For many of us, the name Nick Saban conjures up the image of a cold, calculating automaton – grim, frowning, win-at-all-costs football coach who cares more about the score of his games and the margin of his victories than the development of the young men at the University of Alabama. Until I did some research to discover how he developed the "secret sauce," I was one of those people who regarded him with something between skepticism and disdain. While I'm still pretty sure that hanging out with him would be no day-at-the-beach, I now have a respect for him as a man, a coach, and a leader. His approach and results provide lessons that are easily and totally exportable to you and your challenges as a business leader. To wit:

Saban manages every minute of every day with the obsessive recognition that lost time cannot be recaptured. He orders the same lunch every day (a salad of iceberg and romaine lettuce, cherry tomatoes and slices of turkey) not because he has a one-dimensional palate, but because he calculated the amount of time he lost in a week ordering from a menu.

He also had an electronic door opener installed in his office because he determined the cumulative minutes he could save by not leaving his desk to open his door for visitors.

He analyzes every activity the same way. First, he examines the relevance and leverage of each activity to assess whether it should be done, deferred, delegated or ditched (see David Allen's "Getting Things Done" for more on this subject). Next, from among activities he's decided to complete himself, he looks for a better way to complete each.

That isn't to say that Saban defines "important enough to complete himself" as only stuff directly related to football preparation. He meets regularly with boosters, high school prospects, and team members' families. The points are these: He determines what's important; he plans down to the smallest detail; he is constantly looking for ways to make his process better.

The "process" is what they call it in Tuscaloosa. Saban has a plan for everything. From Michigan State to LSU and now at 'bama, his approach to preparation has been refined and tweaked for 20 years.

To listen to Saban describe it, it sounds identical to the challenge a CEO faces when building a successful company: "I think it's identical. First of all, you've got to have a vision of the kind of program you want to have, then you have to have a plan to implement it. Then you've got to set the example that you want, develop the principles and values that are important, and get people to buy into it."

Winning is obviously the name of the game in big-time college football, but Saban and his teams focus on the process. Preparation, discipline, and repeating what works are key. So is being predictable. Saban's players and coaches know what he expects, how he will behave and what will happen (to them) if they do not "get with the program."

He's a micro-manager, but a PURPOSEFUL micro-manager. What sets him apart is his attention to detail. He has defined standards athletically, academically and personally for his players. They can either choose to sign-up for those or go elsewhere. If a player's body fat during the off-season increases, he wants to know why, what's being done about it, and when it will be corrected. If a player's academic performance is slipping, he does likewise (in a school at which academic performance among football players hasn't always been of paramount importance, Alabama football players now enjoy the second highest graduation rate in the SEC, trailing only Vanderbilt). During any typical staff meeting, the team's academic advisor reviews the performance of any player whose performance is slipping in any class. For example, if a professor notes that a player is distracted or isn't taking notes, he'll contact the academic advisor who will report it to Saban. The coach will then conduct a meeting with the player to fix the problem BEFORE it manifests itself in the player's grade in that class. Here's a question for you: Do you establish early warning metrics/signs that forecast future deterioration in your team's results? If so, GREAT! You may be a part of the high-performing minority. If not, WHY NOT?!

If a player violates his code of conduct, Saban makes sure that the kid receives the support and "tough-love" he needs to get back on track and tighter boundaries until he is convinced that the player is actually back on track.

This coach's concern for a player goes way beyond performance on the field and in the classroom. He invests a lot of time and money teaching his players and coaches how to lead and follow. Many of the kids who gravitate to his program come from single parent, maternally led homes. Those young men often have lots of raw football talent, but they may have a problem taking direction or dealing with male authority figures.

First, Saban develops full psychological/personality profiles of each player so that coaches will understand each kid's motivation. Second, his players take classes created by the Pacific Institute, a leadership development firm based in Seattle. The focus of the curriculum is on mental conditioning and the development of positive habits. In your leadership, do you have a high level of understanding of each of your performers? Are you willing to "go to where they are" rather than expecting them to "come to where you are?" Do you have a full understanding of the impact that their backgrounds and experiences have on their performance and potential, or are you a "one-size-fits-all" leader?

Saban understands effective delegation as well. He runs his football camp the way he runs everything, which is with purpose and intention. The first year, he defined his standards and expectations down to the finite details. Now he personally spends less time on it because others understand his precise expectations. Do YOU do that? As you delegate more broadly, do you impose a higher level of accountability (defined as "consequences for outcomes") or do you not? Are you really delegating or abdicating?

Copyright 2013 Rand Golletz. All rights reserved.

Author's Bio: 

Rand Golletz is the managing partner of Rand Golletz Performance Systems, a leadership development, executive coaching and consulting firm that works with senior corporate leaders and business owners on a wide range of issues, including interpersonal effectiveness, brand-building, sales management, strategy creation and implementation. For more information and to sign up for Rand's free newsletter, The Real Deal, visit