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Archive for March, 2021

Studies in Leadership: Robert E. Lee

Posted by admin March - 23 - 2021 - Tuesday ADD COMMENTS

I’m not here to discuss politics. I’m not here to discuss history. I’m here to help coaches become better coaches. There are those out there who want to do nothing more than “stir things up” by trying to create controversy. I’m not one of them. Robert E. Lee was an outstanding commander. Rarely in the annals of US history are you going to find a more effective leader. It doesn’t matter which “side” he was on. What does matter is: did he possess and display leadership qualities that we as coaches can learn from? That’s it… bottom line.

What made Lee such an outstanding leader? First and foremost, he had excellent leadership training. Anyone who graduates from one of America’s military academies (Lee graduated from West Point) is going to receive outstanding leadership training. This is why I always encourage young (and old!) coaches to be “students of the game.” Be a life-long learner. In April of 1999, the spring prior to coming back into full-time coaching as an OC, I set up a meeting with an outstanding Wing T coach in our area. He was surprised that an “old ball coach” wanted to learn from him. I told him just what I’m telling you: “Never stop studying your craft. You can always walk away with one tid bit of info that might help you win a game!

Lee was passionate about his cause. Whether you agree with his decision to resign his commission in the US Army and support the Army of Virginia or not (*and just for historical accuracy here… Lee’s passion was for his home state. In the mid 1800’s, there was an entirely different attitude about your home state and how much it meant to you compared to today. Most of us cannot appreciate the love that Lee had for Virginia.) Lee’s cause that he was passionate about was defending his home. All of us know how effective Nike’s slogan was about “Protect This House!” I know that we used it any number of times when I coached.

The best motivators grant their officers (assistant coaches) independence and responsibility. Of course, that means that first a “commander” has to build a cadre of officers whom he can trust. Once they prove their loyalty and ability, then a HC can begin to delegate. Lee had that knack of finding great leaders among his officer corps. Once he found them, he was confident in giving them orders— knowing that they would carry them out.

With that in mind, a leader needs to “find his Stonewall.” Find an assistant coach whom you trust and (this is important) shares your vision for how you want to run your program. Then… turn him lose. For 16 years, I was fortunate to have an assistant coach who gave his all to me and to our program. It was easy to let him “do his thing” because I knew that the values that I held were the ones that he was instilling in his linemen.

In turn, then, Lee consulted his subordinates. He would talk through alternative approaches and gave his staff the opportunity to explain their views. Lee didn’t always agree with his staff but he did listen. This is the best teaching tool that a HC possesses. The off-season is the perfect time to “test” an assistant coach and see if he can handle a responsibility. You need to discover it then— not in the midst of the battle!

Lee was quoted as saying that “I cannot trust a man to control others who cannot control himself.” I think it’s becoming apparent that a KEY to success if building an effective leadership team. This holds true for players also. Be careful when selecting Captains or your Leadership Council that you don’t allow it to be a “popularity contest.” You are looking for leaders.

Finally, Lee was an effective communicator. He learned through trial and error during the Mexican War in the 1940’s that strategic plans (game plan for coaches) need to simple and direct. When plans become complicated, progress is impeded. When a HC communicates to his assistants, it needs to be clear and concise.

Lee and the Confederate army held a superior (in number) Army of the North at bay for over 2 years because Lee was the better general. He employed strategies and tactics that the Northern generals failed to employ— that is, until Ulysses Grant took charge. *I shared Grant’s leadership skills several weeks ago. Grant knew that all he had to do was “ground and pound.” He was the first to strategically use his superior numbers to overwhelm Lee’s forces. As we say in football, Grant “enforced his will” upon his opponent. He wore Lee’s army down and finally forced them to capitulate. To Lee’s credit, he out-maneuvered and out-foxed the Union generals until Lincoln put Grant in command.

What have we learned here? Create an effective staff. A HC can’t do it all on his own. Once you have that effective staff in place, learn to lean on them. It is a KEY to success for any organization.

Studies in Leadership: George Washington

Posted by admin March - 15 - 2021 - Monday ADD COMMENTS

I continue to read books about the different wars that the US has fought since its inception in 1776. Finishing a book on the American Revolutionary War was eye-opening. I had no idea what an “upset” our victory over Great Britain was. The US beating Russia in the Winter Olympics pales in comparison to the job that Washington and his army pulled off against the British! Not only were the Colonists fighting against the strongest army in the world but… they were outnumbered in manpower about 3 to 1. Fortunately for Washington and the colonial army, the British had several inept commanding generals going up against the Americans. It never fails to amaze me how leaders will hesitate when victory is in their grasp and fail to “put away” their enemy. This was the case any number of times during the Revolutionary War. Washington, quite frankly, was lucky! However, the longer the war dragged on, the more Washington learned to take advantage of the British commanders’ indecisiveness. Washington went through a “baptism of fire” as he learned effective leadership skills. But, he did learn from his mistakes. Eventually, it allowed him to turn the tables on the British army and defeat them. It’s not the best way to learn leadership skills; but, if you ever find yourself thrust into a leadership role, being open to learning is the best possible position you can put yourself into. Let’s look at how George Washington grew into a great leader.

1- He was named Commander-in-Chief of the American army with only limited fighting experience. Washington did have that “it” factor that I’ve talked about previously. That “it” is a self-confidence that great leaders possess— without being arrogant. He naturally drew people TO him. Interestingly, Washington was not a great public speaker. So giving passionate motivational speeches wasn’t his thing. He was not a politician. He didn’t spin situations to make himself look good nor did he curry favor with the members of the Continental Congress. Finally, as I stated, he was not an expert tactician. His lack of training and experience in fighting wars was the main reason for lacking this quality.

2- What Washington DID have was “instincts.” He knew when to hit and when to run. He had great instincts about people too. He did a good job of surrounding himself with commanders who knew how to fight. Those who were simply looking for the title of general, Washington quickly eliminated from command positions. Men like Lafayette and Vin Steuben, though, he gave plenty of leeway in taking charge.

3- Washington built loyalty among his staff. This is a continuation of #2. Once he found those commanders (assistant coaches!) who could lead and fight, he built trust with them. Washington knew the importance of having subordinates who respected him and would fight FOR him— not AGAINST him. He was willing to delegate authority to those commanders who were loyal to him. I think he knew that Benedict Arnold was going to show his “true colors” sooner or later. Washington never gave Arnold the respect that Arnold thought he deserved. Thus, his name became synonymous with traitor.

4- His men (players) respected him. Washington earned that respect the hard way… which is the right way! Nobody in his army outworked the General. The story is told that when the American army arrived at Yorktown to start the siege of Cornwallis’ British army, Washington called for a shovel. He was the first man to begin digging the earthworks to protect the Americans from the British cannon. When you see your leader (Head Coach) out there doing the “dirty work” with the grunts, it’s got to have a positive impact on your people!

5- Washington is described by historians as possessing patience, dignity, perseverance and… an unwavering devotion to his cause. I call that “BIG Team! Little me.” The general was committed to seeing this fight for freedom become a reality. He held onto it during the darkest hours of the war. I wonder how many coaches give up too easily or… too soon? Because they weren’t really committed to the cause. Too many coaches are in it for their own ego.

George Washington ensured the existence of the United States of America. Truly… he was the Father of our country!

Studies in (BAD!) Leadership: Gen. George Custer

Posted by admin March - 2 - 2021 - Tuesday ADD COMMENTS

The Battle of Little Big Horn reveals a lot about how poor leadership can cause disastrous results. Studying American Indian tribes as early as the 3rd grade captivated me. As I got older and looked into the whole Westward Migration and the battles between white settlers and Native Americans, it became apparent to me that the Indians had a legitimate “beef” against the U.S. Army. When Sitting Bull pulled together so many Native Americans to fight the Cavalry, he proved to be a master strategist. Fortunately for Sitting Bull and the (predominantly) Sioux Indian tribes, they met an American general who proved to be one who failed miserably in exemplifying the characteristics that a good leader should possess and present! George Custer is worth looking at this week as an example of what NOT to do if you desire to be an effective leader!

1- Custer refused to listen to others. He viewed his judgment of situations to be far superior to any other commander on his staff. Thus, we would characterize Custer as being:

2- Arrogant and overconfident. He saw himself as superior— particularly when it came to his opinion of the Native American warriors. He underestimated his opponent’s abilities. It is so important to have a healthy respect for your opponent— regardless of how inferior you may think he is. When I was a HC, I would make a cut up tape of our opponent every week. That cut up included ONLY those plays where our opponent “made a play.” Even poor teams occasionally had a play worth including on my Scout Tape. I wanted our players to see our opponent at his best. My mantra was, “See? They are capable of making plays IF you let them! OR… if you go into the game underestimating their ability.” It usually got their attention. Rarely over a 15 year period did we lose a game that we should have won!

3- Custer was not entirely focused on the job at hand. For a soldier, his mission is to defeat the enemy! Custer was not focused on fighting the Sioux. His misguided concern was to trap and prevent their escape. Thus, he made his major blunder and split his forces.

4- Custer was simply out-coached; out-maneuvered; out-foxed! Sitting Bull lulled Custer into fighting on his own timetable and on his own field of battle. Custer failed to “scout” his opponent. He did not realize the strength and size of the Native American force that the Cavalry was to face.

5- The U.S. Cavalry lacked passion and commitment. The men of the 7th Cavalry were “tired of chasing Indians.” They were a long way from home. The Sioux, however, were defending their land. The mental frame of mind of the soldiers was poor. The Native Americans had something to prove.

So…. Custer divided his force and sent 2/3 of his men in different directions. If he had shown more patience and less hubris (arrogance), he might not have had his soldiers massacred. Because of poor planning and a bad attitude, Custer set up his men for failure. Unfortunately, for the 7th Cavalry, that meant that they lost their lives that day.