What a difference a year makes! Almost exactly one year to the day, I wrote a blog article titled What Killed The Coach? for LeaderChat.org, where I detailed the cultural missteps taken by Rich Rodriquez that led to his firing as head football coach at the University of Michigan.
Since that time, Brady Hoke was hired to come in and turn around the program and he just finished his first season with an 11-2 record and a Sugar Bowl victory over Virginia Tech. One of the main reasons that Hoke was hired at Michigan was his former ties to the program as an assistant coach and his appreciation for the culture of the school and football program.
Hoke used the power of Michigan’s culture to reverse the course of his team and set them on the path to success. Here’s four lessons we can take away from Brady Hoke’s experience that can help us in our own leadership journeys:
1. Respect the past – Brady Hoke always speaks in glowing and reverential terms about the history of Michigan football. He shows a deep respect and appreciation for those who came before him, and he understands that he and his team have an obligation to continue the winning tradition at Michigan. We should honor those who have laid the foundations for our success and help our people understand that we have a responsibility to continue the winning ways for those that follow us.
2. Enlist the support of team leaders – When asked about the keys to his success this year, Hoke repeatedly mentioned the influence of the Seniors on the team. He spoke about how the Seniors bought into his philosophy and served as examples for the rest of the players on the team. When implementing change in our organizations, it’s critical that our team leaders, whether they hold formal leadership positions or not, are on board.
3. Create team rituals – Shared experiences build the bonds of culture and help to reinforce the ideals that we’re trying to foster within our organization. Hoke ended each of his team practices or meetings with the cheer “Beat Ohio!” in reference to Michigan’s end-of-season game against their biggest rival, Ohio State. Hoke also had a countdown clock installed in their training room that counted down the days, hours, and minutes to the game with Ohio State. Team rituals reinforce what it means to be a part of our organizations, the expectations we hold for each other, and the common goals that we strive toward.
4. Keep the focus on the team, not the leader – Unlike most football coaches, Brady Hoke doesn’t lead his team out of the tunnel before the game, he runs behind them. It’s his way of keeping the spotlight on the team and not himself. He knows that it’s the team that actually plays the game and they’re the ones that deserve the attention and focus. We as leaders need to remember that our role is to set the vision and direction, then prepare, train, and coach our people to higher levels of performance. But at the end of the day, they are the ones who are performing on the front lines and deserve the limelight of success.
Organizational consultant Stan Slap likes to make the point that the original sin of leaders trying to implement organizational change is failing to respect the power of the culture to bury you. A culture is the simplest operating system in the world and it makes all decisions based on a shared belief of survival and prosperity. It makes those decisions based on the actions of leadership and whether those actions support or contradict their stated values. If the culture believes supporting those values is in the best interest of their survival and prosperity, they’ll give everything they have to make it happen.