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Coaching for Greatness

Updated: Feb 21, 2022

If you’ve ever ventured over to Twitterland, you probably know I am a rabid SEC College Football fan (its an American thing). I grew up in the deep south where football is a bit of a religion. As a very mature (sic) 17 year-old exploring colleges (I was first generation, so didn’t have a lot of experience to draw on), my main criterion for Uni was that they have a football team. To me, that was a key part of the college experience. So I chose the University of Florida (Go Gators), and have bled orange and blue ever since.

And if you know anything about anything from over in said Twitterland, you know that Coach Nick Sabin of the University of Alabama is my nemesis (as he is the nemesis of nearly every other SEC team), because that guy is the greatest coach of all time. That’s just a fact. And I can’t stand him. In my defense, he is not very likeable. I saw this meme of him walking into SEC Media days this week. Of course, many people don't have nice things to say about HBC (Head Ball Coach) Steve Spurrier whom I adore. So I imagine there is some bias at play here.

Is Coach Sabin a great coach because he wins so much? Naw, he wins so much because he is a great coach. He wins so much because he has an eye for talent and an intolerance for mediocrity. Because he demands more out of his players than they know they can give. And it really pains me to say this, but we could all learn a lot from Coach Sabin.

Remember, as a leader, your job is to grow your people. You don’t grow your people if you don’t challenge them and hold them accountable. You don’t grow your people if you don’t believe they can grow. You have to expect more of them and believe in them more than they believe in themselves. Seriously, if you do this well, they will rarely let you down (check out all those championship rings at Alabama).

As I have written before, I used to think that my job as a team leader was to protect my team, not grow them. I’ll never forget a wonderful lesson I learned from a visionary leader. We were in final negotiations with the FDA for Entresto, and this guy had a crazy idea. He said, “How fast can we have drug in the channel after approval?” Typically it takes a bit of time as the logistics for labelling, final finish on the vials, distribution, etc, is not started until after you have everything done and dusted with the agency (less something changes and you have to reprint all those labels). I don’t remember our exact benchmark, but it was typically on the order of months, not weeks. His challenge to the team—let’s do it in 24 hours. I was incredulous. What for? I couldn’t imagine it would make much of a difference to the business, we still had the payor negotiations to navigate. What is the point? He said, “Because its never been done before.” To be frank, I did not think that was a very good reason at the time. But we took on the challenge as we all felt a sense of urgency and responsibility to get Entresto to patients as fast as possible because the data was so compelling. And even though we knew it would take the healthcare system a bit more time to sort through things for themselves, we rallied behind this mission to shorten the timelines as much as possible while maintaining quality. And you know what? Trucks filled with bottles of Entresto rolled out of the warehouse just 48 hours after FDA approval, shattering any previous benchmarks we had. The warehouse teams were cheering. The development team was cheering. I was floored. And moved to tears. If I had my way and succeeded in “protecting” these people, I would have denied them that victory. That thrill of accomplishment. Of doing something that no one had ever done before and doing it well. I will never forget that lesson and I will never hold back on my people again. We have no idea what we’re capable of. We contain greatness. Believe it and believe in them.

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