Jan 062014 12 Responses

7 Leadership Lessons from Gus Malzahn

The nation is enamored with the dramatic turnaround of the Auburn Tigers and the sudden rise of Gus Malzahn. In less than a decade, Malzahn has gone from a high school coach in Arkansas to the head coach of one of the most prominent football programs in the country.

From his life and career progression, we can learn several key leadership lessons:

1. Chase a dream, not a paycheck. Money is never a worthy pursuit. There is nothing wrong with money, but it should never be a person’s ultimate pursuit, because it can never truly satisfy. Instead of chasing money, chase a dream. Malzahn has spent his life chasing the dream of football success. At no point does he appear to have chased money. Of course, the money has followed.

2. No position is a small position. Much has been written of Malzahn’s start at Hughes High School as a Defensive Coordinator. It would have been easy for Malzahn to see that as a small position that didn’t deserve his full effort, but instead he treated the position as if it was his dream job. By putting his full effort into his first position, it wasn’t his last position. Had he waited until he got a “big job” before he put in “big effort,” he probably would have never gotten the big opportunity and he definitely wouldn’t have been prepared, even if it came.

3. If you don’t like your boss, change bosses. When someone has a bad boss, it’s tempting to let it stall your career and life. But the great thing about our society is the ability to choose where we work and for whom we work. If you have a boss who is difficult to work for, try to make the changes necessary, but if you can’t make it work, change bosses. In some companies you can change roles. In Malzahn’s example, he had to change schools. Yet it was under his control. Most would consider the move from Arkansas to Tulsa as a step back, but for Malzahn it was a step forward. It is often better to have a happy work environment than a bigger paycheck.

4. If you are in a bad situation, don’t complain publicly. When we are in a bad situation, it is easy to let everyone know what is happening. We are quick to complain and whine, but for what purpose? One of the most impressive aspects of Malzahn’s career is how he handled his departure from Arkansas. He was at the school he loved, yet he had a difficult work environment. Instead of playing the role of the victim, he worked hard, never publicly complained, and still has never spoken negatively about the experience. (See: Only Tell Your Problems to Two People)

5. Sometimes you have to go back to go forward. On two occasions in Malzahn’s career, he has made moves that looked like they were backward moves. From Arkansas to Tulsa is not a move forward. From Auburn’s Offensive Coordinator to Arkansas State’s Head Coach is not a move forward. Yet sometimes we have to make moves which other people question because it is what is needed for our family, ourselves, or our career. Never be afraid to move backward in order to move forward.

6. Be confident in your process, but include others in your process. Malzahn is famous for having confidence in his own way whether it be his career choices or offensive philosophy, but he is not arrogant enough to surround himself with “yes men.” Instead, Malzahn has people in his life who can tell him “No,” from fellow coaches to pastors and ultimately, his wife. The moment a leader is beyond correction, he/she is a sitting duck who will certainly fall. We all need help. Be confident, but only if your confidence is based, in part, because you trust people to tell you the truth.

7. No matter where you are, work. The most obvious lesson from the life of Gus Malzahn is his work ethic. From his first job to his current one, everyone around him talks about his work ethic. He understands that every detail matters and he gives everything he has to prepare himself and his players. In a society of entitlement, Malzahn’s work ethic is one the nation could learn from.

Malzahn is not perfect. He’s not a genius. He seems to be a good man with a great work ethic who has made the most of the opportunities given to him. Many of the things he has done are exemplary for us no matter our situation.

For more, see:

What a Drunk Girl Deserves

Lessons Learned from a Crisis

Top 10 Communication Posts Your Co-Workers Should Read

12 Responses to 7 Leadership Lessons from Gus Malzahn
  1. Tara Reply

    Lost some respect for him as an ethical leader after the fake injury against Arkansas to delay the game. He’s had an amazing journey as a coach, but I am not sure I trust him as a leader. And no, I don’t care if that fake injury had been against Alabama. It was unethical regardless of the opponent.

    • Kevin A. Thompson Reply

      I didn’t like the fake injury at the time either, but later saw where that player really was injured. He struggled with it for several weeks. Come to find out, it wasn’t faked.

  2. Tara Reply

    My point to the above comment is that our followers are always watching us. A leader is always going to make mistakes, but blatant choices that challenge our morals and ethics as leaders can significantly impact our follower ship in the long run.

  3. Bully Reply

    Great Lessons extending well beyond football.

  4. Jennifer Reply

    Oh Tara…I bet you are young. I imagine you are a Bama fan. Great advice from a great coach. His work ethic has to be admired.

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