Below is part 4/5 of the book review for, Above the Line, a look inside the culture of Urban Meyer and Ohio State Football. Check out parts one, two, and three.
Urban's 3 core beliefs to build a strong culture are: relentless effort, competitive excellence, and power of the unit.
Core Belief #1: Relentless Effort
One aspect I love about OSU's core beliefs is that they include specific behaviors. For example relentless effort requires the players to "go as hard as you can, four to six, point A to point B". This means that the player is to give their max effort for the duration of a play (the average play lasts 4-6 seconds in football), between the specified place the player is supposed to go (since all players have a specific play they must run).
Many teams and organizations have a set of values. It's probably a bullet point list of values that is hanging throughout the locker room or office. But these values mean nothing without clear examples describing what they look like on the court (or applied in business). The OSU culture blueprint spells everything out.
Nuggets of the Relentless Effort Chapter:
- The foundation of OSU's success is relentless effort. They go four to six seconds, point A to point B, as hard as we can.
- Elite is not about how talented you are. It is about how tough you are.
- Success is cumulative and progressive. So is failure. It is the result of what you do every day.
- Relentless effort (not talent or intelligence) is the key to achieving great things in your life.
- If you want to win in the future, you must win the grind today.
Core belief #2: Competitive Excellence
The paragraph below epitomizes the essence of competitive excellence:
Elite competitors don't just flip the switch on game day. They understand the importance of training and practice. The mindset and attitude they bring to preparation is different from the average player.
Every day we challenge our guys: "Are you just going through the motions, or are you training to get better? When you come to practice, you are training to compete. This is where and when you build your competitive edge. You can't practice on autopilot and play with purpose. Autopilot is the enemy of greatness. In order to perform at the highest level on game day, you have to prepare that way throughout the week.
Urban used the story of Cardale Jones - the 3rd string quarterback that eventually led his team to the title in 2015 - as an example of competitive excellence. Competitive excellence is being ready when your number is called...and being disciplined enough to practice at an elite level without any guarantee you will ever get in the game.
Urban made it clear that Cardale was never known to be an exemplary leader during his first 3 years at OSU (he was a redshirt sophomore when they won the title). When confronted by the coaching staff for behaving Below the Line, he always had an excuse, which was against the rules (remember no BCD!! Read post 2 of this series to learn about BCD).
But one of Urban's favorite moments of the championship season was when Cardale nearly threw an interception into double coverage, despite being told a hundred times not to. As Cardale jogged off the field towards the sideline, Urban expected another excuse. Cardale looked Urban in the eye and said, "My bad, Coach. I know I wasn't supposed to do that. It won't happen again." He went on to lead his team to the title...without any BCD! This was a monumental shift in Cardale's leadership. He took ownership for his behavior. And committed to leading himself and the OSU team to the national championship.
Nuggets of the Competitive Excellence Chapter:
- You will play like you practice. You can't practice on autopilot and play with purpose. How you compete in practice will determine how you compete in games.
- Elite performance requires elite preparation.
- Developing skills requires lots of reps. Physical and mental reps. Every rep counts.
- You never know when your opportunity will come. The key is to be prepared.
Core Belief #3: Power of the Unit
The question that keeps every coach or leader up late at night is...
What motivates a player (or student or employee) to give maximum effort and play with selfless commitment to the team?
To answer this question Urban looks to the military for insight and cites an article from the Military Review (November-December 2000 issue)...
The strongest motivation for enduring combat, especially for U.S. soldiers, is the bond formed among members of a squad or platoon. This cohesion is the single most important sustaining and motivating force for combat soldiers. Simply put, soldiers fight because of the members of their small unit.
We obviously can't compare sports with combat. But the strategy to motivate people to train and perform at an elite level is the same...to build a brotherhood among the unit. The power of a cohesive team is the most powerful force. This bond will push the team members to strive for a level of excellence they wouldn't - or couldn't - achieve on their own.
Urban says that trust is the foundation of building effective relationships among team members. He used the framework, created by Focus 3 Founder Tim Kight, to intentionally build trust throughout the team...by connection, character, and competence.
Character is ethical trust. It is built through repeated experience of you doing what you say you will do.
Competence is technical trust. It is built through repeated experience of you doing your job and making the team better.
Connection is personal trust. It is built through experience of you caring, listening, and fully engaging with the people on the team.
OSU implemented a 6 week leadership development program in the pre-season of 2014. Each week the team would have a brief presentation about trust, led by Tim Kight. They would also watch a video that demonstrated the specific topic.
Then the unit leaders (assistant coaches) would lead a discussion about the topic. What is trust? Why does it matter? What does it look like during practice and games? Etc...
To help give the players more opportunities to become a cohesive unit, each group would go to the assistant coach's house for dinner, complete a community service project together, and do something fun like paintball.
I believe that "team building" activities are standard for all organizations. But to make them effective, you must furnish the activities (like paint ball, marathons, community service, etc) with discussions to reflect and apply the skills you are trying to develop. A team building activity is almost worthless if you simply do the activity without the reflection and discussion. Beliefs and behaviors are too difficult to change if you are not intentionally changing them. Urban credits the leadership development work they did as a team to create "Nine units strong" (check out part 1 of this blog series to learn about nine units strong).
Nuggets from this chapter: Power of the Unit
- Unit cohesion is the bond, the deep interpersonal connection, created among the members of the unit.
- Soldiers fight for each other.
- People do not experience your intentions; they experience your behavior.
- Trust is built when people have repeated experience of your behavior in three areas: character, competence, and connection.
- The strength of a team is determined by the strength of the connections on the team.
- High levels of performance require deep levels of trust.
- There is no more powerful force than a group of men who share an uncommon commitment to each other and to achieving their mission.
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