From Driver's Ed to Pro Football: Lessons from Carolina Panthers General Manager, Dave Gettleman


In my 1979 High School yearbook, David Gettleman, past (very recent past, sadly),General Manager for the Carolina Panthers writes, ‘To the woman who helped me maintain my sanity in the Driver’s Ed car, it has been a treat getting to know you.’ Gettleman was our High School Football Coach and my Driver’s Ed teacher at Spackenkill High School in Poughkeepsie NY. He was a popular teacher, tough on his football players, and committed to helping teens be responsible drivers.

As a self-described ‘grinder’, he worked hard and expected us to do the same. In his Driver’s Ed car, if you veered out of your lane, took out a mailbox, drove up on the sidewalk, or turned your eyes away from the road to giggle with a friend in the back seat, he insisted you pull over somewhere safe and we would have a ‘little chat’. In our chats, he impressed up on us the importance of driving responsibly, and living responsibly. Here are some of my takeaways from his lessons:

  1. Master the basics first. Ignition, seatbelt, surroundings, accelerate, brake, signal. Gettleman never let us leave the parking space without covering the basics.

What are the basics in your business? Have you mastered them?

  1. Create healthy habits through disciplined practice. Gettleman reminded us of the rules of safe driving every single class. By the end of the semester, we did them without thinking. Do you even remember your own drive to work this morning?

What healthy habits do you need to create? What power would you have if you could do it without even thinking?

  1. Build depth and breadth in your field by practicing more complicated maneuvers like parallel parking or three point turns. Gettleman invested hours with us practicing parallel parking. When we insisted we would never need to parallel park, he reminded us that the skills learned in parallel parking made you a more masterful driver.

Where do you need to build depth and breadth so you can have mastery in your field?

  1. Anticipate risk. Gettleman said if we learned to drive defensively, we’d be better prepared for the unexpected, and better able to handle it when it inevitably shows up. We spent time understanding the risks and hazards encountered when driving and how to handle them. As a result, we were better prepared.

What risks should you anticipate in your business, in your industry and how can you create a defensive strategy?

These four simple lessons from David Gettleman and his approach to Driver’s Ed provide a solid foundation for responsible driving, and for responsible business. Thank you, Gettleman and Go Panthers!