The Challenge of Leadership

Nick Saban, the Alabama football coach, dismissed four players from his football team last week. He made an interesting comment:

“Some people learn by listening. Some people learn by consequences. Some never get it.”

Saban’s words are a good description of the challenge of leadership.

On one hand, we like to think if we teach it at orientation or show it to someone else that the learning is done. But it doesn’t always work that way. Our mistake as leaders is that we think we have fulfilled our responsibility as a leader when we communicate the information. But, not so. I adhere to the idea: “If the student hasn’t learned, the teacher hasn’t taught.” We are more effective leaders when we work until the fruit starts appearing among our teammates.

To be sure, consequences teach. I see that a good bit in accidents. Many times when we experience a serious accident at a location, the record of safety shoots up. The consequence of a serious accident gives everybody a bit of “safety religion.”

Eventually, though, the pain of the consequence fades. And the bad habits can creep back in.

Without a doubt, consequences are an expensive teacher. It is painful to need a tragic accident to move us back to safety or to have a load of product returned to us because our discipline of quality breaks down.

A leader tries to awaken the “feeling” of consequence through vivid examples and vigilant review of behavior. He works hard to keep the team on track by reinforcing the right practices and addressing bad habits before they become a consequence.

Then there are those who don’t get it.

I’ve been working with people a long time. There have been many times where the failure to listen and the failure to be affected by consequence resulted in a bad outcome for the team and the company.

So many times, the story is this: We could have predicted this bad result. The person never seemed to get it.

In leadership, our challenge is to make sure when someone joins our team that there is ample communication and teaching going on so that a willing teammate will get it. And, if they don’t, we have to be brave enough to help them to their next place of work. Perhaps that will be the consequence they needed.

I believe in patient, disciplined, creative teaching. I believe in second and third chances. But, I also believe that the rope ends. A leader will make that call.