sure that if you sense a conflict between employees, that you are helping at least ensuring problems aren’t from communication issues rather than a real underlying and fundamental issue.

As an example, I have directly witnessed how a poorly worded or misinterpreted email can lead to major drama. In many of these cases, the underlying problem or conflict wound up being completely unfounded with teammates actually being in “violent agreement.”

As always, follow the simple rule: do not ASS-U-ME.

Stoic Philosophy

As philosophers, I should also point out that the philosophy on enemies has been studied and discussed by some of the great ones.

Epictetus, Discourses:

The beautiful and good person neither fights with anyone nor, as much as they are able, permits others to fight… this is the meaning of getting an education – learning what is your own affair and what is not. If a person carries themselves so, where is there any room for fighting?

Seneca, On Anger:

How much better to heal than seek revenge from injury. Vengeance wastes a lot of time and exposes you to many more injuries than the first that sparked it. Anger always outlasts hurt. Best to take the opposite course. Would anyone think it normal to return a kick to a mule or a bite to a dog?

Philosophy Discussion

The Philosophy brothers are back to dive into this topic in depth. Check out this really great discussion below:

🎧 Listen on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, or Anchor


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