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Monday, August 19, 2013


These are some excerpts of an outstanding column written by  of the Birmingham Business Journal.

As I mentioned in Part 1 of this series, mediocrity is constantly trying to infiltrate every organization, and world-class leaders work relentlessly to keep mediocrity out. When I asked Nick Saban, the head coach of the University of Alabama’s football team, how he is able to consistently win in the competitive sport that is college football, he shared with me eight points. Here are five:

1. You have to be willing to serve. Great leaders are great servers. Every time I hear the term “servant leader,” I always think, “Well that’s redundant. Is there any other kind of leader?”

Serving is what great leaders do, and it was something that was beat into our heads in leadership classes at the Naval Academy. This means shunning the Hollywood caricature of military-style leadership (you’ll follow my barked orders immediately if you want to keep your job!) and opting instead for real leadership through serving. Look out for the best interests of your people; give them the tools and the training they need to perform their best.

Help them be successful in your system. When they win, you win.

2. You have to be willing to set an example. This is one of the toughest things for a leader to embrace. If you want men and women of integrity working for you, you need to be a man or woman of integrity. If you want people to work hard, you need to work hard. If you want your team to give their best, their very best, you need to give your very best, and your employees know if you are or you aren’t.

I’ve had enough conversations with junior people in organizations to know that your employees are finely-tuned hypocrisy detectors. Don’t ask your employees to do something or be something that you aren’t willing to embrace for yourself.

3. Inspire others by making an impact. If you’re willing to set an example, then you can inspire others.

“There’s a big difference between impressing your people and impacting your people,” Saban told me. “Impressing people is easy if that’s all you want to do.”

If you want to make an impact and inspire others, your actions are paramount. My own experience with Coach Saban is a great example — his simple action eight years ago of attending a funeral inspired me and two other guys to do the same thing. He didn’t go to the funeral to impress anyone, and his actions were certainly an inspiration.

What do you think? Have you been focused on impressing or your people or impacting them?

4. Focus on being your best, not on winning. When I asked Coach Saban about his focus on winning, he told me, “Ingar, we don’t talk a lot about winning; instead, we talk a lot about being the best we can be.”

One of the advantages of being focused on being your best, rather than on winning, is that being your best is the only thing you can really control. Your competition isn’t just going to roll over and surrender just because you are focused on winning. This scene from “Facing the Giants” is a great illustration of the concept.

The other advantage of getting your employees to give you their best, instead of winning at all costs, is that it can help keep your team from making unethical choices.

5. Be positive. There are a number of ways to motivate people, and one of them certainly is through fear (e.g. you’ll lose your job if you don’t perform), but Coach Saban prefers being positive.

He told me that being positive is the best way to “help your people believe in what they can accomplish and give them something to strive for.” Note that I wrote “prefers being positive.” Saban was very clear that different people are motivated differently, so a one-size-fits-all approach doesn’t always work out.

“I have to take the time to understand each of my players and give them the push that they need,” he said.

What do you think? Are you negative most of the time when it comes to motivating your employees (i.e. “you’ll work hard because you’ll lose your job if you don’t”). I’m not telling you to change your approach, but if knowing his people well and being positive has worked for Coach Saban, maybe it will work for you, too.