Inspired by Coach Mac

Getting Things Done By Doing The Right Things

Some of you may have watched the TV series Friday Night Lights. I happen to enjoy this show, but not because of the reasons you might think. Aside from the compelling storylines and positive message of each program, I like it because it’s about a high school football coach.  You see, my father-in-law was a high school football coach as well.  You’ve probably never heard of him, but you may have heard of the town in which he coached – Eureka, IL. He also coached the football team for Eureka College, President Ronald Regan’s alma mater. His name is Warner McCollum and they called him Coach Mac.

He passed away a few years ago, and it was at his memorial service that I discovered what a truly remarkable person Coach Mac was.  Although he was my father-in-law I had no idea how deeply he inspired a generation of kids (now adults) as their high school football coach. Eureka is a small town in central Illinois. You might have missed it on your way to Peoria since it has only one stop light. But at Coach Mac’s memorial service over 300 people coming from eight states attended. As part of the service some of his former players had a chance to speak. One person told the story of how Coach Mac lived his life with integrity and always “did the right thing.”  He went on to say that Coach Mac really hated seeing high school football scores such as 40-14, or 36-0.  He thought such lopsided scores proved nothing. And during one game Coach Mac’s team was winning 17-0 in first half and clearly dominating. At this point, Coach called a time out to talk to the quarterback on the sideline. He told the quarterback, “I don’t want you scoring another point.”  Confused, the quarterback said, “What? I can’t tell the team not to score any points!” Coach Mac said, “Yes you can, and you will.” He said, “I know that man on the other side of the field, he is good man, and I am not going to do that to him or his team.” The quarterback went back into the game and did as he was asked. They went on to finish the game and win.  Afterwards the quarterback came to Coach Mac and asked him why he did what he did. Coach Mac said simply, “Because it was the right thing to do.”

You see, Coach Mac believed that high school (or grade-school) football was more than winning a game. He believed that the kids wouldn’t remember a game where they blew out the opponent; rather they would remember playing the game. He coached with aim of teaching the kids lessons that were more meaningful, and that they could take with them and apply throughout their life. Besides the technical lessons of playing football he focused on lessons such as drive, self-determination, integrity, sportsmanship, and trust. The fact that the players who spoke at Coach Mac’s memorial service were from the class of ’66 is a testament to his long-term impact and speaks volumes to the power of how he treated people. Later that evening after the memorial service another person, who did not have chance to speak, came up to my wife and gave her a big hug and offered his condolences. He wanted her know how her father profoundly changed his life – literally.  He explained that he had developed cancer. He said that he remembered the lessons Coach Mac taught him. He had moved to Colorado by then but he kept in touch with Coach Mac. He explained that it was what Coach Mac had taught him about himself that allowed him to get through his cancer.  His cancer is in remission, and he credits Coach Mac for saving his life.

Inspired by the stories about Coach Mac and the affect he had on people, I developed a model for business leaders that focuses on doing the right things for employees. It is the 6F model for maximizing employee effectiveness. It consists of Future, Family, Flow, Fairness, Fire, and Fulfillment. Here is a summary of each:

Future: Few would argue with the benefit that a compelling vision can have for an organization. A vision provides direction that everyone can work towards. But leaders must also create an environment where people within the company can have there own vision and growth opportunities. Coach Mac showed his players that they could achieve more than they thought possible.  You should do the same for the people in your company.

Family: Creating a sense of family, community, and teamwork is essential to getting the most from people.  People crave to feel a sense of belonging.  Indeed, Coach Mac made his players feel they were part of a team, a team that could accomplish anything they set their minds to. When you have this, you not only have more productive employees, you have a competitive advantage that is very difficult to copy.

Flow: Flow is about communication, which is the life-blood of any organization. Leaders need to communicate down, while allowing information to flow back up. Sharing information and asking for input and allowing people to contribute builds trust. A company that lacks trust is an organization headed for trouble.

Fairness: Treating people fairly and with respect is like feeding your body healthy food. Not treating people fairly and with respect is like feeding your body fatty unhealthy foods – it is toxic. When you pay people fairly, set realistic expectations, and eliminate the “blame game” you remove the distractions of getting the job done and reaching your company’s goals. Coach Mac understood the power of respect and fairness. You must have this baseline covered before you can expect progress on the next F.

Fire: Creating an environment where people want to work for you, not because of you will create an unstoppable organization. It is people’s willingness to give you more than their time doing a job. Inspiring people to give you “discretionary effort” is where the golden opportunity lies. Imagine if people voluntarily ask for more work, more challenging assignments, and always look out for the best interests of the company. Unfortunately, most leaders use less-than-effective ways to motivate people. This has been proven with Enron, Tyco, Arthur Anderson, and the most recent financial crises. Individual incentives can (and do) have disastrous results. There is a better, more effective, and longer-term way by focusing on intrinsic motivation.  Coach Mac motivated his team, not by focusing on winning, but by teaching his players self-determination.  This approach won football games by inspiring people. Many previous players said that when they played for Coach Mac they wanted to win FOR HIM. For Coach Mac, focusing on winning is akin to focusing on money and incentives. Winning is outside the individual. If I am driven by my own internal need to be better (not because I am trying to be the star or to maximize my own wealth), and everyone else also focuses their energy at their internal need to be better, then the team wins by default.

Fulfillment: You can follow all of the other Fs, but if you don’t execute your goals and objectives you will not move forward and continue to be successful. Fortunately, if you do follow all of the other Fs executing your company’s strategies will be much easier and accomplished with much less distractions. You still need to set clear objectives, measure your progress, and give timely feedback in order to succeed.  Despite Coach Mac’s method of focusing on the how the kids felt about themselves, fostering trust, and building their confidence to accomplish more than they originally thought, he still wanted his team to win.  His team knew this, and they were able to execute and win because they worked as a team by doing their best in their respective assignments.

These are the 6Fs for maximizing employee effectiveness. In the center of all of this is the leadership style used to implement them.  Your leadership style will determine how successful you will be.  Coach Mac was tough but fair. He worked his players hard, but inspired them when they thought they couldn’t do more. He respected each person’s strengths, and improved their weaknesses. He understood their limitations, and put them in positions where they could succeed. Like Coach Mac, you need to find balance. If you tout the 6Fs using a coercive style it will be met with extreme resistance. If you use a democratic style to an extreme it will flounder. The process takes time because it will change your culture in dramatic but fulfilling ways.

The stories of Coach Mac changed me forever. Although I knew him for 18 years as my father-in-law, Warner McCollum, I did not have the honor to know him as Coach Mac. But the spirit of Coach Mac’s ideas can live on in each of us by doing what we know is the right thing to do. By his standard, I have a long way to go.  By the way, the next time you are near Eureka IL, stop by the high school football field where Coach Mac inspired his team and taught them the lessons that changed their lives. Look around, and you might notice the sign above the scoreboard that says McCollum Field.