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What Leaders Can Learn from How Alabama Celebrates Its Football Title

You don’t have to like football to appreciate how the University of Alabama is celebrating its brand-new national title. Recognition of fans and players is integral to Alabama’s success.

You don’t have to like football to appreciate how the University of Alabama is celebrating its brand-new national title. Recognition of fans and players is integral to Alabama’s success.

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College football in college towns is akin to high school football. The town takes a vested almost personal interest in not only the school but the coaches, players and staff. So I was impressed when I learned that Alabama put its national championship trophy on display in two Wal-Mart stores in Tuscaloosa, its hometown.

Not only can visitors see the trophy, they can have their picture taken standing next to it. Believe me, if you are a fan of the Crimson Tide this is a big deal. Alabama has a rich legacy of winning football and Tide tradition runs through generations.

This public gesture of displaying the trophy off campus is also a credit to the university to help bridge the divide between town and gown. It is a way to say thank you to the community which supported it (sometimes grumblingly) through tough times. After all, it wasn’t too long ago when football program was in the dumps that there was a popular witticism floating round town. “Tuscaloosa is a drinking town with a football problem.”

The architect of Alabama’s winning ways is head coach Nick Saban. While I do not favor his peripatetic style of hopping from college to pros and back again, there is no doubt that Saban can coach and he knows how to connect with his players; and I recently learned one way he does this.

Football facilities at Alabama, as they are at many schools, celebrate the legacy of athletes who have played at their school through photographs, awards and trophy. The Bryant-Denny football stadium in Tuscaloosa is named in part for Bear Bryant, the coach who led the school to three national titles in his thirty years at the school.

As reported on ESPN Radio’s The Scott Van Pelt Show, Saban has replaced photos of former players with current ones. Not only does this pay recognition to students still in school, it serves as a recruiting tool. Prospective players are encouraged to imagine themselves in poster size pictures adorning the football facility.

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What can leaders learn from Alabama’s example? Recognition matters. Pay attention to the communities in which you work and operate. The Great Recession has exacted a heavy toll on corporate giving but many corporations continue to support local communities through the volunteer efforts of their employees. Also, in our era when green matters more and more, corporate citizenship must embrace environmental stewardship. Careful use of resources as well as reducing carbon footprint is essential.

Recognition extends to employees. Honor them regularly for what they do for the company. Find ways to celebrate their successes. The easy way is via e-communications. A more lasting way is to document success through photographs and wall art. Also, as every university does, look for ways to make your company appealing to the next generation of employees. Position your company as an employer of choice, someplace where people want to come to work.

Recognition does matter. Companies that leverage it to honor their employees are those that have a better chance of success.

John Baldoni is an internationally recognized leadership development consultant, executive coach, author, and speaker. In 2009, Top Leadership Gurus named John one of the world’s top 25 leadership experts. John’s newest book is Lead Your Boss: The Subtle Art of Managing Up (Amacom 2009).

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