ST. LOUIS—If anybody knows about leadership and success, it’s legendary University of Alabama football coach Nick Saban, who bestowed some of that wisdom on credit union leaders during PSCU’s 2018 Member Forum here.

“The most important thing in establishing a winning environment and culture is the mindset of the people in your organization,” Saban told the crowd. “And to me, that starts with what kind of vision do you have? What is your vision, what are your goals and aspirations for what you want to accomplish in your company or your team or whatever it is? And the second part of that is what do you have to do to accomplish it?”

Saban peppered his remarks with stories from his time at Alabama and working with Bill Bellichek in the NFL, and he reminded the crowd that even if not all of his remarks were pertinent to credit unions’ day-to-day operations, the attributes that contribute to leadership and success go well beyond the football field to everyday life.

“Everybody thinks leadership is standing up and talking to a group of people like I’m doing now,” he said. “It happens one person a time.”

Legendary University of Alabama football coach Nick Saban addresses the PSCU 2018 Member Forum in St. Louis.
Legendary University of Alabama football coach Nick Saban addresses the PSCU 2018 Member Forum in St. Louis.

That’s a strategy he employs with his teams each season, he explained. Great leadership is about creating partnerships so team members can work together to build one another up. People at any organization have to take ownership and be in a partnership and understand how what they do impacts a team positively and them as an individual.

“Leadership is something every organization has to have, but I think it’s so misinterpreted because it’s one person affecting one person, and you have to figure out how to do that,” he explained. “Some people, if you criticize them in front of a group, they won’t respond very well. If you take them aside one on one, maybe they’ll respond better. Show them what they need to do, don’t just tell them. What I do a lot with players is I bring them in a room, put four, five or six plays on a table and I’ll run those plays and say ‘You tell me you want to play in the NFL someday’…I show them exactly how this behavior is not what you need to accomplish the goals you have. And then they walk out of the room and change their behavior and they do things much, much better.”

Great organizations he said, have two crucial intangibles: character and perseverance.

“I don’t care what you’re trying to do, there’s always going to be obstacles to overcome," he said. "You can’t have a great victory in life if you can’t overcome adversity.”

Team building
The six-time national champion also reinforced some leadership principles many credit union leaders may be familiar with.

“You want to define the expectations and the principles and the values of your team so everybody has a chance to buy in,” he advised, adding, “You have to be able to serve other people. We can all be critics. It’s very easy to tell someone what they didn’t do right. Never pass up the opportunity to reinforce good behavior. Catch people doing it right – that’s what will stimulate them more than anything else.”

Saban emphasized that his No. 1 goal as a coach isn’t to win games, but to help people be more successful in life. And he turned a popular adage on its head to communicate a major lesson in leadership.

“Everybody always says there’s no ‘I’ in team, but the way I say it, there’s an ‘I’ in win, and that ‘I’ stands for individual,” the coach explained. “’WIN’ stands for ‘What’s Important Now.’ The ‘I’ stands for intelligent. Be intelligent about your work. Have the intensity you need mentally to be sharp at your work and have the immediacy, the sense of urgency, to get things done in a timely fashion.”