3 Unusual Nick Saban Strategies to Power Your Team

3 Counterintuitive Nick Saban Strategies to Lead Your Team

Leaders who achieve long term success are often those who are willing to take steps others are not willing to try.

Alabama football head coach Nick Saban has set a powerful example of this, and you can apply his same approach to your team.

I attended the University of Alabama, and my baptism into Alabama leadership lore occurred my first week of class. We watched this video of Coach Paul Bear Bryant imploring the entering freshman class to “do the little things” because that is how champions are made.

So yes, I am a bit of a Bama fanatic, but Saban’s level of success is undeniable: Five national championships and a record of 113-8 at Alabama. His 2017 Alabama squad will suiting up again this year as a preseason number one team.

He’s followed these three unpopular leadership strategies, and they’ve led to his huge success:

1. Help your Star Players Reach the Next Level (Even if it’s Outside of your Team)

Many leaders covet and tightly safeguard their top talent. Ultimately this can frustrate your team and stunt their professional growth.

Instead, acknowledge their natural progression, and help them get to the next level. It’s a powerful recruiting tool when you can demonstrate how you develop talent and help them advance.

Saban effectively uses this strategy when recruiting football players, but more interesting is how this works with his assistant coaches. Saban openly supports his assistants moving to the next level at other schools, even if they will compete against him at a rival school.

As soon as he loses an assistant coach, he has another one waiting to either join his staff or be promoted from within. Five assistant coaches currently on his staff have taken diminished roles just to work for him and develop themselves for their next coaching move.

Good things happen when you support the development of your team and help them make their best next move.

Leadership questions to consider:

  • How are you supporting your team to the get the next level?
  • What conversations are you having with your star contributors about their personal development?
  • What case studies or employee development are you sharing to attract top talent?

2. Respect Instead of Denigrate your Competition

Many leaders openly criticize and disparage the competition in an attempt to somehow elevate their own organization. This often backfires and creates lack of focus on priorities and misses emerging threats on the horizon.

Always acknowledge what they do well and do it even better.

While some coaches and players take to social media and blast the competition before the game, you rarely see Saban’s assistant coaches or players talking negatively about the competition.

Look how Saban described Western Kentucky, the lowest-division team on Alabama’s 2016 schedule, last season.

“I hope our players understand that, that people get beat by teams like this because of their arrogance and not respecting their opponent properly and doing all the things they need to do to get ready to play their best.”

This may seem like a subtle difference, but it’s extremely important for every leader.

Recognize that the more success your team has the bigger the target is on their back. Disrespecting even the smallest competitor can cause you to overlook them. Who is off your organization’s radar? Who are the weakling companies you rarely consider a “real” threat?

Leadership questions to consider:

  • In your next staff meeting, consider what words are you using to describe the competition to your team?
  • What words could cause them to overlook the strengths of the other side or to focus and prepare for the competitive road ahead?

3. Focus on the Inner Scoreboard

Leaders often heavily invest in rolling out annual goals and metrics to their team but miss the opportunity to define what each employee’s daily contribution should look like.

This can result in a stressful work crescendo at the end of each month or quarter as the team frantically works to make up for inconsistent performance to hit the numbers.

Take a page from the Saban playbook. Teach your team to focus on the inner scoreboard, in other words, what they can control and execute every day. Encourage your team to get clear on what their contribution can be and then do their job on every “play”, and the score will handle itself.

My favorite example of this was when Alabama played Notre Dame for the National Championship. The game was clearly over with Alabama winning 42-17 and with seven minutes to go.

However, there was a late snap, and the Bama offense was flagged for a penalty. The quarterback and center immediately started yelling at each other. They were focusing in the inner scoreboard and wanted to get it right.

Focus on what you can do today so you can be ready for the next play.

Leadership questions to consider:

  • How are you keeping your team focused on what they need to execute daily to achieve longer term results?
  • Have you defined for what doing a good job looks like on a daily basis?
  • Is it so clear that you and your team member even themselves can hold each other accountable?

 

Ben

P.S: Download my free report, 7 Strategies for Senior Leaders To Get the Most Out of Their Workforce

A modified version of this article originally appeared in Ben Fanning’s Inc Magazine column

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