Well, I just watched a program on the Florida State channel called, Bobby: Reflections of a Legend. It traced Bobby Bowden’s career at Florida State beginning in 1976 to the present.  And it had some surprises for me.  You see, for Bobby, it was not all about football.  It was about something else, something much bigger.

When Bowden showed up at FSU, the football program was in total disarray.  In fact, there was serious talk about canceling the entire program.  What he did to turn it around was fairly remarkable.  For one thing, he immediatlely began to cultivate the media.  Now we all know that many football coaches shun the media.  Not Bowen.  He actively sought them out, made himself always available to them and not just when things were going well.  His secret in this arena was to always be honest.  To be willing to admit mistakes and take the criticism when it came his way.  And the media loved him for it.

It’s About People

But what really made him a great leader, in my opinion, was how he dealt with his players.  For one thing, according to his fellow staff memebers and friends, he simply likes to be around young people.  He is as comfortable with them, as with people of his own age.  In addition, he always refers to his players as men.  Not boys.  Not students.  Not young adults, but men.  This is true even of those who are just getting out of high school and entering college.

Now to many of us, these kids would be just that, kids.  But to Bowden, they were and are men in the making.  And he took a personal responsibility for them to become men.  That is what he taught.  That was his primary goal.  You see, his philosophy is that every person has a purpose in life and that their job is to find that purpose and to fulfill it.  And his job was to help them find their purpose.  He just happened to do that through the act of coaching football.

Building Teams One Player at a Time

This manifested itself in his recruiting.  As you probably know, one of the primary jobs of head coaches these days it to recruit new talent.  Bowden did not like to do this over the phone.  He did it in person, whenever he could.  So he would go to the homes of these prospective players.  And what do you think he talked to them about – football and how they would be in the starting lineup and all of that?  No.  Actually, from the interviews with former players, they were so surprised to find that he did not talk about these things.  He talked about what their grades were; what courses they were going to take in college; what they wanted to do with their lives, not about football.

Also, he tended to talk to their mothers rather than to them!  You see it was all about developing a relationship.  Rather than performance on the field, Bowden focused on performance in life.

Another thing that Bowden would do is, every year he would develop a slogan for the team.  In 1991 it was, “You Can Count on Me.”  In 1992, “No Excuses.”  In 1993, “One Thing Left.”  He would post these on the door leaving the locker room so that everyone would see it before they went to practice or out to play a game.  The focus was on being the best both individually and as a team.  And that each team member was accountable for their actions both to themselves and to the team.  Again it was all about building character, about living a life that you could be proud of.

The leadership message here is that being a good leader isn’t just about visioning for the company and working towards the mission statement.  But about the people you are leading.  If you believe in them, work on developing them first, they will do their best for you and they will follow you to the ends of the earth.  OK, perhaps that’s a little dramatic, but the point is that if you believe in your team members, put them first and set the bar high for them, they will do their best to reach for that bar.

Callout Box:

To watch video or find out more about Bobby Bowden go to: http://foxsportsflorida.com/pages/fsu


Mario Busacca is a trainer, facilitator and leadership development consultant.  He is the owner of KeyStone Strategies, a leadership consulting firm.  He can be reached at (321) 258-2185 or at mbusacca@cfl.rr.com