There is a decision which leaders must periodically make which ultimately defines their level of success.  Few leaders, however, are courageous enough to make it.

Last evening, the Alabama Crimson Tide defeated the Georgia Bulldogs 26-23 to give head coach Nick Saban his sixth national championship.  The game will be remembered for Coach Saban’s halftime decision to replace his starting quarterback Jalen Hurts with freshman Tua Tagovailoa.

To give you a sense of context, Hurts had amassed a 25-2 record as a starting quarterback and led the Tide to back-to-back national title games.  Last year, he was named the SEC Player of the Year.  This is a resume any quarterback should be proud of.  But there was an area of concern regarding his performance.

One of the reasons Alabama lost to Clemson in 2017 national championship game was Hurts’s inability to convert third downs in the passing game and runout the clock.  Ultimately, Clemson superstar Deshaun Watson was given multiple opportunities to wear the Tide defense down and ultimately secured the victory on the game’s final play.  Coach Saban saw a similar story unfolding during the first half of last evening’s game.

It was then Coach Saban made the most courageous decision a leader can make.

Whether you lead a church, non-profit, business, athletic organization, or in academia, there will come a time when you have a wonderful leader who has been a faithful employee, who embodies the core values of the organization, has a great attitude, is kind, beloved by their co-workers and has done nothing wrong.  In fact, they have done things right for an extended time period.  However, the needs of the organization and the skills required to take it to the next level has outgrown them.

As a leader you are then faced with a defining decision.  Do you err on the side of loyalty and stay with the faithful employee?  Or do you replace this competent, successful leader with someone potentially better who can take you to the next level?  Do you do what is best for the individual or what is best for the organization?

If you keep the employee, the status quo will be maintained.  There will be a sense of peace but this will come at the cost of stagnated growth.   In fact, the organization will eventually atrophy because of the demands of the marketplace.  There is also risk because what if the new leader is actually worse than what you already had?  However, what if this decision takes your church, business, or organization to a whole new level?

Despite Hurts’s record as a starter, attitude, and (very important) his personal affection for him, Coach Saban was willing to take the risk.  He knew a change had to be made.  Alabama was not beating Georgia with him as the quarterback.  Coach Saban chose to substitute Hurts and his 25-2 record and insert Tagovailoa.  The rest is championship history.

The responsibility of leadership is to place what’s best for the organization over what’s best for the individual.  A price of leadership is hard decisions.

I work with a lot of churches.  One of the biggest mistakes I see pastors and church leaders make is in the name of kindness and Christian love, they choose not to make the hard decision of helping transition staff who have reached the peak of their skill and ability to new ministry opportunities at other churches.  They would then replace them with someone with more skill, fresh ideas and a higher capacity.

The following are a few important items to remember if you are willing to follow Coach Saban’s example:

  • Be Kind.  These are real people with real lives.  Do not just “kick them to the curb”.  Use your personal leadership network to find them a place of service in another organization which perfectly fits their skills and capacity.  Honor and take care of them on the way out.
  • Be Careful.  A lack of gratefulness can sink your organization.  You may have it better than you think.  The Tennessee Volunteers have never recovered from removing national champion head coach Phillip Fulmer.  They thought they were in need of a leadership upgrade.  What has followed is a decade of missed expectations.
  • Be Courageous.  The Georgia Bulldogs were in the national championship game in large part because the school’s administration made the unpopular decision to replace Mark Richt with Kirby Smart.  Their feeling was Coach Richt had taken the program as far as he could and new leadership was needed.  The administration proved to be right.  Nick Saban replaced quarterback Jalen Hurts with freshman Tua Tagovailoa because he felt Hurts had taken the team as far as he could.  Coach Saban proved to be right as well.

Coach Saban placed the needs of Alabama’s players, coaches, staff, alumni and fans above the needs of an individual.  As a result, he is champion for the sixth time.

One courageous decision may be all that is preventing you from achieving maximum organizational success as well.

To receive more leadership insights from Coach Saban, click HERE or on the image to the left for my new ebook The Leadership Of Nick Saban: Timeless Truths From The Incomparable Head Coach Of The Alabama Crimson Tide.  Enjoy!

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