What would you do if one of your key team leaders was unable to work? Now imagine if your best backup got hurt, as well. Finally, imagine this happened at the most important time of your year. Could your team recover? How would you inspire your team to take their game to a whole new level? Coach Urban Meyer and his Ohio State Buckeyes have had this happen and they are one game away from achieving their goals for this year on Monday, January 12.
I was given an opportunity to watch Coach Urban Myer work his magic when he arrived at The Ohio State University. He was coming into a football program with a heritage of winning that had been just suspended for the actions of several players and coaches. The University was still in a state of confusion and Coach Meyer was brought on to help take over the program. What did Coach Meyer do? He ran off an undefeated regular season, even though everyone knew they wouldn’t be able to play in any post season games. Just because they were suspended, Coach didn’t let anyone slack off.
Now what can serving leaders learn from this great coach from the heart of Ohio? He was born in Toledo and grew up 45 minutes from here, in Ashtabula, Ohio. He’s a great example of the many excellent leaders Ohio has produced. I had an opportunity to spend some time with Coach Meyer, his leadership team, and several hundred of his biggest fans, the many high school football coaches from across Ohio.
The first quality Coach Meyer displays is how to communicate his ideas. In this case, it was to high school coaches across the state. He had met many of these coaches over the years on recruiting trips, but he quickly got down to business, sharing the values and ideas he thought were critical to be a successful leader. He shared great coaches are accountable for results. He talked about his career and shared that he felt that one quality he looked for in every coach and athlete he worked with was that each person take responsibility for their actions. He talked about several people who had impacted his life so powerfully. He challenged the leaders in the room to make a difference in their communities. No excuses.
The second quality Coach Meyer displays are what I call leadership intangibles. Can the leader connect with their people in a personal way? He suggested that great leaders were great because they could take their fellow team members to higher levels of performance than they might have thought possible. He did this by stressing the fundamentals. He talked about our mutual friend, Coach Wooden, who believed no detail was too small when working with others. He stressed that values matter. He felt it was important that leaders not only shared their values, but lived them.
The third quality Coach Meyer displays is that the leader owns their back yard. He talked about the critical nature of relationships in building a strong organization. He shared that little things add up to big things. He stressed that he wanted to build a bridge to all the people in the room. He guaranteed that his leadership team would be responsive to the needs of the many different coaches in the room. After all, if he couldn’t keep a promise he didn’t deserve their trust moving forward.
As a serving leader it is critical to have trust with all your stakeholders, even when it’s uncomfortable. I had a chance to talk with several coaches who knew Coach Meyer and they each shared a time where they needed something and Coach Meyer had delivered. His reputation for building strong leaders was a quality we can all emulate.
The final thing I learned from Coach Meyer that day was play the cards you’re dealt. Great coaches don’t complain or explain away why things were going the way they had, but instead he chose to let his team do the talking. They went undefeated in his first season. I believe you can judge a leader’s character when things are the most challenging. This year, it would have been easy to write off the season when they lost their All-Conference quarterback. Maybe even after their loss, but they kept on playing and working together. Now imagine losing you quarterback right before the Big Ten Championship. Imagine playing the championship with your final third string quarterback in the game, and winning.
Imagine getting into the playoffs and drawing the nation’s number one team, Alabama. I wasn’t worried; I knew Coach Meyer’s Ohio State team would play their best game. He knows how to get the most out of his teams. I just wasn’t sure if it would be enough.
Every person makes a contribution to a winning organization. Not a bad lesson to remember as we move into 2015 as serving leaders. Go Buckeyes!