4 Ways To Lead Like Coach Saban

champtrophA question has been on my mind about University of Alabama Football Coach, Nick Saban, since the morning after ‘Bama crushed Notre Dame in this year’s National Championship Game…

How does Coach Saban consistently build teams that perform at such high levels? And following that, what could church leaders learn from his approach?

Here are 4 Principles for Consistent High Performance that I have gleaned from listening to more sports-talk radio interviews with Nick Saban than my wife thinks healthy:

  1. Defined Expectations. Everyone associated with the Alabama program carries the singular focus of winning every play, performing each day in season or out, and contributing to the mission. Specific actions and responsibilities are defined at every level and a clear connection to organizational success for each person.
  2. Do Your Job. Coach Saban brought this simple mantra from his NFL experience as an assistant coach, and this simple phrase directs everyone’s movement, everyday. If you are not doing your job, a critical component of is missing.
  3. Play for the Team. There is a marked difference when players play for each other and a shared vision, rather than playing for themselves and individual aspirations. Individual statistics are not celebrated apart from organizational accomplishment.
  4. Be Motivated By Excellence. Interestingly, excellence transcends success and Coach Saban’s intensity is even higher late in games that are well in-hand because excellence is the motivator, not winning. It follows then that success is a by-product of this ruthless commitment to consistent performance.

For pastors and church leaders, the association is simple:

  1. Define the Expectations. The requirement of defined expectations forces understanding and alignment to the vision at every level of the organization. If members do not know your expectations and their actions in accomplishing the church’s mission, they will not act and your mission is not defined… No matter how well the crowd can speak the words back to you.
  2. Do Your Job. Remember your role is to equip the body for the work of the church. If you are doing all the work, you are doing someone else’s job. If someone doesn’t know their role or you struggle with finding the people to equip then see #1.
  3. Play for the Team. Define the win, disciple-making in your unique context, then ruthlessly point every ministry and leader to that scoreboard. Leave no room for individual ministry statistic touting or differing interpretations of success.
  4. Be Motivated by Excellence. Remember, excellence is more than smooth stage transitions. Excellence brings us back to work with intensity the Monday after Easter, because the mandate to go and make disciples transcends one day a week or year. Excellence keeps us focused on the power of everyday not just the stage on Sunday.

As leaders in the local church, we will probably never hoist a crystal football over our heads with confetti showering around us. However, the eternal reward found in building teams that consistently lead others toward life transformation is worth the investment required.

In which of these four principles can you develop today, in order to build consistent high performance for tomorrow?



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  1. Good stuff! Under the Defined Expectations heading, I think it’s important that pastors also make it clear what team members can expect of him as well and what “Do your Job” looks like for the pastor of their church. Mutual accountability builds deep levels of trust on a team and in their coach.

    • Appreciate the insight Lori, so true. It is easy to assume that any leader knows that they demonstrate first what it means to live up to expectations, and do their job… to build that trust and mutual accountability. Define and Do First as the Leader… Love it. Thanks for stretching this thought some.

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