Handling the Pains of Discipline and Disappointment Six Business Lessons from Coach Nick Saban

I am not college football fanatic, but I do learn a lot from great coaches. My favorite is Nick Saban, Head Coach of the University of Alabama Crimson Tide. Since he arrived in Tuscaloosa in 2007, Saban’s dedication to excellence has resulted in six national championships. He has been named National Coach of the Year nine times.

“There are two pains in life. There is the pain of discipline and the pain of disappointment,” says Saban. “If you can handle the pain of discipline, then you’ll never have to deal with the pain of disappointment.”

Saban is laser focused on self-discipline, mental toughness, and embracing hard work. The same qualities that distinguish successful business owners and top performing sales professionals. Here are six business lessons I have learned by studying Saban’s consistent approach and disciplined leadership.

1.Focus On What’s In Front of You

Most of Saban’s football players focus on winning a championship instead of focusing on the tasks each player must do each day to become a champion. What are the tasks in your business that must be executed properly in order to grow? If you are a sales professional, how much time do you spend each day honing fundamental sales skills like research, interviewing, and over-coming objections?

Minimizing distractions is the key to mastering business fundamentals. Challenge yourself each day to focus on the task before you. Hold each other accountable so that the team is in the best position to win the day, win the week, and win the year.

2. Embrace the Hard

In a recent interview on the Today Show, Coach Saban talked about the mental toughness. To thrive in sports and in life requires grit and resilience. These characteristics are developed by doing hard things. That means having the tough conversation with the chronic complainer on the team. Or, recognizing that you can do a better job of connecting with clients. It means acknowledging that the way we have always done it no longer supports the needs of the organization.

3. Apply the 24-hour Rule

Are you still celebrating that big contract you landed last year? Maybe your disappointment over losing that big job is showing up each day in bitterness and contempt. It is easy to get caught up in our thoughts and feelings about successes and failures. Saban encourages his players to learn self-regulation and emotional control. The 24-hour rule is the dwell time players are allowed for good or bad outcomes. After that the focus shifts to what happened and what can be done to fix it or replicate it.

Help yourself and your team focus on the road ahead. Eliminate negative self-talk. Find the lesson and move on.

4.Prepare for Every Opponent

Sometimes confidence turns into arrogance and companies make the costly mistake of underestimating their competition. It is an interesting phenomenon in that most of us have been the perceived underdog and took down a top contender with a more cost-effective and innovative solution. Study your competition and anticipate their every move.

When Alabama defeated Texas with a nail-biting late fourth quarter field goal, Texas coach Steve Sarkisian referred to Alabama quarterback Bryce Young as “Houdini act.” Relying on magic is risky. In a post-game press conference, Saban said his team knew what to expect from Texas. They studied their competition and weren’t surprised by their offensive tactics. The fact is the Tide wasn’t disciplined enough do their job with the correct techniques.

5.Make the Right Choices and Decisions

Bad habits show up in a football game and they show up in business. If you are routinely late with bids or deliverables, you will feel the pain of lost opportunities, and probably of liquidated damages. If you follow that one big job all year, only to have the Owner cancel it, or your company fails to make the short list, you will experience the pain of that poor choice.

Training yourself and your team to consistently make the right choices and decisions is hard work. Maybe it is time to revisit your corporate values. Do they guide employees to make consistently good decisions, or are they just words on a page? Study your choices and decisions. Learn from your mistakes and find the repeatable lessons in your success.

6.Set Performance Standards

Set the standards for yourself and for your business. If perfection is your standard, then you have no standards at all. An impossible or unattainable standard is one that is easily achieved by all. Consider excellence instead.

“We create a standard for how we want to do things, and everybody’s got to buy into that standard, or you really can’t have any team chemistry, says Saban. “Mediocre people don’t like high-achievers and high-achievers don’t like mediocre people.”

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