Same Roster, Different Leadership. Better Results.

by blogadmin 4. September 2018 03:03

See full article by Psychologist Ryne Sherman, Ph.D.

Sports are an excellent laboratory for understanding how leadership impacts organizational effectiveness. Consider the case of the Florida Atlantic University football program.

In the fall of 2011 there was a great deal of excitement in Boca Raton as it was the opening season for a brand new, $70 million football stadium. The season, however, was disappointing for FAU fans with a finish of 1 win and 11 losses. And they could never fill their stadium more than half-full. The legendary Howard Schnellenberger, retired and stepped down as coach.

The team did not fare much better over the next 5 seasons. Carl Pellini was hired, but resigned for alleged illegal drug use. Charlie Partridge took over, but was fired. Finally, FAU hired Lane Kiffin as head coach for the 2017 season. Without a full season to recruit, Kiffin was faced with the same players who had just produced back-to-back 3-9 records. For this reason, what happened in 2017 was remarkable:

- An 11-3 record, their best ever

- A team record 58 points in a game against Old Dominion

-Breaking that record with 69 points in the game against North Texas the following week.

- Scoring 73 offensive touchdowns, tied for 3rd in the nation.

-An undefeated record of 8-0 in conference play.

- Winning the conference championship with a 41-17 victory over North Texas.

-Becoming Boca Raton Bowl Champions with a 50-3 win over Akron. 

Same roster. Different leadership. Vastly Different Results. Despite having the same players, the team looked vastly different. The 2016 team looked lost and panicked on critical plays. The 2017 team reacted beautifully to a 4th-and-goal situation. No panic. They knew exactly what play to run and how to execute it in the situation.  That's preparation. Preparation that can only come from leadership.

View FAU's 4th and goal clip 

In the 1970's and 80's, the consensus among leadership researchers was that leadership is situationally-driven. That is, leadership and organizational outcomes were entirely based on circumstances outside individual control. In the decades since, we've proven over and over again that who is in charge has dramatic consequences for performance in sports, business, and politics. Lane Kiffin was placed in the excact same situation as his predecessors. the results of this natural experiment once again confirm the hypothesis that leadership matters.

As for 2018, FAU begins the season as 21-point underdogs and may never flourish as much as 2017. BUT, I wouldn't bet against Kiffin and his team.

 

 

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