I love reading what people think makes an entrepreneur successful.  Mostly because it reminds me everyday that there is no secret formula.  Every article is written to the writer’s perspective, and it really is so different from person to person.  Take the latest article I read: The Single Most Important Habit of Successful Entrepreneurs.  The author, Mr. Dan Kennedy of Entrepreneur, argues that punctuality is [his] criteria.

Kennedy writes about the relationship between respecting another person’s time with the respect of the other’s opinions.  It’s a relay and reciprocation of respect of the other’s time with the respect of his/ her own time.

If anything, I would say that being detail-oriented would be my gauge of success.  Aside from potentially the mental aspect of being “gritty”, I have to say that being detail-oriented is my biggest criteria.  I admit — being detailed is kind of a big bucket.  It includes things like being detailed enough to check your work, knowing the background of a company or person you’re interviewing with, having that little extra “oomph” in your dress on a date, or even, yes, being on time because you prepared to take into account traffic.

Being detail-oriented separates the goods from the Greats.  Most people can do well on tasks they’re given, but think about someone who’s impressed you.  Was it the person who just got it done, or the person who got it done and went above and beyond to make it QUALITY?  It’s well known the little details the late Steve Jobs would require from Apple.  Then there’s Alabama’s Nick Saban and his pursuit of perfection from the start whistle to the end (the game against Auburn not withstanding).

I’ve noticed this actually in a lot of different quirks that executives watch for including some of the below:

  • My father is the Principal at his electrical and mechanical engineering firm.  I remember when I was younger that he taught me to “complete my circles” when I wrote an “8” or an “O”.  He argued that it was the detail of “closing the loop” that was something he looked for since he deals with sometimes 10’s of pages of size E drawings (34″x44″) with little AutoCAD scribbles needing to be reviewed with a fine-tooth comb.
  • An AVP at a major mobile wireless company scrutinized people’s dress.  Was it sloppy?  Did it look like the prospective partner walked in with a shirt straight off the floor?  What did he drive?  The AVP argued that a person’s dress, the car, etc. it all made some statement about how well he did his work believing that personal life affected work style in addition to the confidence transpired from some material objects.
  • A strength coach once made the remark about his interns who were tasked to wash his shaker bottles.  He said that every shaker bottle had to be washed a certain way believing that if an intern couldn’t even do something as “remedial” as washing a bottle, how could he trust the intern to coach an athlete that could be worth several million dollars?  The money thrust into sports can be so significant that every detail of a strength program had to be carefully put together as to not injure or fatigue the player for game day.
  • One from my earlier life as a consultant, I learned the importance in making quality, consistent deliverables.  My previous boss and one of my clients really demonstrated the importance of consistency.  Our deliverables went beyond just me, but they represented my team as well and even my whole company.  Clients notice the little things including when you’re traversing a presentation and font jumps up and down, left and right… It’s distracting and takes away from the message you’re trying to convey.  Also, if you fail to do a spell check, if this happens from the onset, good luck keeping credibility for the rest of the meeting.
Any particular quirks or levels of detail you watch for in people?  What have you noticed that has stood out to make people more/ less successful?

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/