It was 2008, and Clemson football was in a precarious position. In 30 years, they had gone from a powerhouse college football program to average at best. No matter what they tried, the team just couldn’t seem to make the leap back into national title contention. Finally, Athletic Director Terry Don Phillips made a high-pressure decision to accept the resignation of well-known coach Tommy Bowden, and promote an internal assistant coach named Dabo Swinney. While Dabo Swinney had no previous head coaching experience, he was well-liked by the current Clemson team and a man of deep character and conviction.
Fast-forward 7 years; Dabo is not only one of the best football coaches in the country, he is a fantastic example of what leadership is all about. Here are three brilliant leadership lessons we can all take away from Coach Swinney.
1. Everyone is Accountable
Last year Swinney made national news by suspending one of his best players, Deon Cain for breaking team rules. The suspension occurred days prior to the game that would secure Clemson’s spot in the national championship. Cain’s participation in the game was crucial; however, Dabo did not let that affect the decision to do what was right.
“Deon Cain is supposed to be back tomorrow when classes start, but he won’t be with us, in Arizona for the title game, he’s got to grow up,” Swinney said. “He’s got to make a decision to be a great player at Clemson. But if you are going to be a great player at Clemson then you have to follow the rules. It’s just that simple. Otherwise, you have to go somewhere else, so he will figure that out. I hope he will be back tomorrow and get ready for next year and will make the decision that this thing is not about him.”
Happy to report Deon Cain has decided to rejoin the team this coming year and has made the commitment for it to not be about him. Associated Press Update.
2. Be a Servant Leader
Peter Economy said it best, “The idea of servant leadership is that the typical hierarchy where employees are supposed to serve their bosses is turned upside down. Instead, leaders serve their people.”
All servant leaders share two fundamental beliefs about the people they lead:
- Every person has value and deserves civility, trust, and respect.
- People can accomplish much more when inspired by a purpose beyond themselves.
Referring to Cain’s future as a Clemson football player and being an example of a servant leader, Dabo said,
“My job is just to help him grow as a great person and man and that’s what I am trying to do. That’s my number one job to develop these guys into men. It doesn’t matter the type of talent they have, I am here to serve their heart, not their talent. That’s all I am trying to do with Deon.”
3. Build Great Relationships
As you’ll recall, one of the things that got Dabo hired was the existing rapport he had with the Clemson players. In order to effectively lead, one must first build great relationships with his or her team members, and then work on keeping those relationships strong.
“Rules without relationships lead to rebellion.” Dabo Swinney.
Leaders have to have good relationships with their people while also maintaining who they are on inside.
There are a lot of things that need to come together in order for a college football team to go undefeated for an entire season, and then go on to play in a national championship. Talent and physical strength are required, and Clemson had that in its players. But without an exceptional leader like Dabo Swinney to mold those players into a team, a successful season was far from guaranteed.
Learn from Dabo; as a coach, a leader and a man of character and conviction. Face your professional and personal life with a positive yet realistic outlook, and take extra time to focus and expand your relationships, in and out of the office. Get your team’s equivalent of a 14 and 0 season and runner up in the national title game.
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