During my wait for the bus this morning, I did my daily ritual of scanning a select set of websites.  And this morning on CNNMoney, I read an excellent (and lengthy) article about Nick Saban, Head Coach of University of Alabama’s football program.  Titled “Leadership Lessons from Nick Saban” (see the article here — actually, this article will be in the September 24th issue of Fortune), I couldn’t help but be intrigued.

Throughout the article, I smiled and laughed.  No, it’s not a funny, humorous article.  Instead, it reinforces so much that I’ve been thinking, and what I’ve been hearing throughout my consulting experience and in business school.  

Coach Saban developed what is referred to in the locker rooms in Tuscaloosa (and his prior stops at Michigan State, LSU, etc.) as The Process.  Instead of focusing on W’s, Saban preaches to his players to trust The Process.  Trust the coaching and fellow team members’ skills.  “Saban keeps his players and coaches focused on execution — yes, another word for process — rather than results” [1].  Coach Saban firmly believes in what he coaches, and luckily, it’s worked out quite well for him.  The article continues…

[…] Sound like your typical chief executive? “I think it’s identical,” Saban says, digging into his salad. “First of all, you’ve got to have a vision of ‘What kind of program do I want to have?’ Then you’ve got to have a plan to implement it. Then you’ve got to set the example that you want, develop the principles and values that are important, and get people to buy into it.” [1]

Coach Saban structures his program around his own core values, and the whole of the community of the University of Alabama, not just its football players, benefit from his leadership.  Since Coach Saban took over the reins at Alabama, the program has held the number 2 position in football players’ graduation rate in the SEC (after Vanderbilt) for the last 3 years.  Saban even helps coordinate his players to do philanthropy having provided aid to tornado victims last year.  All this while producing a National Championship this past January, 8 first-round draft picks the last two years, and so much more.

All through the article, the article’s author Brian O’Keefe details the diligence and sheer commitment to the program and his players.  Commitment including some hard-nosed recruiting that prompted the NCAA to create the “Saban Rule” (limits the travel of coaches to potential recruits — Saban apparently now Skypes with many recruits).  Terry Saban (the Coach’s wife) shares the stress and passion Coach Saban has for perfection. It’s not just about winning or doing something well… it’s about the opportunity to improve.  “You should always ‘evaluate success’. Even when you win, you should study what you could have done better and plan how to improve next time.”[1]

Success comes from the top-down.  Success is bred from Leaders like Coach Saban who instill positive cultures and ethics.  Success is the result of hardwork and dedication.  Coach Saban has his goals (to win Championships, to enable his players to reach their goals and achieve greatness), but he doesn’t focus on the results.  He follows the Process.  Three National Championships, NFL players aplenty, loving family… yeah, I think the Process works pretty well.

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[1] O’Keefe, Brian.  Leadership Lessons from Nick Saban.  In CNNMoney. [Website]. Retrieved September 7, 2012, from http://money.cnn.com/2012/09/07/news/companies/alabama-coach-saban.fortune/

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