One of the many ways we can learn about leadership is reading about the leadership experiences, advice and perspectives of admired leaders from a variety of professions. We can read biographies, magazine articles, leadership blogs, and leadership newsletters.

Sometimes we can glean leadership tips from surprising places. Recently I was pleasantly surprised to obtain valuable leadership lessons from an article in the digital publication, The Athletic. Many readers of this newsletter know I am a big sports fan, and that is why I subscribe to The Athletic.

However, in early January I read with interest a profile of then-Washington University football coach Kalen DeBoer prior to Washington’s championship game clash with the Michigan Wolverines. DeBoer had been hired after Washington had bottomed out at 4-8 in the 2021 season.

After finishing that profile, I said to myself: “Wow. I didn’t know much about this coach. He sounds like a real leader. I bet he will take on an even bigger college football program in the future.”
Read some of these comments about Kalen DeBoer from colleagues at other universities and from his players:

-“He has so much humility in him. As much as he’s won where he’s been, he doesn’t come across like he’s won a lot. He’s just a normal person. He’s into other people.”

-He has time for people. He wants to talk to people. He’s not thinking about the next thing, or if he is, he’s still present. I think that is such a gift right now.”

-“He’s strong, he’s calm and he’s fluid when adversity hits. He is strong in his convictions. He knows what he wants to do. He’s calm. He’s poised.”

-“When bad things happen, it bothers him. But it’s not the end of the world. He asks, ‘How do we keep adjusting and adapting?’”

-“We all talk about poise in the moment, but he just lives it. He is so cool, so collected.”

-“He is able to stay through every moment and keep pushing through it. He gains respect from the whole coaching world.”

-“It’s his consistency – being the same person every single day. You always know what you’re going to get. He’s going to push the players to be the best person and player they can be.”

-“His biggest goal is to make something to remember for the rest of people’s lives.”

-“His leadership is amazing because we know he’s always going to give us his all.”

-It starts with connection. As soon as he got here, he was trying to build connections with each and every player on the team.”

-“He’s willing to talk to you about any situation, and when you know that, you want to be around him.”

-“He’s got tremendous poise. He never gets flustered. That’s a gift.

-“He just exudes a lot of confidence in himself. He has this great presence. It keeps people calm and allows them to be at their best.”

-“He’s just a great human being. Really, really organized. He does things the right way and he’s not a ‘me’ guy. There’s no selfishness in him. He wants what’s best for everybody in the room. He just has a calm demeanor that people respect.”

“He’s connected to the little details and yet does not micromanage. He is present and listening to everything. He has unbelievable trust with everyone.”

-“He doesn’t overreact. His people have a lot of confidence in him.”

All these quotes are about one leader of one team. Reflect on them. Think about how you are showing up each day.

What would your colleagues and teammates say about you if someone wrote a profile about you?

By the way, Washington lost that championship game to Michigan. Then about one week later, Alabama’s Nick Saban, considered the greatest college football coach in the country, announced his surprising retirement.

Kalen DeBoer was soon hired as Saban’s successor. People were watching him and paying attention to his leadership.

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