Football Coach's Story Offers Lessons in Morale

Yesterday the head football coach at my alma mater was fired – not because of some scandal, but mostly because his team did not win enough football games. One of the headlines in the newspaper read: “Was the coach not presidential enough?” The article went on to discuss how his demeanor had not inspired enough enthusiasm among both his players and the fans (think alumni and boosters).

This incident got me to thinking about how the demeanor of the leader of an organization such as a small- to medium-sized kitchen and bath remodeling company can impact the enthusiasm and energy of its employees.

This football coach has a very inspiring life story, overcoming several family tragedies and growing up to became the head coach of a PAC12 college football team. He was well liked and respected, but never seemed to project that intangible of leadership that lifts his players beyond their basic abilities. Nor could he seem to connect with the public (again alumni and boosters), which is critical to major college sports programs.

The analogy to our businesses is that we, as kitchen and bath firm owners, must be able to both inspire our team members and connect with the public, our customers.

Inspire Your Team

Most of us have been around teams or groups that seem to be “on a roll.” Spirits are high, and there’s a confidence that they are going to keep on winning. Likewise, we have likely been around teams that are on a losing streak, where there’s a feeling that there is just no momentum and things will never change.

If your team is on a roll, it is up to you to reinforce that momentum, not just take it for granted. Conversely, you will need to seek ways to get back a positive momentum when things are not going so well. It’s obvious that when things are spiraling downward, you will have your work cut out for you to reverse that trend.

Let’s look at what the coach did that, in the end, resulted in failure.

At first, when things were not going well, he publicly blamed the problem (probably accurately) on the lack of talent that his predecessor had left him. But what’s the message here? “My current players are a bunch of bums.”

A better message would have been that the current players can develop into a winning team with work, practice and encouragement.

The lesson here is to step up and take responsibility for the hand you are dealt. Work with your team and, if you find you need to make strategic replacements, then deal with that over time. With your business, you are both the coach and the head cheerleader, so make sure your team members feel appreciated and that their successes are acknowledged and celebrated. Set some goals for your team as a whole and make sure there is a time to celebrate accomplishing those goals, whether it is a pizza party or something more grandiose.

Your team is going to take its cues from you as their leader. If you maintain a positive, enthusiastic demeanor, it will be more likely to rub off on them. You will find that a string of small victories can eventually allow things to start to come around, so make sure that you are watching for these little wins and emphasize them when you can.

If your team is on a winning streak, it’s easy to sit back and congratulate yourself on your shrewd leadership and forget what got you there. Most of us have been on both sides of the momentum pendulum and know how difficult it is to pull out of the downward spiral. If you think back, you have likely experienced how quickly and easily things can slip from winning momentum to sliding toward failure. Sticking with our football analogy, another coach in the conference was fired this week who was coach of the year only a couple of years ago. Staying on top of things is an ongoing process, whether your team is made up of football players or kitchen and bath design professionals.

So, if your team is, in fact, on a winning streak, don’t forget to celebrate those small victories along the way to keep the positive momentum going.

Pay Attention to Boosters

The coach focused on the recruiting and conditioning of his players and, by all accounts, the talent on the team when he was fired was vastly improved from when he took over. He was fired, however, because his vastly improved team did not win enough games and the fans and alumni never really connected with him.

Is there a lesson here for a business leader? There sure is. You can have a great team but if you have not connected with your public (customers), it will not really mean much. In most cases, you are the face of your business and it is important that you are able to maintain as much contact with your customer base as possible, both past and current. This group of people is the life blood of the vast majority of your future business. They most certainly are your “boosters.”

Along these same lines, do not overlook networking. While the various social networking opportunities are certainly worthwhile, good, old-fashioned person-to-person relationships should not be ignored. Stay involved with service clubs and charities; you will find that these groups are peopled by individuals who are well qualified to be your future clients.

Again, just like the football coach, your attitude in public will send a message to those you come in contact with. The way you speak of your business, customers and employees will leave an impression, either positive or negative, with others.

Likewise, be sure you don’t neglect your personal appearance. If you attend functions appropriately dressed and groomed, you will be perceived as a professional with whom others will want to do business. Show up in your jeans and sweatshirt, well, maybe not.

Remember, you don’t want to end up like this coach, well liked and respected, but in the end, having failed because you did not address all aspects of the position in which you found yourself. Rebuild your team if you must, but don’t neglect the rest of the job.


A native of the Pacific Northwest, Bruce Kelleran has worked as a CPA for Arthur Anderson & Co., CFO of a local millwork manufacturing firm and partner in a residential cabinet and millwork supplier. After buying out his partner, this firm moved into kitchen and bath remodeling and then expanded into full-service remodeling. Kelleran retired in 2010 and now serves as a board member and advisor to his former firm.