Nick Saban is one of my favorite coaches. I respect his work ethic, the high expectations and standards he sets for himself and those around him, and “The Process.” His book How Good Do You Want To Be? is an explanation of The Process, the philosophy Saban teaches to his players and by which he lives his life. The two biggest pieces of this philosophy are perseverance in the face of adversity and continual improvement in the face of success. Never settle and never be satisfied. To some this philosophy makes him a joyless robot. To others he is a super genius. To me he is a fascinating study in what it takes to not only be the best at what you do but to stay the best. Saban admonishes the reader to “be relentless in the pursuit of your goals and resilient in the face of bad luck and adversity” and to dominate the next play: do not think about what you have just done, good or bad, but what you need to do right now.
After reading the book, I intended to “do something” with my notes. I thought about writing an article for publication or a long blog post. I was not sure how many librarians and academics would be interested in what Nick Saban had to say, but it would be a fun project. Unfortunately, it kept getting moved to the back burner while I worked on other things. I decided to post my notes and some thoughts here as a way to jumpstart the process, or perhaps this would be would I ultimately did with the book. The fall semester is here, and I found re-reading these notes to be inspiring.
Developing the Product
- Invest your time, do not spend it.
- You do not always get what you want, but you always get what you deserve.
- Promise a starting time, but not a quitting time.
- Patience is a necessity for success.
- Enjoy your work.
Five Simple Words
“Success is a direct result of making a commitment to a task, having the conviction to follow through, and having the character and attitude to make the kind of choices that will allow you have to success.” This is similar to John Wooden’s definition of success, which I think is the best way to define success.
Some of Saban’s thoughts on perseverance and how important it is to success.
- “Do not ever give up. Be persistent, be committed, be positive, and learn from every failing. Your perseverance will reward you someday.”
- “Expect it to be hard.”
- “Perseverance and adversity go hand in hand. You persevere when you can look adversity in the eye and see it as a challenge.”
This quote is one of my favorite. I should use it more often. “Be like the grass – the more manure they throw on you, the stronger you get.”
The Competitive Spirit
- Do not look at the scoreboard
- Climb the mountain, but watch your step
- Do not worry about mouse manure when you are up to your ears in elephant do-do
- Being focused does not mean having tunnel vision
- Focus on the center
- A lack of focus can be the result of a lack of experience
- Remember that success is never final and failure is never fatal
- Accept that you will make mistakes and do not dwell on them
- Lessons should be learned in success and failure
Like most coaches, Nick Saban wants to eliminate distractions and “externalities.” One way to do that is to teach focus, really mindfulness. Stop thinking about the past and the future and focus on what you need to do in the present moment. This is best seen in “the 24 hour rule” – “win or lose, move on after one day” and his mantra “play to dominate each play.”
“Do not be relieved when you are successful and do not get frustrated when you are failing to have success. Stay focused on the next play to dominate.”
Also important is the ability to know what to focus on. Too many people struggle to succeed because they are too bust worrying about things out of their control and never even try. The should listen to coach Saban, “The bottom line: focus on the things you can control and eliminate the clutter.”
While we should not let past failures or current difficulties stop us, neither should we let current success lessen our work ethic and drive for success. “You must persist no matter how close to the summit you are. Do not look at how many feet are left to the top – look only at the next step. It is the ability to focus on the precious present moment that is critical.” This is the hardest lesson to learn. We get a level of comfort and achievement and think, “Good enough.” People who can keep on learning, growing, and working hard even after great success are the ones who truly become the best they can be.
Know the Competition
- Think ten miles out
- Prepare for the worst
- Know that change can lead to better choices
- Learn from change
- Make a decision and do not look back
- Accept that you never know where life is going to take you
Another one of my favorite “down-homeisms” from coach, “proper preparation prevents piss-poor performance.”
“If you are going to lose, then do it with your best stuff. Know your strengths, play to them, and make the opponent beat you doing it.” Always bring the best you have to an undertaking. No matter what you are doing, you must do it to the best of your abilities. If that is not good enough, then you can take comfort in the fact you gave everything you had.
“To truly grow as people and professionals, we must step out of our comfort zone and take on the unknown. You can probably predict the consequences of staying put and not changing, but the unknown outcome of change can create even more opportunities.” Now, some people might argue Nick Saban is deep within his comfort zone and has no plans whatsoever to leave it, but if we really want to grow as people, then we have to challenge ourselves. This is something I struggle with routinely.
- There is no I in team, but there is an I in win—individual responsibility
- Everything you do, you do to the team
- Get out of yourself and into the team
- Do not forget the fundamentals
- You can have no flickering lights
- Do not allow mistakes to go uncorrected
- Having skill is not having talent
- You must trust, not just believe
- Sometimes what is best for the individual is not what is best for the team
- Teams must take ownership for themselves and their personalities
- Teams that play together often end up lucky
- With your A game you beat anybody; anything less and they can beat you
- Create a nightmare for your opponent
- If you think you are dominant, you will be
- Dominant people enjoy going onto the opposition’s turf
- Dominant individuals and teams only beat themselves
- Very good teams make other teams quit
- Dominant people do not care what the score is
The Three I’s
- Intelligence—Make smart decisions
- Immediacy—Now is the time to act
- Intensity—Emotion and passion in accomplishing a task
“Instead of seeing the challenge as we have to, we should see all challenges as we get to.” This is another one of my favorites. How we perceive the situation is how the situation is. If we think of it as a horrendous chore, then it will be just that. But if we think of a challenge as fun, as a way to test our mettle and spirit, then it becomes something we look forward to doing and even want to do.
“Push hard and eventually the other team will submit.”
“Never relax. Never take your lead or dominance for granted. Just because you are ahead does not mean it will always be that way, so do not look at the scoreboard, and keep doing what you have been doing to be successful.” Again, this is Saban reinforcing the idea you cannot rest on your past achievements. You have to push harder and become better everyday.
Being a Great Leader
- Great leaders stand up when adversity arises
- Great leaders allow the team to take ownership of the rules
- Great leaders embrace future leaders
- Great leaders lead the orchestra but let them play
- Great leaders pick their battles
- Great leaders do not rush to make changes because of failure
- Great leaders hire good people
- Great leaders make tough decisions
- Great leaders accept responsibility
- Great leaders show compassion for those around them
- Great leaders never force leadership
- Great leaders must insist on excellence
- Great leaders are not always popular
- Great leaders do not have all the answers, but they find them
“Leaders are people who are willing to follow when it is called for. They are courageous in their beliefs. They do what is right all the time, regardless of the consequences. They make difficult decisions that are best for the masses, not for themselves, even if those decisions prove to be unpopular. They present a vision that their followers buy into and allow those same followers to control their destinies.”
“Being a leader is about getting others to do things better than they thought they could. It is about setting a good example, interacting with people, communicating messages, anticipating problems, holding firm to beliefs, and being flexible enough to evaluate and improve all aspects of your organization. And to be the most effective leader, you have to be organized.”
“Take the time every day to do something, if only for a second, that lets those around you know you care.”
The Art of Communication
- Listen twice as much as you talk
- Know when to show up and when to speak up
- Sometimes it is best to say nothing
- Choose your words carefully
- Communicating can clear up miscommunication
- Be wary of the Internet
- Communication does not have to be oral
- Remember that impressions count
- Do not let problems linger
Communication involves “your ability to listen, your body language, your silence, your wardrobe, and you overall presence.” This is something else I need to work on. My facial expressions can often give away my feelings, and I do have what is known in the parlance of our times as “resting bitch face.” This can make others reluctant to approach me and hinders my communication.
The Importance of Motivation
- A well-developed message is more effective than one motivational talk
- Everyone’s motivations are different
- Passion is being committed, not just interested
- Strive for intrinsic motivation, not extrinsic motivation
- Do not use fear to motivate
- Discipline is not punishment, and punishment does not motivate
- Guidelines are motivators
- Humor can be an excellent motivator
“You should want to excel and be the best that you can be, regardless of whether you are reaping the material rewards that come from success. That is, you should want to win the race because it will give you personal fulfillment, not because you will get a medal or a check. You should give 100% even when you are tired not because your coach will tell you ‘Good job’ after practice, but because that is what it takes to succeed.” Maybe one of the most important messages in the book. So many people complain they do not make enough money, do not get enough vacation days, their office is not nice enough, etc., but the real reward should be the work itself. This means we need to intrinsically motivated. Do not get me wrong, extrinsic rewards are fine and dandy, but they can only motivate you so much. If the work does not hold meaning for you, then you should not be doing it. Life is short. Why spend it doing something you do not enjoy or do not find meaning in.
- Learning never ends
- Education does not promise success, but makes it easier
- Emphasize education with your actions
- Do not judge ability simply by statistics
- Remember that progress in education takes time
- Education can be the great equalizer
Basics to being a good person:
- Compassion for other people
“You do what you have to do – not what you want to do.” Children should be made to repeat this 100 times every morning and night. We often have to do things we do not want to do, but we must do them in order to succeed or even just keep our jobs. Those who are successful, no matter the field, always do the things that need to be done, regardless of how enjoyable they are.
Doing the Right Thing
- It takes a lifetime to build a reputation, but only a second to lose it
- Character is what you do when on one else is watching
- Sometimes the right choice is not clear
- No man stands as tall as when he stoops to help a child
- Honesty is the best policy
- Do the right thing
- Sometimes the wrong thing can be the right thing
“Do the right thing. It is that simple. Do the right thing when the right thing is not popular. Do the right thing when no one else is around. Do the right thing when temptation tells you otherwise. Do the right thing all the time.”
“Regardless of what you do, you must always remember that your actions and words have the power to destroy your reputation.”
“The ultimate test of character is the decisions you make when no one else is watching.”
My Personal Journey
- Never forget that family comes first
- Never forget that your partner in life can make all the difference
- Whatever else you do, being a parent is your most important job
- Never take anything for granted
- Never forget that your children owe you nothing; you owe them everything
- Recognize when you have failed as a family member
“What [is] more important [than religion] [is] a good set of basic values and a drive to be a good person.”
“Work to live – do not live to work.”
How Good Do You Want To Be?
“We choose how good we are – there is a difference between being good and being great, that there is something different about champions, and that we all get to decide every day is we have it in us.”
Traits of a Champion
- Pride in Performance
- High Standards of Excellence
- Ability to Perform in Adverse Circumstances
“You must take advantage of the gifts you were given and make the decision to succeed. Everybody has some chance, some opportunity to change and improve, but not everybody takes advantage. Be somebody who does.”
Seven Components of Excellence
- Positive imagination
- Mental readiness
- Controlling distractions
- Constant learning
“How we react to challenges says a lot about our character.”
“Champions take advantage. You have to do everything you can as a team or individual to put yourself in a position for success – but you also have to close the deal. You have to prepare for the opportunity and then take the bull by its horns, because the great opportunities do not come around that often.”