Birds of a feather flock together. Bad company corrupts good morales. Your salary will be the average of the 10 people you hang around most. These are all old sayings, Bible verses, and principles showing the importance of carefully selecting your friends. The great Michigan Wolverine head coach Jim Harbaugh often quotes his father Jack when saying, “You are with whom you associate. And to take that a step further, let’s associate ourselves with the most evolved human beings in the world.”
In a November 24th ESPN.com article, writer Dan Murphy took a look at some of Coach Harbaugh’s most evolved friends and what he has gleaned from them:
Judge Judith Sheindlin aka Judge Judy
Judge Judy said, “I’m a fan of people who have great spirit. I’m not a huge football fan. I don’t understand the game, but I understand spirit. I was so impressed with the spirit of these two men, father and son. They had a joie de vivre and excitement about them that was infectious. It really is.” Harbaugh learned from her no one comes back from a lie.
Phil Hellmuth, 14-time World Series of Poker winner
Harbaugh learned from Hellmuth “the incredibly subtle details of body language that Hellmuth studies to try to read his opponents.” He then uses this information to help his lineman understand the opponent and anticipate their movements.
Rev. Joe Uhen, Priest at Santisimo Sacramento Parish in Piura, Peru
Harbaugh learns biblical leadership principles from Rev. Uhen who noted, “He really liked the way Elijah, kind of, well, I think the right word is trash-talked these priests (of Baal) that could not get it done.”
Brad Keselowski, Two-time NASCAR champion driver
These two discuss the power of sponsorships and how they can be used to helps better resource their respective teams. Keselowski says, “I think Coach Harbaugh understands there is a certain celebrity aspect that helps you perform. He’s a team guy by choice and desire. He’s a celebrity because it helps.”
Bobby Kotick, President/CEO of Activision Blizzard, the video game company responsible for titles such as ‘Call of Duty,’ ‘Guitar Hero,’ ‘World of Warcraft’
These are simply two leaders coming together and making each other better. Kotick says, “When we have conversations what comes up is those kinds of ideals. He’s not bashful about soliciting advice and looking for support. Part of being a great leader is that recognition of how to find capable people who have perspectives and insights that will improve your ability to remain committed to excellence.”
Justice Elena Kagan, U.S. Supreme Court Justice
Having a friend like Justice Kagan helps Harbaugh maintain perspective and remind him what is really important.
David Turnley, Pulitzer Prize photographer
He helped Coach Harbaugh learn more about “the value of preparation when working in a dangerous, hectic and unpredictable battle.” Tunley has his own unique collection of friends which has included Nelson Mandela and Muhammad Ali. He noted about Harbaugh, “I’ve seen it with Ali. I’ve seen it with Mandela. They always look you in the eye, very direct. Everything about Jim Harbaugh’s presence is compelling. When he walks into the room he inspires with his presence. People talk about that with [military] generals, I think he more than anyone I’ve ever met has that quality. When he walks in a room he assumes the position of leadership. You can literally see the highlight in the eye. It’s twinkling out of the eyeballs, there’s so much energy.”
Michael Jordan, Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient, owner of the Charlotte Bobcats and the greatest professional basketball player ever
Harbaugh had Jordan speak to the team. Among the many things he discussed were playing through pain, high-pressure situations, trusting your training and getting better by challenging one another.
And I have not even mentioned other associates like Tom Brady, Derek Jeter and Ric Flair.
Michigan athletic counselor Greg Harden pointed out about Harbaugh, “I think it’s a rare bird that can see people in different venues and extract from them what’s working.” Some examples were when Harbaugh collected a notebook full of ideas after visiting the White House. Or learning efficiency by watching a police officer direct traffic for 30 minutes. Or this practice technique from the Navy SEALS – winners in Michigan practice sessions are rewarded with extra wind sprints. While unconventional, he states this is “because they’ve earned the right to get better.”
So what has been the impact of these relationships on the actual on-field product at Michigan? Heading into the final regular season game of the year against Ohio State, Michigan opponents average 10.9 points per game (1st in the nation), 20.9% on 3rd down conversions (1st), 245.6 yards per game (1st), and 44.1% of their plays gain 0 or negative yards (also 1st). Michigan is dominant.
So the question begs, who are your friends and what impact are they having on your leadership?
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