If you  are a fan of college football then you know the Clemson University Tigers are the reigning national champions after defeating the powerful Alabama Crimson Tide back in January – Go Tigers! One of the benefits of this championship is the invitation for the winning team to visit the White House and have an audience with the President. This happened last month.

Recently, Inc. Magazine ran a story summarizing Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney’s short talk on the White House lawn during that visit. In that talk, he identified 5 principles which, as the leader he drove home to each person on the team: players, coaches and other staff. They are worthy principles to pass along to you.

Run The Race To Win

Taking the principle from a passage of scripture in the New Testament, Swinney said “Everybody runs but only one wins first prize, so run your race as to win.”  What is the purpose of competing in anything unless you have the attitude that you can win it? If the people on your team don’t think they have a chance to win – to make an impact, to achieve the desired accomplishment, etc. — they won’t be able to muster the motivation to keep going in the face of unexpected obstacles.

Do Common Things in Uncommon Ways

Swinney quoted George Washington Carver when he said, “Do the common things in an uncommon way, and you will command the respect of the world.” By this he means to trust that the process will enable you to reach your goals. From a leadership perspective, this means you empower your team to do the little things the right way on a daily basis and recognize when they do so in order to reinforce their behaviors and actions. This is a prime example of the impact of the compounding effect – a daily habit consistently performed over time will compound into something quite amazing. And when you combine points #1 and #2 together, you can focus your efforts on executing every aspect of the process in the way it was intended and be well on your way to winning the prize, whatever your goal may be.

The Moments Between The Special Moments

Swinney said winning the National Championship and visiting the White House were two of the special moments that form markers in life. He said these moments are “formative moments” in people’s lives, yet “life is truly about how we live in between these moments. Doing the little things in a great way.” In football, the daily grind of practice and physical conditioning are done to prepare the players for the time on the field which requires sharp minds and endurance. As leaders, we can’t micromanage each action of every member of our staff all the time. We must help them develop the discipline to be comprehensively prepared and do the necessary things to complete the job.

The Windshield Mentality

Personally, I love this principle. Swinney said, “No matter what’s behind us in the rearview mirror, it’s always about what’s next.” Dwelling in the past will keep you stuck there. When players (and employees) spend their “on-field” time thinking about the play they messed up five plays ago, that is where their focus is. And when this happens, they don’t have the capability to see what is just ahead; they can be blind to incoming information necessary to take the right action as their next step. Instead, taking lessons from the past and using them to propel you forward is what helps people grow and develop. This “windshield mentality” is a great leadership principle I hope you practice regularly.

Take These Values With You

Swinney went on to say, “Continue to be a person of excellence in everything you do.” He used this to remind his audience about the important role principles play in our lives. A friend of mine once said, “Decisions are easy when you know what you stand for.” Principles are the things you stand for. If you have principles of excellence, they will apply not only to the big things in life, but to the little things as well.

He concluded with the statement, “Always remember, the goals that we have achieved pale in comparison to the daily commitments it took to get there.” As the leader of his team, he had to ensure his players, coaches, and staff were focused on the right things, each and every day, from the beginning of pre-season workouts to the day of the National Championship game.

Along the same lines, legendary collegiate basketball coach John Wooden was known for never studying his opposing team. Rather, his sole focus was on fully preparing his own team for what they had to do in any given situation, so that they could then face anything the competition would use against them.

In leadership, one can focus on reacting to the moves of the competition, or focus on ensuring your team has all the resources it needs to meet and overcome any challenge or obstacle. The successful leaders I know and work with focus on the latter much more often than the former.

What about you? As has been said, “Where your focus goes, your energy flows.” Where is your focus?

  • Is it focused on what is behind or what is ahead?
  • Is it focused on consistently doing the little things right, or holding out for the big opportunity?
  • Is it focused on what the competition might be doing, or preparing your team to maximize their potential?
  • Is it focused on running hard to win or to just cross the finish line?

Hopefully, this is some good food for thought.

Best regards,


PS – Go Tigers!