Episode 25 - Leadership Counts - Another Lesson from Nick Saban


Leadership Counts

Nick Saban, legendary football coach at Alabama, has produced more successful head coaches of other programs than anyone in the league. Kirby Smart is leading the Georgia Bulldogs, winning his SEC division 3 years in a row and already having an appearance in the National Championship.  After a successful run at Colorado, Jim McElwain lead the Florida Gators, and Will Muschamp moved from Florida to lead South Carolina.  The list goes well beyond these standouts as Saban has created a machine for producing successful football leaders.

Saban’s secret is to focus on developing leaders by exhibiting the leadership skills he wants his coaches to adopt.  In the channel, we have many opportunities to lead our team and lead our partners to get the results we are looking for.  Let’s look at Saban’s leadership strategy to see what we can learn from it.

At the end of the day, Saban is still the boss and he maintains authority at all times.

Watch Saban in a press conference and you’ll see that he is clearly the one in charge and also the one that is accountable if things don’t go Alabama’s way.  Knowing that there is a leader in charge of a master agency, a sales partner organization or a provider’s channel program who is willing to step up and be clear about their guidelines, their program and the results inspires confidence in others.  Take a lesson from Curt Allen who navigated his Windstream channel program through bankruptcy.  You could look to Curt and recognize who was the “leader” in the Windstream channel.

Surround yourself with the right people.

The results say that Nick Saban is easily the best coach in college football, but he's got a keen sense of understanding that you become the best by hiring the best. He's not afraid to align with prominent personalities and talents as assistant coaches and coordinators because he realizes they can make the difference.  If you are in a leadership position in the channel, hire talented people that you can develop into leaders.  Then demand excellence.  Make sure that the people you invest in are worth it because you only have so much time to spend developing those leaders.

Focus on the process over the outcome.

Great leaders are fascinated by the process and followers tend to be obsessed with the outcomes. This may be the defining factor between a successful leader and an unsuccessful one. Saban immediately goes back to work after winning a National Championship. Championships are one-time events, but processes are repeated. You’ve seen football teams luck into a win and have setbacks in a game that produces a loss. But processes are a constant and not just a one-time thing. Our teams, businesses, and lives are defined by the processes we choose, so consider being driven to have the right processes in the channel that create success.  That might include the process to sell your services, the process to recruit partners or the processes to ensure that customers are happy with you.

Leaders know how to adapt and adjust.

I will never forget the National Championship game where Georgia faced off against Alabama three years ago.  I was there, sitting in the stands at Mercedes Benz stadium cheering on the Bulldogs thinking we had the game in hand after a great first half.  But then Saban adapted and adjusted pulling out his starting quarter back and putting in his backup Tua.  You know the rest as Alabama went on to win in double overtime. 

In the channel, good leaders have to show their teams how to adapt to changes, the competition, changing partner needs, and the list goes on.  Channel leaders adjust to make sure their program evolves and is healthy.

Inspire confidence in your people by sticking to your guns.
People may not know that Saban was fired at Ohio State before he got the job at Alabama. Saban, then an assistant coach, was adamant that Ohio State needed to recruit players for what he believed to be the next trend in college football, the passing game.  The head coach disagreed, but who was right?  Saban won a string of National Championships while Ohio State’s coach, Earl Bruce faded into obscurity without a winning track record.

Good leaders are decisive, stick to the decisions they have made, and inspire people to come along with them even though their decisions may come with a level of controversy.  Being confident in your decisions inspires others to have confidence in you.

Leaders dress the part.

Saban was an assistant coach at Navy and was the only coach on the team who wore a suit around campus and in meetings. He was dressing for success early and that tradition at Alabama stays today. He wears suits on recruiting trips to make sure parents see him as that leader.  He also expects his players to dress for success. They wear suits, look like winners, and are professional.   This is a lesson you can take to the channel.  Make sure that you as the leader set the tone for how you want your people to look when they are with partners, at trade shows, or at events. You are conveying how you want your channel program to be viewed and that looks mean a lot.


If you are leading a channel team as a master agent, a provider or in your partner organization, it’s up to you to be a leader so that your organization knows who to follow, what you expect, and how to be successful.  Nick Saban surrounds himself with talent and shows them how to succeed by modeling the right processes, adjusting when change is needed, and inspiring confidence in others.  He looks like a winner, acts like a winner and is a winner.