Leadership Perspective: The Power of Influence

By Grant Teaff

Years ago, a football player at Baylor University reminded me of one of the most important lessons about relationships. As head coach, I’d just told my team about what it would take to become unified. I said that they had to care about each other, to love each other, in order to become team players.

Mike Singletary, then a junior, waited for me after that meeting. He said, “Coach, before I can love someone, I have to respect him.” That’s a great observation, worthy of repeating. The point is very simple: You can’t have any relationship – not a team network, not a marriage, not a business contract – without trust. You can’t have trust and caring without respect.

My parents, teachers and coaches were my role models and I started learning about relationships as a young boy growing up in Snyder, Texas. I continued to learn during my years of coaching and I learn today from the 10,000 members of the American Football Coaches Association. Relationships are key to success no matter your role in life. In leadership roles, relationships are the theme.

I use the word “inclusiveness” when talking about leadership. Inclusive leadership permeated the teams I coached at Baylor University. We impressed it on the coaching staff because they were the key ingredients in our leadership team. Inclusiveness simply means telling and showing people they’re important, and you do this through your actions.

We’ve followed that pattern here at the AFCA, where we give key leaders huge responsibilities. We include our leaders in all aspects of running the operation, and they include others. If I were running a major corporation, I’d do it the same way.

So what does inclusiveness look like? It’s simple. We are inclusive by intent. You describe what you’re doing by your actions. In our offices, that means that the high school coaches, the community college coaches, the professional coaches and the arena league coaches know they are just as important to the organization as the college coaches and are going to be an integral part of the association. The AFCA will provide equality in education and opportunity for them. We tell them to expect it, they do, and we fulfill their expectations.

Inclusiveness means that the AFCA now gives the number one award in American high school football, the Power of Influence Award. The American Football Coaches Association and the American Football Coaches Foundation created the award in 2002. It was the first time the AFCA created an award specifically designed to honor a high school coach.

We provide the high school coaches their own seminar and give them the means to communicate nationwide. Although they all have state organizations, high school coaches possess limited influence on nationwide issues. We can help there, whether it’s talking to ESPN about televising college football games on Friday nights, to the detriment of high school football, or whether it’s through educational opportunities. We are the tie that binds, and high school coaches have shown their approval through sheer numbers. Our growth from 4,500 to 10,000 members has come in large part from high school coaches.

Another example of inclusiveness is our Plaza of Influence adjacent to the AFCA building. We designed it so that individuals can honor the coaches who have had an influence on their lives by placing their coach’s name on a brick, a capstone, a plaque or a bench. The idea came about from a statue of a little guy I saw in New York City. He has a football tucked under one arm and a helmet under the other. When I saw the little boy, I knew that that he represented me and every other child that ever picked up a football and wanted someone to teach him how to play the game and how to live his life.

On the plane returning to Waco, I penned a poem titled “A Coach’s Influence,” describing how a coach’s influence goes on and on. My coaches influenced me, I influenced others and those I influenced have become coaches and teachers. The influence continues.

At that time there was no place in America where a coach could be honored for the power of his influence, and that’s the most important thing that he has. That’s why we give the Power of Influence Award to the high school coaches. It’s not based on wins or losses, but on the profound influence they’ve had on individual lives.

In our Plaza of Influence, the results have been just what we envisioned. We had a 65-year-old coach honor his 87-year-old coach. They drove 200 miles here to see the brick. We have a fountain named for Darrell Royal. A junior high coach is recognized on a stone plaque next to Coach Royal’s fountain.

I envisioned the kind of influence I could have when I said yes to the executive director’s position at AFCA. My new role put me in a position to have an effect on coaches, and I saw them in turn influencing thousands and thousands of young people. The AFCA’s influence flows through our publications and our educational venues. At our convention this year, we had 6,000 registered and we planned 140 events, primarily educational. We stress the concept that a coach is a professional. In that light, a coach should dress and act like a professional. That not only brings chest-swelling pride to the coaches, but it brings the recognition of how others look at coaches.

We also teach the importance of teaching a value system – ¬¬¬of setting an example. If you ask a young person not to smoke and drink and then you turn around and smoke and drink, you diminish both your integrity and your ability to lead.

Mentoring is the real key to leadership. We follow the methodology of newspaperman and poet Edgar A. Guest – “I’d rather see a sermon than hear one any day.” It’s not so much what you say as what you do. If as a coach you tell youngsters to treat a referee with respect, then you do or say something disrespectful directed toward the referee, you are not teaching those youngsters anything. If you do something in a game situation that is dishonest, you are leading your team in the wrong direction.

Many of these things I learned as a country boy growing up in Snyder. My father was a very hard worker. He didn’t get to go to college because he got out of high school as the Depression hit, and I was born shortly after that. I have one sister who came along six years later.

One of the most important things I learned by watching my father was that nobody outworked him and nobody will ever outwork me. I started working at age 12 for a tire company. I took this job during the war, when tires were rationed. They all had a serial number on the inside. I crawled under all the cars and recorded the code number. Before long I was fixing truck flats and I went from there to working in a grocery store.

Late one Saturday night – it was in 1946 – I was working at the grocery store when I saw a Model-T Ford drive up. It was a 1924, the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen. The man who originally bought the car drove it half a year before he died. His wife put it up on blocks in her garage and put a tarp over it. It sat there all those years, in mint condition. Then she bought a new car from my father, who worked at an automobile dealership, and he delivered it to her home. He saw the Model T in the garage. He bought it from her for $75. He drove up in front of the grocery store, walked in, handed me the keys and walked home. I drove that Model-T until I got into high school.

My beliefs are grounded in my parents’ value system as well as the principals of how to achieve success. Working full time at age 12 paid big dividends for me. Most of my family members were hard working farmers and ranchers. My teachers and coaches encouraged me to become an educated person and my coaches taught me how a boy without much talent or a scholarship could get an education.

In the great game of football, you learn the importance of an individual to the team while discovering that not everybody has the same talent or the same skills. But everybody has a value or worth. And you can increase your worth by your effort. I was slow and not very big but I was a pretty successful high school football player because of my propensity toward total effort. I was told that and sold that, and I bought it. It has worked in everything I’ve ever done. And it ties in beautifully with the work ethic my father taught me.

When my coaches first explained the total effort concept, I understood how it worked on the practice field and in the game. It meant that a player should go full-speed and should play as hard in the fourth quarter as he did in the first quarter. It was obvious that a total commitment to preparation was essential.

The beautiful thing about this kind of effort is that it fits every situation. If I use it in a business, and I want to be successful, I’m going to know more about my competition than he knows about me. I am going to know his weaknesses and improve myself. That takes effort. You have to spend the time to do it.

My teachers and coaches taught us that this total effort concept permeates everything in life, whether on or off the field. It applies in the classroom, at work, in a marriage. Sometimes athletes understand the concept on the field, but they don’t get it off the field. If every athlete were willing to give in the classroom what he gives on the field, he would find success in everything he tried. It has everything to do with effort and hard work and these words: Let nobody outwork you. Let nobody be willing to give more than you are willing to give. It’s so simple that people just overlook it.

One more thing that’s important to note is that problems come with anything you do. That doesn’t mean that problems are the only thing we face, but they are a part of life. Even those who appear to have perfect lives don’t just sail through. We all have issues to deal with and burdens to overcome. That’s why football is such a great teacher. Sometimes as a coach, you believe things are going just perfectly. Everyone’s playing well and you’re on target to win the game. Then some young man who wouldn’t dream of hurting your team fumbles the cotton-pickin’ ball, and 10 other guys have to overcome that.

I’ve already mentioned the difference my parents, teachers and coaches made in my life. I must also mention my wife, Donell. She has been a profound influence on my life. In my new book, Grant Teaff with the Master Coaches, I talk about the techniques of hiring assistant coaches. I place the “DPT factor” as a key component in the hiring ritual. Every coach I interviewed had to have an affirming nod from Donell Phillips Teaff. Donell’s intuition is the “DPT factor.”

Some of the best leaders in the world are not only those who know how to build relationships, but also those who have a vision of where they want to go. Their goals are clear and on a daily basis they do the things that will allow them to reach those goals. Just as important as seeing where you want to go, is being able to sell your vision to your constituency groups. My theory is that when at all possible, the vision should be their idea.

Here are 10 traits of leaders that I’ve talked about and written about: sincerity, caring, emotion, loyalty, diplomacy, dependability, judgment, enthusiasm, fairness and endurance. I will discuss only a couple of these here. One I want to mention is sincerity, which breeds trust. A leader must have the trust of his constituency group, such as a board of directors. A good leader will research an issue and find a solution that’s best for everybody concerned. The sincerity with which the issue and the solutions are presented will build trust in others so that the goal may be accomplished.

While diplomacy is on the list and is very important, a good leader must be more than a diplomat to see his goals to their successful end. I like to think of a leader as the person who honestly looks at all sides, rationally discusses all issues and then is able to articulate what he wants to get done in a way that inspires others to jump aboard. This is more than saying something diplomatically and listening to others and being courteous. It is being able to sell what you believe is the right thing.

At my first board meeting after becoming executive director, I presented 20 major goals that I wanted to achieve and received carte blanche to do them all. They included expanding the staff, developing new programs for the convention, building a Web site and moving the office from Orlando to Waco. We built the current headquarters in 2001, and that’s perhaps the most visible change.

I hope to be able to be this kind of leader for some time to come. My father, Bill, worked full time until he was 89 years old.

About Grant Teaff:

Grant Teaff was named executive director of the American Football Coaches Association in February 1994. Prior to that, he was the legendary head football coach at Baylor University for 21 years, and in the process became one of the most effective administrators in intercollegiate athletics. In 2002, the Sporting News ranked Teaff as one of the most powerful administrators of college athletics. In December 2004, Teaff was named one of the most influential people in college sports by Street & Smith’s Sports Business Journal.

His career as a college coach has placed him in eight Halls of Fame, including the Texas Sports Hall of Fame and the College Football Hall of Fame. He won 170 football games, two Southwest Conference Championships, coached in 20 post season bowls and all-star games. He was coach of the year six times in the Southwest Conference and received national coach of the year awards from the American Football Coaches Association and the Football Writers Association. In 2005, Teaff was honored with the Amos Alonzo Stagg Award, one of the highest honors a coach can receive from the AFCA.

As a nationally known author and motivational speaker, Teaff loves to share his leadership techniques with those involved in education, the business world and particularly with coaches.

Baylor Business Review, Spring 2006

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