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Lessons From Alabama Football to Influence the C-Suite

Lessons From Alabama Football to Influence the C-Suite

September 2023


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As an executive search consultant, I spend my time helping clients make the most important decisions for their organization: choosing who will fill their C-suite. 

Consistently throughout the process of selecting executive leadership, I find myself drawing lessons from my past experiences on the football field. 

It’s been a while since I strapped on a helmet and put my hand in the dirt. Nevertheless, the principles that I learned on the field at the University of Alabama continue to drive my passion for connecting organizations with the leaders that will help them win. 

Here are a few inspiring lines from Alabama coaching top brass over the decades that serve as powerful reminders to keep in mind as you recruit C-level talent. 

Paul “Bear” Bryant

I want to start with the man, the myth, the legend: Paul “Bear” Bryant. Coach Bryant is an Alabama leader who coached during my time at the school. He led the team to 13 conference championships and is a member of the College Football Hall of Fame. Here’s one of my favorite quotes from coach: 

If you believe in yourself and have dedication and pride – and never quit – you’ll be a winner. The price of victory is high but so are the rewards.

Bryant’s Wisdom on the Field

For Coach Bryant, the recipe for success was clear. Every single one of the 11 men on the field needed to be dedicated to their job and determined to carry it through.  

Collective success requires an enthusiastic commitment to excellence at all costs. It means treating failure as a lesson and prioritizing the team over personal victories. 

Bryant’s Wisdom in the Workplace 

The same concept applies to the C-suite. Each member of your team must understand that collective success comes from professionals dedicated to their company’s purpose. They must be determined to excel in their work, both individually and as a team. 

Gene Stallings 

Gene Stallings started and ended a wildly successful coaching career at Alabama—first as a defensive assistant in the late 50s and early 60s, then as the head coach from 1990 – 1996. He was a winner through and through, and more importantly, he knew how to handle success: 

You don’t have to flaunt your success, but you don’t have to apologize for it, either. 

Stallings’ Wisdom on the Football Field 

On the field, Stallings encouraged his players to strive to be winners. They didn’t need to show off, nor did they need to brag about their successes.  

They shouldn’t care about what others think of them at all. Instead, their attention needed to be focused inward on themselves, their team, and what it took to maintain a championship pedigree. 

Stallings’ Wisdom in the Workplace 

Winning is an event. It’s a stationary moment in time. You can’t ride on the momentum of past successes forever, and good leaders know that. 

Successful leaders understand that it takes a continual focus on bettering themselves to remain effective at work. They can’t rest on their laurels or use past achievements to soothe insecurities. They need to always be looking for how they and their employees can maintain their edge—without apologies. 

Nick Saban

Nick Saban has presided over the recent run of Crimson Tide success. Saban’s time at Alabama is rooted in deep leadership wisdom, including this quote that first caught my eye a while ago: 

People who are role models for the principles and values of the organization, who buy in and understand the vision of what the organization is trying to accomplish and have the personality to inspire other people to the vision. You know, that’s what team chemistry and leadership is all about.

Saban’s Wisdom on the Field 

For Coach Saban, you can’t overstate the importance of leadership—at every level of an organization. Team management is critical here. You have to be able to select the right people and put them in the right places.  

A great coach can transform and motivate a team by identifying the right role models. They must be able to place and position these individuals to infuse and inspire an organization with the right principles for sustained success. 

Saban’s Wisdom in the Workplace 

At work, these same principles apply. In fact, you want to select every employee with an eye toward finding individuals who can embrace and exemplify your company culture. Nowhere is that more important than with leadership.  

Modern leaders face a mountain of ever-increasing challenges. As an executive recruiter, I am always on the lookout for individuals that line up with my client organization’s values and mission. From there, I look for a candidate with the exact qualifications as well as the dedication, determination, and enthusiasm to get that game plan into action. 

Ken Donahue 

Last but not least, I want to include a piece of insightful wisdom from Ken Donahue, who has his own impressive coaching record and also served as an assistant coach under Bear Bryant while I was on the team. He said: 

The ‘Eye in the Sky’ don’t lie.

Donahue’s Wisdom on the Field 

For Coach Donahue, posterity was a priority. From the moment a player stepped foot on the field, they needed to be aware of the fact that everything they were doing was being recorded for the posterity of the team.  

Cameras are brutally honest in their feedback. Players can look at this as daunting… or use it as an opportunity for growth.  

Donahue’s Wisdom in the Workplace 

This same concept of “eye in the sky” accountability is essential to a healthy workplace. Every member of the team must have access to honest, neutral feedback. 

What they do with that feedback is up to them. However, if you invest in an elite recruiting process and look for individuals with the right leadership qualities, you can expect a high-functioning group of C-level executives to only get better when they’re empowered to support one another and play to each other’s strengths. 

Bringing Coaching Wisdom from the Field Into the Workplace 

Football may be a sport, but it has very relevant lessons that apply to the workplace, too. If you want to build a successful company, you have to start by applying the right lessons in leadership at the highest levels. 

I’ve helped countless brands in many different fields utilize the above wisdom in their search for top executives. By working with an executive search consultant, you can tap into that knowledge and build a leadership team that can turn your organization into a championship-caliber company. Let us help you find the winners and get them into the game. 

About the Author 

Daniel Casteel is a Managing Partner at Stanton Chase Nashville and the Global Leader of Stanton Chase’s CEO Practice Group. He is a veteran global executive who leverages his extensive experience in building executive leadership teams across diverse industries and geographies for the benefit of his clients. Daniel’s consultative and inquisitive approach enables him to truly understand his client’s which, in conjunction with his authentic style, enables him to excel in working in partnership with his clients to aid them in their most important decisions—selecting and retaining superior executive leadership talent. 

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