This Monday evening the Alabama Crimson Tide and Clemson Tigers will compete for college football’s national championship. Each team is led by incredible leaders – head coaches Nick Saban and Dabo Swinney. Whether you lead a church, business, non-profit or athletic organization, there are countless leadership lessons you can learn much from these two men.
The following are two profiles comparing and contrasting what makes each so successful. As you read the 38 leadership lessons provided, you will notice how much Coach Saban and Coach Swinney have in common – They both are tied to Alabama, detail-oriented, hard working, builders of great staffs, self-aware and both are very successful CEOs.
First, Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney. The following are 17 Leadership Lessons From Head Coach Dabo Swinney I gleaned from a December 29th USA Today article which you can read in full by clicking here.
- Dabo Swinney Struggled Early On – Struggle is necessary for success. He lettered three times under Crimson Tide head coach Gene Stallings after walking on the team in the summer of 1989 as a 19-year-old walk-on wide receiver.
- Dabo Swinney Is Detailed-Oriented – He keeps detailed plans and tracks the Tigers’ routines as much as a year in advance.
- Dabo Swinney Works Hard – While at Alabama, his positional coach Tommy Bowden advised him walk-on players must work twice as hard as those on scholarship.
- Dabo Swinney Is A Continual Learner – Coach Bowden’s father, legendary FSU head coach Bobby Bowden, collected quotes and insight in notebooks. This is a practice he passed on to his son Tommy. Now Swinney does so as well.
- Dabo Swinney Knows You Need Exposure And Experience – Many young leaders confuse exposure with experience. You actually need both. Swinney said, “I’ve only been at two places (Alabama and Clemson), but I’ve been at those places for a long time, and exposed to a lot of things. I’ve seen everything.”
- Dabo Swinney Builds Long-Lasting Relationships – Smart leaders do not burn bridges. When Tommy Bowden became head coach at Clemson, Swinney joined his staff to coach the wide receivers.
- Dabo Swinney Built Relationships Across Both Sides Of The Ball – Great leaders cross racial, socio-economic, geographical and religious lines to build mutually-beneficial relationships. Former Clemson athletics director Terry Don Phillips remembers passing Swinney’s office and continually seeing it filled with all types of players, not just wide receivers.
- Dabo Swinney Genuinely Cares About People – Phillips noted, “The way he treated kids, the way he coached them, the relationships that he had with them, it became very obvious that Dabo was an individual and a coach that genuinely cared about the kids.”
- Dabo Swinney Is A Great Recruiter – Regardless of your profession, infusing your organization with top young talent is key to your sustainability. Clemson consistently has Top 2o recruiting classes. Currently, they are ranked 5th in 2016 and sure to move up by the February signing date.
- Dabo Swinney Is Authentic – Defensive coordinator Brent Venables says, “There’s not an ounce of phoniness in him. He’s got his guard down 24-7.”
- Dabo Swinney Builds A Great Staff – Venables, hired from Oklahoma in 2012, is one of America’s top defensive coordinators. Clemson’s co-offensive coordinators, Tony Elliott and Jeff Scott, lead a unit which has scored over 500 points this season. This is a 25% improvement over last year.
- Dabo Swinney Focuses Long-Term – He is big-picture and has a long-term vision for the program.
- Dabo Swinney Also Focuses On Today – As mentioned earlier, he has the minutest details of Clemson’s day-to-day activities planned.
- Coach Swinney Gets Alignment And Buy-In From His Players – He says, “We’ve got a good plan, but most importantly our players believe in it. That’s something that I’ve developed for years, not just the past seven years.
- Dabo Swinney’s Team Continually Improve – The 2011 team won the ACC championship. The 2012 team won its bowl game against LSU. The 2013 team won the Orange Bowl against Ohio State. The 2014 team snapped a five-game losing streak against in-state rival South Carolina and also defeated defending national champion Florida State.
- Dabo Swinney Is A CEO – He concludes, “I just work hard. I’m not afraid to fail. I don’t know everything, but I’m always trying to learn and get better. I do believe in being very organized. I’ve always been that way. I like structure. I like order. I try to run the program that way.”
- Dabo Swinney Has Self-Awareness – He knows who he is. Coach Swinney says, “At the end of the day, you’ve got to be who you are. You’ve got to have a philosophy that you believe in. I learned that early on. You can learn from others, but you can’t be somebody else. You’ve got to do things your way. That’s all I’m trying to do.”
Now let’s take a look at 4-time national champion head coach, the legendary Nick Saban. The following are 21 Leadership Lessons From Head Coach Nick Saban I gleaned from a December 29th Bleacher Report article which you can read in full by clicking here.
- Nick Saban Is The University Of Alabama’s Most Important Asset – Many people in the state of Alabama now consider Saban as “the most important asset in the history of Alabama athletics.”
- Nick Saban Expects To Succeed – He says, “I guess everybody thinks you get it all when you win the game, but we’re expected to win the game. It’s misery if you don’t win.”
- Nick Saban Is Always Looking Ahead – He continues, “It’s about 30 minutes of happiness when you do (win). But then what about next week? Because we’re supposed to win next week, too.”
- Nick Saban Is A Perfectionist – And his drive for perfection is unmatched in the college coaching industry.
- Nick Saban Builds A Great Staff – He handpicks his staff and has an obvious eye for coaching talent. Former assistants include Michigan State’s Mark Dantonio, Florida State’s Jimbo Fisher, South Carolina’s Will Muschamp, Florida’s Jim McElwain and now Georgia’s Kirby Smart.
- Nick Saban Makes Others Successful – Working for Coach Saban is a great career move. As shown by the five head coaches above, it is an annual occurrence to see his assistants take head coaching positions at other universities.
- Nick Saban Is Accessible To Other Leaders – Muschamp said. “He’s been tremendous in my career in helping me. I can still pick up the phone and ask him what he thinks.”
- Nick Saban Has Tough Conversations – Muschamp continues, “He’s going to be honest, and you may not like the answer sometimes. But I appreciate the honesty and guidance he’s given me over the years.”
- Nick Saban Creates A Culture Of Excellence – LSU linebackers coach Kirk Doll said, “He coaches those young men [at high school camps] as hard as he coaches his players at whatever school he is at. You get your money’s worth.”
- Nick Saban Demands Alignment – He wants every level of the program to have the same intentions, work ethic and commitment to excellence.
- Nick Saban Empowers People – McElwain said. “I can’t tell you how fortunate I was to be around him and a part of it. It doesn’t matter if it’s a coach or someone else in the organization. He hires great people and lets them do their jobs. It doesn’t matter if you’re selling popcorn or calling plays, everyone has to be going in the same direction.”
- Nick Saban Is Focused On Preparation – Winning football games is a byproduct of doing everything else well. Saban understands winning comes much later. This is his legendary “process”. The program begins in the weight room, off-season conditioning and summer practice. Regarding the games themselves, ssistant coach Sal Sunseri says, “It’s the total preparation. Not just playing the game, but the mindset going into the game and how you’re preparing for it. You know it, you see it (opponents’ alignments and plays) and you react to something you saw seven or eight times on the field in Tuscaloosa.”
- Nick Saban Is Detail-Oriented – Doll continues, “What Nick wanted everybody to do was pay attention to detail and work as hard as he worked. He didn’t want any little detail to go unturned. You take the recruiting, academics, in-season and offseason, and he has a plan for it. He has a plan for everything. This is how you do it.”
- Nick Saban Always Arrives Early – Saban takes dress-rehearsal drives to the home of recruits so he will not be late. Sunseri says, “He didn’t want to be late, which is why we always did a dry run of getting to the house. When you’re supposed to be there at 7:30, you’re there at 7:25 waiting to get into the house. That’s just the way it is. He likes to be on time. He loves to be detailed.” For more on the importance of arriving early, read 12 Reasons Smart Leaders Hire People Who Arrive Early.
- Nick Saban Is Willing To Assume Great Responsibility – Mushcamp concludes, “The staff, the recruiting, the public relations, he does everything the right way.”
- Nick Saban Is An Individual Profit Center – Because of the success of the Tide football squad, Saban has boosted the state’s economy.
- Nick Saban Creates Positive Change – When you hire the right leader like Saban, his/her presence changes everything for the better.
- Nick Saban Works Hard – The speed of the leader is the speed of the team. Sunseri adds, “I think everyone’s trying to catch up to coach. His work ethic is relentless and his drive to be the best is unbelievable.”
- Nick Saban Is An Ambassador For The Brand – So are all great leaders whether they realize it or not. Currently, the greatest ambassador for the brand of the University of Alabama is Saban himself.
- Nick Saban Is A CEO – Sunseri concludes, “Here’s the bottom line. Everyone tells you that coach is hard and tough. No, he’s the boss. He’s the CEO. He expects you to do your job. If you’re not doing that, he’s tough on you. But if you do what you’re asked to do, he’s easy to work for. It’s not hard. It really isn’t.”
- Nick Saban Has Self-Awareness – He knows who he is. The questions Saban enjoys answering the most are those related to football. At his heart, he is a “defensive-minded, unfathomably competitive, film-loving football junkie.”
So who do you think will win Monday night?
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