Listening to the post-game interviews after the Ohio State University (OSU) Buckeyes’ upset victories over Alabama and Oregon, the consistency of the message was stunning. Coach Meyer said, “We did it for the great state of Ohio, for the Buckeye fans, but most of all for each other.” What a sense of mission, excellence and commitment!
Coach Meyer told the world what he had been teaching the players: We believe in ourselves. We are confident about our future together. We will make mistakes, some of which will be painful and present extraordinary challenges (four turnovers). And, we will keep on following our purpose to success.
In our businesses, we all have big games and seasons, stars and supporters, public and private people. No matter what I’ve done over my 30 years in the business, it all comes down to people working together. Getting the order entered accurately; then to production, getting it made right; then to shipping, getting it shipped and protected correctly, and so on. ERP systems might make less room for error, help processes go faster and make it easier to do a good job, but nothing takes the place of teamwork in communication and execution, blocking and tackling, clarity of roles and assignments.
Ezekiel Elliott got a lot of well-deserved credit for his great running over the past three critical games, which he immediately shared with his offensive line and coaches. “I” am not separate from “we.” Our interdependence is a fundamental aspect of the OSU culture that Coach Meyer has developed. No matter how outstanding of an athlete is on the Buckeye team, their ego concept and realization of their full potential is expanded to “eco” – their connection to the whole. Ultimately, that’s the litmus test of leadership – how well our people and teams cooperate and work together, how they make the hand-offs in their processes from one part of the team to another, and how they see the interests of the one as the interest of the whole.
There are also good examples of how we deal with “failure” in football as in business. Defensive co-coordinator Luke Fickell was widely criticized after the defensive breakdowns at the end of the 2013-14 season. Coach Meyer said that the program, “was rife with…a blame, complain, defend culture.”
A recent article in the New York Times stated that Cardale Jones, OSU’s quarterback, “… has become over the last four games the symbol of the Buckeyes’ rapid transformation from a program that had lost its way to one that has been re-energized under Coach Urban Meyer.”
What changed to allow the success of this season, especially after such a slow start and season ending injuries to key players? It was a mental reset and a redefinition of what shared responsibility meant. It was an attitude adjustment to a perspective based on possibilities and collaboration rather than one based on individualism, blame and excuses.
Why didn’t Fickell get fired after the massive breakdown of the prior season? It’s hard to exactly know, but I’m guessing it had something to do with redefining his relationship to the team’s mission, coaching colleagues and the players. The coaches analyzed the root causes of the failures, clarified what needed to change, put a plan in place, and delivered results. This evolution has a lot to do with how his customers, the defensive players, responded to the change in direction. Their positive response is self-evident.
Idealizing and elevating our leaders above criticism is part of the “I” vs. “we” cultural myth that surrounds sports figures and some business leaders. Former Indiana basketball coach Bobby Knight was one of the most public sports figures who paraded his character flaws for all to see. You can Google “Urban Meyer’s meltdowns” and there’s plenty to read. Though Meyer has a great record as a Division One football coach, he had to fail his way to success just like our kids and the rest of us.
Urban’s myth of infallibility, or that greatness is bestowed, not earned in the trenches, was dispelled by OSU’s victories. Teamwork, clarity of purpose, self-responsibility, serving your customers – are essential parts of success in football, business and life.
Technoform North America, Inc., http://www.technoform.com/nc/us/
Eleven Warriors blog, http://www.elevenwarriors.com/ohio-state-football/2014/08/38359/life-without-ryan-shazier-and-other-realties-facing-ohio-states-linebackers-in-2014
New York Times, http://www.nytimes.com/2015/01/14/sports/ncaafootball/ohio-states-cardale-jones-learns-ability-is-pointless-without-maturity.html?ref=sports