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What we can learn from Nick Saban

Now that the American football season has officially ended, it’s a great time to reflect on the lessons we can learn.  Even though I admittedly don’t know a lot about sports, I do know that sports teams are run better than most businesses.  So I have to ask myself, why is that?

Besides having a standard playbook and the fact that sports teams practice incessantly, all sports teams have a coach.  In fact, after reading The Leadership Secrets of Nick Saban , I learned that the head coach is just one of many coaches most sports teams have.

So why don’t most business owners, and their teams,  invest in having their own coach?  I talk with a lot of business owners and senior leaders in companies, both large and small, and I often hear the same reasons:

1. It costs too much money. Hmmm….does that mean you don’t think there will be a positive ROI (return on investment) for investing in yourself or your team members?  Do you think Tiger Woods says, “It costs too much to get a coach” or do you think he realizes the benefit of having another set of eyes to help him become the best golfer in the world?  Ask yourself – am I the best I can be?  Do I want to get better?

2.  No one understands my business – it’s special.  Leadership and salesmanship are really the same, no matter what industry you are in.  Give me a great CEO, senior leader or sales professional and they will succeed in any industry.   And a business coach doesn’t have to know your industry, they need to know leadership. That’s why I often recommend CEOs join professional groups such as YPO (Young Presidents’ Organization), EO (Entrepreneurs’ Organization) or Vistage, so they can get feedback and hear experiences from other leaders, from different industries.

3. I really don’t want feedback – I know what I’m doing. Many leaders think they know all the answers and are likely accustomed to no one telling them what they need to hear (instead of what they want to hear).  And that’s why having a coach can be so helpful.

So back to Nick Saban.  Recently retired Nick Saban is widely considered one of the greatest college football coaches of all times, and most recently coached the University of Alabama Crimson Tide to win 7 national titles, among his many coaching accomplishments.  So when I noticed his book The Leadership Secrets of Nick Saban come up on my recommended reading list, I decided to listen to it.

I was most impressed with Coach Saban’s focus on Continuous Improvement.  He emphasizes to his players that success is not a destination but a journey.  And he was never afraid to bench a player who didn’t practice, show up on time or follow Saban’s process for prepping for play.

How many people in leadership become satisfied with the status quo? They’ve had success in their business or in their role the past few years and figure things will continue as the company grows and time passes.  What happens when the competition, their supply sources or customers throw them a curve ball?

Just like sports players, we all need to have standardized processes (a playbook), we need to practice regularly and we would benefit from having a coach.  This week I was in Mexico City and had the chance to meet many business people.  It was refreshing how many of them, at all levels in their enterprises, asked me:  What courses can I take to grow professionally? What books should I read to learn more? How do I get a mentor or business coach to give me the honest feedback I know I need to grow?

Do you ever ask yourself these same questions? Or are you assuming the status quo?

Onward and upward,


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