So much has been written about what makes football coach Nick Saban great and what makes a great leader in general. No matter how much his University of Alabama teams win, they continue to play with urgency and force opponents to raise their level of play.
As a sports agent, I saw how Saban’s mentality worked when I visited Will Muschamp, then an assistant at LSU under Saban. His wife, Carol, was showing me their new home and apologized for the house not fully looking like home yet. “We don’t buy window treatments until we beat Alabama,” she told me with a laugh.
Now of course, Saban is the head coach at Alabama and doing a whole lot of winning.
So what’s his coaching leadership secret?
In studying Saban’s success, I believe his edge comes from staying in the now. Not just as a coach, but in persuading his players to continually approach each moment as a new challenge.
Here’s why now is so powerful, and how you can make now your engine to become a better coach and leader, too.
The Process Depends on the Present
Saban is known for his “Process,” of drilling his team to be reliable under any circumstances. That begins with his mindset of being present today. Being where your feet are now, as he puts it.
“The reason why Alabama is the most consistent program in college football is because Nick Saban is the most consistent person in college football,” said former quarterback Greg McElroy. “He’s the same guy the Monday before the national championship matchup as he is when you’re playing Kent State in Week 1. I’ve never seen someone so unfazed by the previous week’s outcome. The motto he spreads throughout the team is, ‘So what? What’s next?’ People think it’s crazy, but he doesn’t look at it like an eight-year achievement. He looks at it like a daily achievement.”
Now is the definition of focus on effort, with the outcome of that effort secondary. By focusing on your effort, you block out distractions.
“I’m not naive enough to think winning isn’t important,” says Saban. “But what that game made me realize is how much better it is for people not to worry about the opposition but to focus on executing and know if they do their job correctly they’re going to be successful, rather than thinking the other guy’s going to determine the outcome.”
To improve your coaching and leadership, here are seven key concepts around now:
1. Practicing now means that you let go of the past and its failures and successes, its highs and lows. You are not ruled by the future, either, and what will happen.
2. Being in the now, you accept that this moment is all that you have to work with, and you value it by making the most of it.
3. Now pushes you through the grind. An individual or team must push through a lot of discomfort. Some of it is frankly pretty boring. The more aware you are of the value of the moment, the more you can use it as a building block for your goal.
4. Now keeps you from getting ahead of yourself. You are not rushing. You are practicing how to savor where you are at present.
5. Saban constantly refers to the acronym WIN: What’s Important Now? In that way, he redefines winning for his team and focuses them on what they can control.
6. Now isn’t something you can fake. When you pour yourself into this mentality, you pay attention to (and are more likely to enjoy) what you are doing as a microcosm of the greater journey that you are on.
7. Now continues beyond milestones. As one of Saban’s staff says: You win the trophy, you hold it up, you take a picture, you hand it back and you go try to win the next one.
Your Game Changer Takeaway
Nick Saban’s secret to leadership is a winning one for coaches and leaders. Mindfully adopting the habit of now will make you more productive and happier. Now gets you and your team into the process and away from the pressures of the future and any disappointments from the past. Let me know how now works for you.
The Molly Fletcher Company inspires leaders, teams and organizations to kick-start growth. A keynote speaker and author, Molly draws on her decades of experiences working as a sports agent. Her company’s Game Changer Negotiation Training workshops teach business people the framework for successful negotiating, so that you can close more deals while building stronger relationships. Sign up here to receive our weekly newsletter and subscribe to the Game Changers with Molly Fletcher podcast on iTunes.