Osborne Management

Take a second to look at a management style that obviously works.

Tom Osborne started off as the head coach of what many experts consider the most successful college football program ever, the Nebraska Cornhuskers. His record as a coach was 254-49. In route to creating a dynasty his style was very simple, set expectations for every position on his team, from the star quarterback to the equipment manager, coach everyone all the time, and then hold them accountable for their part of the teams success.

This style took him from coaching to a successful political career and back to his home as the athletic director for Nebraska. His style worked because it was direct, clearly defined and incorporated accountability for himself and his staff.

A recent example of his style was the highly publicized firing of Bill Callahan. Coach Callahan was experiencing limited success after having been brought in to modernize the Nebraska football team. During the 2007 football season, when Nebraska had a record of four wins and four losses Osborne had a meeting with Callahan in which he clearly defined what would be acceptable for the remaining games. Osborne explained with clear language that if they could end the season with seven or eight wins that would be acceptable, six wins or less would not be acceptable. The team ended the season at five wins against seven losses. On the same day that Nebraska played their final game of the season, Osborne had a meeting with Callahan, the meeting lasted five minutes during which he held to the standards that he had set and fired the coach.

According to published reports, the firing cost the university three million dollars because they were responsible for buying out the remainder of Callahan’s contract. Why is that an important fact? What can we learn from this example?

In Osborne’s statement following the firing he made an interesting point, “The head coach is the head coach. The head coach is not just responsible for the offense. The head coach is responsible for the defense and the kicking game too and that’s why you’re the head coach. You are responsible for hiring those people, so I was not going to tell Bill who he had to keep and who he had to let go. So Bill Callahan was where the buck stops. Essentially that’s what it was. I was not going to say ‘Well, you’ve got to get rid of this guy and this guy and then maybe you can stay on.’ I told him that I never really believed in that.”

Do we treat our position players that way? Do we define for them acceptable performance, give them all the tools that would allow them to succeed and then hold them accountable for their performance?

To be successful in anything we do we must start by holding ourselves to Tom Osborne standards. Define your own goals, what performance level is acceptable and hold ourselves accountable, then move outward. Define your team’s goals, create the performance level that is acceptable, constantly coach towards those goals and create accountability for each position. Be sure to identify the consequences of non performance and then carry through without hesitation even if it causes some organizational or personal pain or discomfort.

Start right now, write down your goals, your team goals and decide how to achieve them. Work with your team on their goals and standards for performance and define the results of non performance. The biggest challenge then awaits, the execution. Accept the challenge or decide to sit in the grandstands watching someone that will.

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