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Leaders are Teachers I
Posted by James Beckham on Wednesday October 12 2011 @ 11:03AM CDT
[ Contributors ]
Leaders are teachers -- they get personally involved in the development and direction of those around them. Don't climb up into the world's grandstand -- there are too many spectators there already. The world is full of practicing critics and naysayers who point out from a distance what is wrong. The power and the will to change, to get ahead is in your hands…. As the Nike advertisement says, “Just do it.”
That’s a small piece of a speech about leadership I wrote for an oil company CEO, a woman, who bucked and overcame the “good old boy” network that pervades the petroleum industry. This particular audience was a group of new employees, social media savvy, whose ultimate jobs haven’t been invented. If you asked each of them to define leadership chances are good they’d be all over the place. Or, we’d end up with a consensus “I know it when I see it.”

Bama Mike is writing about the Alabama team’s leadership, not just in the polls but in the larger picture of college football. He’s hard at work building the Alabama football brand. The ultimate brand test is to differentiate your product or service from the others. In football if you do that long enough you have a winning tradition. Coach Saban is the current caretaker of the Alabama Brand that was personified by the leadership of Coach Bryant. It still is.

I got a call from Coach Bryant inviting the singer Andy Williams to spend the night at the athletic dorm where there were two apartments. I produced the show that drew about 10,000. Roger Miller was the second act. Williams arrived with his entourage in grand style, met a bunch of the players and Coach White who lived in one of the apartments. I don’t remember whether Williams stayed the night but I’m sure Coach Bryant got personally involved because he appreciated celebrity. He was one.

I joined the Alabama student affairs staff in 1968 shortly after I finished work on my master’s degree. One of my jobs was to review all entertainment contracts, from speakers to singers. I crossed paths with Coach Bryant because he effectively owned the coliseum. The Dean of Students also had authority with student athletes.

The entertainment agenda was always full. Israel’s defense minister came to town not long after the first Arab Israeli War, so it was a big deal. I went to look things over at the meeting hall and was turned away by the university police. I went to the chief. He gave me a note that said, “Jim Beckham is OK.” I am not making this up. During the speech the “undercover” police were easily seen because they all wore white socks.

The late George Plimpton who wrote the “Paper Lion” wanted to meet with Coach Bryant the minute after he arrived. “The Paper Lion” was a sequel to other books where Plimpton actually suited up. He played a down for Detroit. So we go over there without an appointment and were invited in. I started to clue Bryant in on who Plimpton was. “I know who he is.” For the next couple of hours we got a full dose of the coach who was friendly, funny, imposing and charismatic.

He reminded me of the Marines. I served with Jarheads who earned battle stars and purple hearts. I read about the infamous A&M practices at Junction City, Texas when Bryant took over the program. Football is hard knocks, but it has nothing on Marine Corps bootcamp at Parris Island during the summer located in what they call “low country” of South Carolina. In 13 weeks, the Corps turns civilians into military warriors through endless drills to produce teamwork, tactics, and inflict physical and psychological pain and suffering. A few months before I got there three recruits drowned during a field exercise. The Drill Instructors weren’t moved.

Then the real fun started in delightful spots like the Mountain Warfare Training Center at Pickle Meadows California at 12,000 feet in 15 foot snow drifts where it’s 10 below at night and we couldn’t light a fire. The few the proud!

Bryant talked about playing poker in Vegas with the then Secretary of War Elvis Starr, another celebrity mention, and a lot of football. Plimpton asked a bunch of questions about Bryant’s coaching philosophy. He had rules. He didn’t allow players to get involved in organizations including student government. Players weren’t allowed “facial hair” – why I don’t know. Bryant also didn’t buy into this “athlete of the week,” routine.

His observations about players came down on his weekly Sunday show, in between selling Coke and Golden Flake Potato Chips. I was on staff until mid-1969 when I was named Assistant to the President at Florida.

Since then, I’ve written for two U.S. Senators, a long string of CEO’s heading multi billion dollar corporations, and two university presidents. I’ve not only seen these men and women in action, I’ve defined their views of leadership in speeches, in the media, and a book here and there. Most of them, including Coach Bryant, share some leadership qualities. There’s not a lot of difference in running a football program and a business. There’s also not much difference coaching a football team and leading a military unit.

Next: What does Dave Thomas and Bear Bryant have in common?

< Vanderbilt Delivers Teaching Points | The Tide Makes Winning a Cliche >

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