Here are the steps University of Alabama football coach Nick Saban says are key on the journey to success, whether it’s football or business

Last updated on April 16th, 2021 at 02:26 pm

As a college football coach who has led his teams to seven national championships, Nick Saban knows a little something about traveling the road to success. And in Saban’s eyes, success in football or in business isn’t achieved by focusing on the prize but rather by giving attention to all the steps that must be taken on the journey toward winning the prize.

“One of the things I always struggle with,” Saban said, “is we live in such an outcome-oriented world. 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 leader in business talking about how much product they want to sell, Saban said, the leader should be working with individuals “to do the things that are going to help them get the outcome we want to achieve.”

Saban, the University of Alabama’s head football coach, shared his thoughts on leadership and achieving success in the April episode of the 21st Century Business Forum, which features monthly one-on-one interviews with some of the nation’s most prominent business minds and thought leaders. Click here to watch Saban’s interview on demand.

The Business Forum is presented by BizTimes Media and sponsored by Johnson Financial Group.

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 the podcast’s host, author Jon Gordon. And, Saban added, “I think mindset is a very important part of culture.”

In order to breed success, leaders need “to 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.”

The second part of leadership, Saban said, 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,” Saban said.

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, “Complacency breeds a blatant disregarding for doing what’s right.”

The Business Forum continues in May 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. It airs May 12 at 11 a.m. to 11:40 a.m. Register to view the webcast free here.

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Andrew is the editor of BizTimes Milwaukee. He joined BizTimes in 2003, serving as managing editor and real estate reporter for 11 years. A University of Wisconsin-Madison graduate, he is a lifelong resident of the state. He lives in Muskego with his wife, Seng, their son, Zach, and their dog, Hokey. He is an avid sports fan and is a member of the Muskego Athletic Association board of directors.