Team sports provide good examples for important business concepts, even for those of us who haven’t been athletes or rabid fans. That’s because the concepts at work in sports are so physically visible and the results of changes are so immediate. Even the result of concept changes that normally develop over a longer term in business can frequently be seen in spectator sports over just a season.
The University of Oregon Ducks football team provided a good example, played out over just three months this year. The events dramatically displayed the incredible difference that a selfless leader can make. The leader is Mark Helfrich, the Duck’s new Head Coach. He replaced the highly acclaimed Chip Kelly, who built the Ducks from a mediocre team to a national threat in 2 seasons. (See my December 10, 2014 blog www.surangroup.com). Chip was a tough act to follow. But two seasons after Chip’s departure, the Ducks are in the Final Four, ranked at #2, and will play in the Rose Bowl.
How did that happen? Not easily. Most people didn’t believe that moving an untried Offensive Coordinator up from within the coaching staff would provide the same fire and drive to succeed that Chip did against the best teams in the country. Many people didn’t believe that Mark was as strong a leader as Chip Kelly. And then there was the terrible loss to Arizona early in the season, following disastrous injuries to key players. Those events shook everyone’s confidence even more, including the team’s confidence in themselves. How did doubt in themselves totally turn around? How did the Ducks get to the #2 ranking in the Final Four?
Jason Quick, Sports Reporter for The Oregonian, asked that question and found the answer. He reported it in his December 21, 2014 editorial: A selfless leader. A selfless leader breeds Trust. And Trust enables Resilience. Here’s how that worked with the Oregon Ducks. In the locker room after the horrible loss, a devastated team expected a lashing from their Coach. Instead, they received an apology; Coach Helfrich blamed himself and talked about what he and the other coaches needed to do to better prepare the team for future games.
Because he took responsibility for the loss himself, as their leader and coach, they trusted him. He talked about what everyone, as a team, including himself, needed to work on. He helped them to understand that together, working on details, they could improve their process and better respond to challenges.
Mark Helfrich proved that he would lead the changes by doing things differently himself. He paid more attention to areas that he hadn’t focused on in the past. He paid more attention to details and helped everyone else to do the same. That approach helped everyone to believe even more in one another and in their proven process for winning. He increased the level of Trust in the entire Team. The players said it was because, “After we lost, he was the first person to believe in us. . . He was the first one to stand up and take ownership and take some of the blame . . .”
Because of Mark’s selflessness, his ability to take some blame and change himself, everyone was willing to assess themselves. They immediately made changes that helped the UofO Ducks to win all the remaining games – decisively. Resilience, built with Trust, enables that response.