From Mike Poorman at StateCollege.com
James Franklin, head coach of the Penn State football team, sat down for a conversation about how building relationships is a key strength driving the improvement in his program. He had to learn midway through his career about the importance of relationships to his leadership role.
It really hit home with me that you can be the best coach in the world. You can be driven, you can be passionate, you can understand fundamentals and schemes and all of those things. But if guys don’t want to play hard for you, it’s not going to matter.
After this ‘a ha’ moment, he focused first on his relationships with his family.
If you think about it, it starts at home. If you have healthy, positive relationships at home with your wife, your kids — that’s where it starts. If you feel good about that and are grounded there, then you have an opportunity to go to work and focus on your job. If you’re not healthy at home, you’re going to be distracted at work. From home, it goes to the people you work with every single day.
Like other legendary coaches, Franklin learned that he can be more demanding of his players and staff when they know he has their best interest at heart.
If the players and people who you work with know how passionate you are and how much you care about them, and care about their journey — and now, care about Penn State — then you have the chance to do something special. You can be really challenging, you can be demanding, if they know how much you care and it is coming from the right place for the right reasons.
One example of how this focus on relationships comes up in their day-to-day decision making:
I tell the coaches all the time: Every time we have a discussion and a decision to make in the program, it should start with, “Is this something that is going to form healthy, positive relationships in our building?” If not, we shouldn’t be doing it.
This does not mean there are no conflicts within the team.
I tell the players all the time: “A true friend and a true teammate tells you what you need to hear, not what you want to hear.” A healthy and positive relationship doesn’t mean that it’s always rainbows and puppies. It’s about making decisions and having conversations that are in the individual’s — and, more importantly, the overall organization’s — best interest.
It’s being able to bring a player into your office and having a conversation with him — and it not being the best conversation in the world to have — but the player knowing the only reason you are having this conversation is because you care. Because if you didn’t care, you wouldn’t have that conversation in the first place.
On the field, this taps into the strongest driver of performance: wanting to deliver for your teammates.
if you’re the center, you know you can depend on the guard and the tackle next to you to do their job. Not only because it is their job, but because he doesn’t want to let the guy next to him down.
Being this connected to his players and staff also helps Franklin correct mistakes he has made.
There are times I may say something in a staff meeting or a team meeting, and it comes off the wrong way. I didn’t intend for it to come off the wrong way. But then you have one of your captains come in and say, “Coach, you said this and I don’t think it is what you meant. But this is how the team interpreted it.” Now, the next day I can go back and explain in better detail about what I meant. Without that relationship, they’re not going to come in.
We know the team we are supposed to build around us when we begin a leadership role, but recognize it will be tougher to do in practice.
Everybody says that when you get in a leadership position, you want to surround yourself with as many smart people as possible who will challenge you and allow you to grow. But then people get in those positions, and they’re intimidated by that.
Never feel like you’ve arrived. And remember who you are serving.
People talk about servant leadership and throw that term around. I believe that this is not my football program; this is the players’ football program, and we are here to help them reach their dreams. And it’s whatever those dreams may be, to become a doctor, a lawyer, a CEO, play in the NFL — or a combination of all of those things.
One way to assist a person and indirectly, the team, is to know who they rely on for help.
Now, if there is a problem or an issue, I can pick up the phone and call the mom or dad or a sister or the high school coach who is very involved, and say, “We’re struggling with this. We need your help, let’s work together.”