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Video: Nick Saban’s Tips for Success, in Football and Business

3 min read

In the eyes of Nick Saban, a seven-time winner of the national college football championship, success in football or business isn’t achieved by focusing on the prize but by giving attention to every step on the path to winning it.

“One of the things I always struggle with is we live in such an outcome-oriented world,” Saban said. “People want to focus on outcomes, and I think outcomes are a bit of a distraction.” 

Instead, leaders should focus on the process — that is, doing the things big and small that will produce the outcome they want to achieve. Rather than a business leader talking about how much product he or she wants to sell, Saban said, the leader should work with individuals “to do the things that are going to help them get the outcome” they want to achieve.

Full Interview

Saban, the University of Alabama head football coach, shared his thoughts on leadership and achieving success in the April episode of the “21st Century Business Forum,” which features one-on-one interviews with some of the nation’s top business minds and thought leaders. The Business Forum is presented by Arkansas Business and sponsored by CHI St. Vincent.

Register Now: The Business Forum continues May 12 with entrepreneur and renowned innovation keynote speaker Josh Linkner, a two-time New York Times best-selling author, on “The Novel Economy: Thriving in a Digital-First Environment.” Register to view the webcast free here.

Creating Culture

Whether in business or in sports, the most important thing a leader can do is to define and create the organization’s culture, Saban told host, author Jon Gordon. 

“I think mindset is a very important part of culture,” Saban said.

In order to breed success, leaders must “get people to have a vision for what they want to accomplish and what they want to do, to get them to understand ‘here’s the things you have to do to accomplish that, here’s how you have to edit your behavior to be able to do it,’ and then have the discipline to execute it every day,” Saban said.

“I think the hardest thing for most folks is the discipline piece,” the coach said. And when it comes to the “discipline piece,” the leader needs to set the example.

“The first thing about leadership to me is that you really have to be somebody that somebody (else) wants to emulate,” Saban said. “You have to do things the right way yourself, and I think a lot of times people would rather not choose to do that because it requires a commitment on their part.”

Creating Influencers

The second part of leadership is a willingness “to help other people for their benefit, not for your benefit.” Doing so for your benefit “is manipulation,” he said.

Saban said building good individual leaders on a team by investing time in people on a one-to-one basis allows those individuals to positively influence the people around them.

In football, for example, “If you have a good leader at every position, he can impact every player at his position,” Saban said. “Just like if you have good leadership in every part of your business, they can influence the individuals in their part” of the organization, he said. And that’s important “because the individuals make the team what it is.”

Although Saban is widely regarded as college football’s most successful coach, he warns against taking success for granted.

“Success is not a continuum; it’s temporary,” Saban said. Successful people can become complacent, he noted, adding that “complacency breeds a blatant disregarding for doing what’s right.”

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