Leadership Simplified: Doug Van Dyke

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Leadership & The Process of Winning

Volume: November 2016

Let me be clear about something right from the start: I am not an Alabama Crimson Tide fan. Some of you are. Bully for you. I am not. Yet, one of the cornerstones of this leadership newsletter involves the Alabama football coach, Nick Saban and the impact his actions have had on the school’s football program. So, while it is painful for me to write about ‘Bama, the topic at hand is bigger than me (or my football allegiances). 

In 2007, Nick Saban took over a beleaguered Alabama football program. The previous year they won just about as many games as they had lost. This is not bad for some programs, but for a storied program such as Alabama’s, it was unacceptable. Saban was hired to right the ship and return the program to national prominence.

When most leaders are faced with such a challenge, they set a vision of their desired result: in this case, a national championship. This is a logical vision. However, Saban focused the team on the journey more so than the destination. What Coach Saban zeroed in on was the process of winning. In a USA Today article written Steve Wieberg, Nick Saban described his philosophy this way:

“I'm not result-oriented. I'm more process-oriented. So every day, I'm thinking about what we have to do to continue to get better. Once you accomplish one thing, you've got to get to the next one. Was beating Florida (in 2009) the end or the beginning? Was the U.S. hockey team beating Russia (in the 1980 Winter Olympics) the end or the beginning? It was the beginning for those guys; they had to beat Finland to go on and win the gold medal. It keeps growing, and you've got to stay focused on the process and not necessarily the outcome.”

Let’s take a broader view of success for a moment. Here is my take on the qualities necessary to establish a process of winning.

  1. Individual and Team Discipline. The first step in implementing a successful process involves a commitment from the leader to consistently support it. This takes discipline. Moreover, if only the leader commits to the process, there will be failure. It takes team discipline as well. It seems clear to me that Nick Saban has personal discipline. So just how did he set the stage for team discipline? See #2 sports fans.
  1. Communication. It is the leader’s responsibility to clearly communicate the parameters of the process, AND to build excitement around the implementation of the process. Saban most assuredly communicated the process of winning to his team. And I’ll bet he also relentlessly repeated his message until it became a mantra for his team. Recently, I helped a leader implement the process of winning with their team. The leader did a fine job of communicating the concept and what possibilities it could hold. What was missing was the crucial step of building real excitement with the team. What was missing was creating buy-in. I asked the leader: “Have you turned the core concepts of your process into a mantra for your team?” “Pardon?” He answered. We worked on this together and the process is now a mantra. Note: the ability to create buy-in and followership with your team is one of the hallmarks of a gifted leader.
  1. Tracking Behaviors. In a madcap world, it is easy to zigzag from one behavior to another. Once committed to a process of winning however, consistent behavior is needed. When the Chicago Bulls were in their championship years, they had a playoff regimen. Each morning they had breakfast and did weights. The afternoon consisted of a team practice, strategy sessions, and rest. They arrived at the same time before each game. They executed beautifully during the game and then engaged in post-game interviews. They would then repeat this routine. And repeat they did – six championships during an eight-year span. During the course of their victorious run, you could just about set your watch by their individual and team behaviors. Do you think Nick Saban sets a rigid regimen for his Alabama teams? You betcha! Saban’s regimen establishes a rhythm for his team. As they racked up victories, that rhythm becomes stronger and stronger, as well as easier for the players to endure.
  1. Time and Repetition. Executing behaviors again and again, at the same time or on regular time intervals will lead to measurable, positive results. Many of you use our day planning system, which is a cornerstone for creating the habit of behavioral regularity. An example of what time and repetition can produce is the process of writing a book. One hour of writing each day equates to roughly 250 words of publishable prose. Do that for 180 days and voila, you have produced a word count that is acceptable for a business book. Sidebar: I have written non-fiction and fiction books using this system. Shifting back to Nick Saban, he is a huge fan of schedules and regularity during important processes.

Aside from reenergizing the State of Alabama and the school’s alumni, what has been the net result of Nick Saban’s quality process? The answer: Four national football championships, with apparently no recruiting violations – impressive! Just imagine what a consistently delivered “success process” might do for your organization? Imagine what a dose of discipline, coupled with superb time management would do for your life and your passions? Imagine the possibilities, my friends.

Until next time, be well.

Doug Van Dyke is a die-hard Florida Gators fan who, like everyone else over the age of 21, looks ridiculous dressed in orange and blue. He is a Tampa Bay based executive coach, leadership development expert, strategic planner, and Certified Speaking Professional. To have Doug speak at your next event, call 941-776-1121 or email .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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