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“We are what we repeatedly do, excellence then is not an act, but a habit.”   -- Aristotle

"Who's walking on my field?"

You're lugging 40 pounds on your back in 100 degree temperature. Your head's tucked inside a small capsule like a two-pound sausage in a one-pound casing and sweat’s pouring down your brow. There’s no chance the sun will disappear … it's only 10 a.m. … and while there's water everywhere, your reach for the next bottle seems to exceed your grasp. Oh, yeah, and the boss expects you to be running – not walking – on his field.

That's the view from inside the helmet of a member of the Alabama Crimson Tide football team. Intrigued about the great success of the Alabama football tradition, and last year's national champions, I decided to watch a recent ABC Sports special: "Training Days: Rolling with the Alabama Crimson Tide."

Head coach Nick Saban is a dominant force on a team with a legendary national reputation, but as I was watching the Alabama football program unfold, I couldn't help but see, in pristine clarity, the hallmarks of a successful business. It’s a time-honored tradition to relate sports success to business achievement, so allow me to enter the stadium to offer a simple takeaway that neatly summarizes the 5 cornerstones of a winning tradition:

1st down. A great leader. We expect great leaders to understand their industry, to be able to establish a strategy – diagram all the plays with xxx's and ooo's. But most importantly, they need to be great developers of talent. They need to be sure the right people are on the bus and that everyone is in the right seat by recruiting and retaining the most talented people they can find.

Saban delivers his maxims … “Mental mistakes are lack of focus and concentration” … or “Who's making the choice to only give 50 percent out here?” like a jackhammer addressing a concrete slab. He is a powerful motivator who demands maximum effort and eternal dedication. He believes that every day you either get better or you get worse … and if you're not getting better, you don't belong on his team. It’s not about talent, it's about hard work, discipline, focus and commitment to a winning tradition.

2nd down. Give them the greatest resources and most powerful tools you can afford. Alabama has a separate dormitory for its football players, with nutritionists, chefs, tutors and a special dining hall. They have a workout facility the size of a football field with ice baths and saunas and all of the accoutrements you'd expect in an exclusive private club. They have state-of-the-art technology and a legendary stadium.

3rd down. If you have an inspirational leader and great resources, you have a stage to which you can attract great talent. It may be raw and unfinished, it may lack experience and seasoning, but if you identify the talent and surround it with great leadership, training, facilities and resources, you will demonstrate to your team that they are your greatest assets … and you will get great results.

4th down. When you have a great leader delivering great resources to develop great talent, you’re absolutely capable of delivering the crown jewels – great products! Great products and services gain headlines and allow you to cross the goal line to achieve that most important fifth ingredient …

Touchdown. Raving fans. If you saw the line of more than 20,000 fans surrounding the Alabama football facility on Fan Day, you'd discover a loyal fan base that every business would envy. It was still 100 degrees, and fans had been lining up since 7:30 the night before, a record setting time that starts earlier every year as lifelong fans compete to be first in line. These folks were longing for autographs and eager to show their pride in and support for the Alabama football program. It's not a lot unlike the swarm of customers found in Apple retail stores every day, often with more customers in the store than in the rest of the entire mall.

It’s a simple game, really. Engage a great leader. Equip your team with the best resources. Hire exceptional talent. Deliver great products to delight your fans And win a devoted following that ensures a sustainable and successful business model. Don’t underestimate your ability to do this. Singularly attack each one of these. Make the tough decisions and put in place the necessary steps to improve on each of these every day, and you’ll be shouting your own “Roll Tide” slogan every time you step on the field.

KBO.

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Lary Kirchenbauer is the president of Exkalibur Advisors Inc., providing practical business strategies for family and other privately owned businesses in the middle market. Exkalibur works closely with senior executives and their businesses at the intersection of leadership, finance and business strategy, and uses the Business Ferret framework to help companies use strategic finance to drive improved business performance. Lary also hosts the Exkalibur Leadership Forum for leaders of middle market companies in the North Bay. Please visit www.exkalibur.com for a library of valuable resources, articles and insights or join the Exkalibur fan page on Facebook.