I was happy to attend the first football game of the year for my alma mater, Northwestern, as they defeated Boston College last Saturday. Yeah, I should have been working on my book. College football, especially early in a season, provides plenty of moments when young players make mistakes born of inexperience or players just flat out bobble, stumble, or mess up.
Arguably, the measure of a leader comes not when times are good, but when times are tough. How does a leader respond, whether they are a football coach or a leader in the workplace?
The second year coach at Notre Dame is catching heat for a pattern of publicly lambasting players on the sidelines on national TV during games, see the article Is Brian Kelly too angry to be Notre Dame’s head coach? and the photo below.
From the article:
On at least three separate occasions, following a first quarter interception into the end zone by quarterback Dayne Crist, a third quarter interception that bounced off the helmet of receiver T.J. Jones (above) and a botched formation that forced a timeout before a two-point conversion attempt in the fourth quarter, NBC’s cameras caught coach Brian Kelly getting up close and purple with his players, picking up more than a few words than a few words in the process that would make the pope’s lip-reader blush. Hint: He wasn’t speaking Latin.
Some are calling for Kelly to be fired, but that might have to do more with his 8-6 record over a season plus. You might brush it off and say, “Come on, it’s football!” but that sort of behavior isn’t the only way to address things, turning purple faced.
Speaking of purple, Northwestern is known for our purple uniforms and our 36 year old coach, Pat Fitzgerald, who is in his sixth season after being two time national defensive player of the year as a player on the Northwestern Rose Bowl team of the 1995 and 1996 era.
This article describes the approach “Fitz” takes: NU carves out tough, clean identity
On the very first play of the NU/BC game, Northwestern gave up a long 69 yard run. Yup, first play. Way to start the season, eh? But the defense held strong on the next three plays and BC only got a field goal, somewhat stunting their momentum. Redshirt freshman Ibrahim Campbell was singled out as making a poor decision on the first play, leading to a wide open hole for the BC running back.
“It was (Campbell’s) wrong fit that gave up the long run and the next play they ran the exact play and he filled the hole for the tackle for loss,” Fitzgerald recalled. “That’s the response we want. So as he came off the field I was proud of him and said, ‘Welcome to college football.’ You can be the goat one play and the hero the next.”
Coach Fitz is a passionate guy. He’s demonstrative, but it’s usually in support of this players.
From the article:
More than in the NFL, a college head coach’s reaction to adversity determines whether his team learns from mistakes or fears making them so much it makes more. What manner best fits Fitz? He yells for emphasis but rarely reaches the point where his face turns the color of Northwestern’s helmet.
“Instead of berating guys and getting down on guys we look at it as a teachable and coachable opportunity,” Fitzgerald said. “We know how to win. It’s a long game.”
Read that last part – the coach’s reaction to adversity determines whether players learn or just get fearful. Can the same dynamics apply in the workplace? When I was at GM in the mid ’90s, we had a plant superintendent who was definitely the Brian Kelly type, yelling and screaming, belittling people, and blaming people left and right. The yelling and screaming didn’t improve quality or productivity and it certainly didn’t do anything for workplace morale. He was anything but a Lean leader.
For many reasons, I’m proud that Fitz and his coaching style are on display on the Northwestern sideline each Saturday. Go ‘Cats!
Thanks for reading! I’d love to hear your thoughts. Please scroll down to post a comment. Click here to receive posts via email. Learn more about Mark Graban’s speaking, writing, and consulting.