Nick Saban: Focus on steps to success, not end prize

As a 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 on all the steps necessary to winning the prize.

“One of the things I always struggle with,” Saban says, “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 says, 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. The Business Forum is presented by Business Report and sponsored by LaPorte CPAs & Business Advisors and the East Baton Rouge Parish Library. 

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 says.

“I think the hardest thing for most folks is the discipline piece.” 

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 says. “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 says, is a willingness “to help other people for their benefit, not for your benefit.” Doing so for your benefit “is manipulation.”

Saban says 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 says. “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 says. 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 says. Successful people can become complacent, and complacency breeds a disregarding for doing what’s right.