3 leadership lessons from a legendary football coach (that have nothing to do with football)

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True leadership isn’t just about winning. Secrets from Legendary BYU College Football Coach, LaVell Edwards

LaVell Edwards, former football coach at Brigham Young University, died at the end of 2016 and is one of the greatest coaches of all time. He took a relatively unknown team and built a top football program. Even with all his success on the field, his greatest legacy is seen in the lives of his former players. Here are 3 lessons on leadership, as told by his former players:

1. Care about Those You Lead

Hear what former players had to say about LaVell:

“The #1 quality that Coach had was a gift to see things that you didn’t see, to see potential in you that you didn’t know about – He was like the Johnny Appleseed, just spreading seeds of goodwill and positivity”

– Steve Young


“He made [his team] better players, but more than that, he made them better husbands, better fathers, better men. That’s the trophy – that’s the legacy of LaVell Edwards”

– Trevor Matich (ESPN interview)

Lavell was personal and compassionate. He could see potential in others and he used that gift to lift others.

Many leaders have the gift of vision. They see into the future. What impact could we have on our employees, businesses, communities, etc. if more leaders used those skills of vision to genuinely help individuals (not just to make money)? This is one of those skills that I know has a positive impact on the bottom line, even though it’s hard to measure.


2. Remember that Leadership Impacts Families

“The legacy of LaVell Edwards is not that trophy inside the case. It’s that father standing outside the case.”

– Trevor Matich (ESPN)

Building Mothers and Fathers is the greatest form of leadership. Parents are the real impact in this world. That is where change truly happens – building Mothers and Fathers who can teach patterns of happiness and success to their children.

This past year, I was at an education summit in Washington D.C. The summit brought college deans, educational policymakers, and education tech. entrepreneurs together to talk about improving education. Through dozens of presentations, one factor remained unmentioned: Parents.

After a full day of intellectuals discussing ways to improve education, I was troubled that parents hadn’t even come up. Granted, it’s easier to talk about new technology or additional funding. Those are quick, external fixes. Changing families is hard. That’s what makes LaVell Edward’s legacy that much more powerful.

Leaders would do well to consider their impact not just on work or sports, but in the lives of those they lead and their families.

Leaders would do well to consider their impact not just on work or sports, but in the lives of those they lead and their families. Click To Tweet

3. Winning isn’t the Goal

“LaVell had a pure heart. He was the dream coach of every parent. His example will forever be with me, and I will strive to live a life of love as he always did.”

– Tom Holmoe

Was he tough? Absolutely. But he was tough for a reason, and that reason wasn’t just winning. Winning in sports or business is a by-product of great leadership, but it isn’t the ultimate goal. Relationships and serving others brings true happiness. That’s why one of the top regrets of the dying is spending too much time on work. LaVell obviously cared about more than just winning football games.

Some might say that it’s cute to talk about caring about people and not focusing on winning, but that reality is different. It’s easy to talk about this stuff when you are winning. It’s true, if he hadn’t been a great football coach, he wouldn’t have stayed a coach long enough to have this kind of impact on people.

I’m not saying that this aspect of leadership excuses excellence and hard work. But I have personally seen the emptiness that comes from winning at the expense of relationships. That optimizes the short term at the expense of the future.

“all that has happened to me in my chosen profession is a mere drop in the bucket compared to the truly important things in my life.”

– LaVell Edwards

... all that has happened to me in my chosen profession is a mere drop in the bucket compared to the truly important things in my life. - LaVell Edwards Click To Tweet

Conclusion

We often talk about qualities of leadership that, while important, distance leaders from those they lead. The greatest legacies are built by those who can see beyond the bottom line. I challenge current leaders to ask themselves:

  • How do I show those I lead that I care for them? Do I show them often?
  • What is my ultimate goal as a leader? Do those I lead know that goal?
  • Am I compassionate towards those I work with, remembering that I can impact how they contribute to their family?

May we lead in a way that builds people (which in turn builds truly great businesses, departments, products, and football teams).

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Ryan Seamons writes about more human approaches to modern management.

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