Commentary

August 30, 2013

It’s football season! Get coach’s perspective on leadership

Lt. Col. KEITH ROCKOW
56th Operations Support Squadron

How many times over the course of your military career were you given the title of a leadership oriented book to read written by a mega-millionaire CEO of a Fortune 500 company? Can you relate what you do to that CEO? How about a book that analyzes the traits of our nation’s greatest generals?

I love books about war, and while many leadership concepts and principles are timeless, I do not anticipate leading an army across Europe in the near future. What I have found to be interesting, educational and relative to the daily leadership challenges faced in the military are books authored by sports coaches.

Coaching a sports team is similar to leading a military unit. If you consider a major college football program, the head coach is responsible for assistant coaches, the players’ health, education and skill development, recruiting, public image, training schedules, and most of all, on-field performance. Substitute Airmen for players and senior NCOs/officers for assistant coaches and you have a military leader’s responsibilities.

I suggest to you a few coaches’ books I’ve enjoyed reading. Tony Dungy is a tremendous human being. He has written three books, but “The Mentor Leader” is most applicable to the military leader. Though I often get a little queasy in the stomach when I hear Lou Holtz’ commentating, his books are educational, especially “Wins, Losses and Lessons.” Pat Summitt wrote “Sum It Up: 1098 Victories,” a “Couple of Irrelevant Losses” and a “Life in Perspective,” which talks about the challenges she faced making her team come together each year. Finally, John Wooden authored a couple of enlightening books. A “Lifetime of Observations” and “Reflections On and Off the Court” is a quick read and the one I would choose if I could read only one. It is a useful tool, whether you are leading a squadron, a Boy Scout troop or your family.

What I like about the leadership principles in these books is that they are learned over lifetimes of coaching young men and women, ages 18 to 25, very much like the Airmen we lead. The coaches lead players who have many of the same challenges we see in the military including: parenthood, discipline problems, skill without motivation, motivation without skill and a host of others.

Additionally, we mold a group of Airmen with various levels of maturity from different places, backgrounds, and upbringings into a cohesive and effective unit; much like a coach molds a team.

Finally, I could not go without mentioning my beloved Clemson Tigers. Coach Swinney has the following 16 Commandments posted in his locker room. All of these have a direct correlation to the military profession, and I use them in my squadron:

  1. Be engaged
  2. Be a good citizen
  3. Great effort all the time
  4. Work ethic: nobody works harder
  5. Decide to be successful (choice)
  6. Expect to be successful (mentality)
  7. Football is 60 minutes, or as long as it takes to finish – The Air Force is 40 hours a week, or as long as it takes to accomplish the mission
  8. Toughness, mental and physical
  9. Maintain a positive attitude no matter what the circumstances
  10. Never lose faith
  11. Do everything with passion and enthusiasm
  12. Don’t expect more from a teammate than you’re willing to give
  13. Have genuine appreciation for each other’s role
  14. Be coachable; learn to handle criticism
  15. Be all in
  16. Have fun!

Now go be a champion today!




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