Nick Saban and Management of Meaning

How we message is as important as the actual message.

Leadership isn’t as much about what you say. It is about what they hear.

Alabama Coach Nick Saban faces the same troubles as so many other leaders after success: keeping his team focused.

Even at a powerhouse like Alabama, Saban can have sleepless nights over preventing external forces from distracting his team and getting his players to give undivided attention to the task at hand.

Saban isn’t chasing wins. He knows he can easily accumulate those by playing lesser opponents. Instead, he is chasing perfection. And he knows that only with an entirely focused group can he reach his ultimate goal.

Saban wants his team to block out the heat, the humidity, the quality of the opponent and the press extolling his players’ talents. He wants them to instead remain focused on one day at a time. Because he can’t seem to reach his team with his messaging in their meetings, Saban has decided he must turn to outside forces.

So he uses the media to blast his message publicly. He is spoon feeding reporters a story and knows they will leave his press conference and then ask his players about his comments. This will then force them to reflect and perhaps refocus their attention.

One of the biggest traits of effective leaders is what’s called management of meaning. In essence, it’s when the leader uses different avenues to express his/her message.

Leadership is frequently viewed as planning, decision formulating and implementing structure and processes, which are certainly important. But the only way to really do this is to influence others.

How we message is as important as the actual message, and there is never a straight line when it comes to delivering it. We must use our creative forces to help us, as Saban does here. Otherwise, we will get frustrated and begin to believe that everyone is hearing us, even though they’re not actually listening.

Saban is tactical in his approach. For all of his success, he still cannot stand in front of his team and get it to hang onto his every word. His accomplishments offer no help when it comes to messaging. Instead, his experience of navigating a different path for his message is what ultimately allows him to refocus his players.

Regardless of your accomplishments, don’t believe that everyone in your room is hearing and listening. Find different ways to convey your message — and don’t hesitate to turn to others for help.