Process. The approach used by one of history's most successful coaches
"Don’t think about winning the SEC Championship. Don’t think about the national championship. Think about what you need to do in this drill, on this play, in this moment. That’s the process: Let’s think about what we can do today, the task at hand. ” — Nick Saban
When it comes to college football, I'm a transplanted Michigan State Spartan and devoted Georgia Dawg who grew up in the heart of SEC country. Where I'm from, hating Nick Saban is one of the most popular pastimes.
In a profile of the prolific Coach Saban for GQ magazine, Warren St. John wrote: "Few men in sports make a better villain than the unsmiling, unsparing, unstoppable coach of the back-to-back national champion Alabama Crimson Tide."
Whether you love him or hate him, there is little question that there are lessons to be learned from his approach. It's one which is remarkably similar to the thing that consistently helps successful businesses become world class. He focuses on the process.
In the book The Obstacle is the Way, author Ryan Holiday writes that anyone can take advantage of Coach Saban's way of doing things. Rather than encouraging his players to keep their minds trained on winning another title, he has them focus only on what is directly in front of them. They focus on the process rather than the outcome.
The idea is that concerning oneself too much with the unknowable future is distracting and anxiety-inducing, which can lead to failure.
Saban's approach takes complicated tasks like football games, seasons, or recruiting and breaks them down into smaller, more manageable pieces. Knowing that the average football play lasts around seven seconds, his players and coaches concentrate only on those seconds, take a rest between plays, then do it all over again. The results speak for themselves.
The vast majority of coaches will never reach a level of achievement comparable to Nick Saban's. They live under the ceiling of success achieved by motivating their teams towards outcomes or goals. They spend their careers building fires in their players' bellies, based on how badly they want to raise that trophy over their heads at the end of the big game. They spend their lives measuring success from one Saturday game day to the next.
Most business owners will never bridge the gap between their potential and their performance. They spend their energies mired in the day-to-day business tasks. They set goals which focus on the products and services that their business produces--selling more widgets, opening more locations, increase store traffic, growing more followers. They spend their lives measuring their successes the number of goals achieved. For them, that is normal.
"It's not human nature to be great. Saban says. "It's human nature to survive, to be average and do what you have to do to get by. That is normal. When something good happens, it's the special people that can stay focused and keep paying attention to detail, working to get better and not being satisfied with what they have accomplished."
Love him or hate him, there's no arguing against Nick Saban's record and even his fiercest critics can take a lesson from his discipline to focus on process, wisdom to build an infrastructure that supports this standardized approach, and character to lead a team of individuals as part of a larger culture of excellence. He may never be beloved by those of us who cheer for opposing teams, but his success is something that any entrepreneurial leader would be wise to emulate by skipping resolutions and goals, aligning the team, and laying the groundwork for transformative change.