Maximize gifts, strengths of those you lead

By Gene Chizik

He was one of the best recruiters I ever worked with.

I could send him into the home of any top college football prospect in America and our chances of landing him on National Signing Day were extremely high.

But I had a classic management challenge. This particular coach wasn’t as strong coaching on the field as he was recruiting top athletes.

Instead of harping on his weaknesses or putting him in positions where he might not succeed, I adjusted the support around him to compensate for his weaknesses.

Since stepping away from football to focus on my family, I have become more involved in my business than I was previously. In doing so, I have observed some interesting things.

Running a business isn’t similar to coaching a football team. It’s exactly like coaching a football team.

It all comes back to leading people.

I have really come to enjoy having the time to get more immersed in my businesses, which include a handful of restaurants and other investment interests.

My restaurant operation is just like my coaching staffs, whether it was as the head coach at Auburn or defensive coordinator at other schools, from Texas to North Carolina.

I’m the head coach of the operation. The General Manger is my coordinator. He has position coaches under him who manage each restaurant, much like assistant coaches manage each position on a football staff.

My staff meetings with my leaders are just like the ones I had as a coach.

In a recent session with my general manager, I told him his job is to make my job easier. And the job of his managers is to make his job easier. Only then can leaders at the top strategically focus on things that matter, rather than majoring in the minors.

As we prepared to go over all our restaurant personnel and review how they were doing—like football coaches do every week with their personnel—I asked him a question every CEO or manager should be asking his or her top people: “What keeps you up at night? What’s your number one problem.”

The worries that keep us up at night are often what I call “energy vampires.” Energy vampires are everywhere in coaching or business. They suck away our energy, devour our time and gnaw at our stomachs. They keep us up at night.

If you can learn to identify the energy vampires in your day, you can make changes that free your mind to focus on what matters and free up time in your day, for your business, your family or yourself.

I knew from experience that people generally don’t get better at things they aren’t good at doing. But almost all people have the capacity to get better at things they are great at doing. All it takes is some nurturing and encouragement—and putting your personnel in positions where they can shine.

It makes no sense to waste your time trying to coach them up on areas where they continue to struggle. It’s no different than coaching football and putting the right personnel at the right positions, which is imperative for maximum production. If you put a player in the wrong position and ask him to do something he’s not capable of doing, it’s a guaranteed formula for frustration and failure.

Put that same player in the right position in a job he knows how to do, and watch his production and confidence soar.

Let me give you an example. I had a great plan for my star recruiter who wasn’t as strong in some other areas. Rather than wasting his time and mine, I put another coach around him full-time to help him on the field. Off the field and on the recruiting trail, he continued to thrive and was great utilizing his most unique gift, recruiting.

To tie it all together, consider this result. We were recruiting a kid who was one of the highest prospects in the nation. Another staff member was responsible for coaching that position, but I knew his personality wouldn’t resonate as strongly with the kid or his family. So, I sent my five-star recruiter in as part of our philosophy of recruiting as a village, which was a little unusual in a world where position coaches tend to recruit kids who play their position.

What happened? The prospect signed with us, had a phenomenal college career and ended up being an NFL first round draft pick.

The lesson is a sound one for any leader, whether they coach a football team or manage a business.

Focusing on your personnel’s weaknesses often becomes an energy vampire that drains time and energy and does nothing to increase productivity. When you increase the production of your staff by focusing on their strengths and maximizing their gifts, everybody wins!

Jack SmithComment