September 22, 2020
Head Coach, Arizona State University
President, U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation, Senior Vice President, U.S. Chamber of Commerce
Leadership isn’t just found in a boardroom. Sometimes the best leaders with the strongest voices come from outside the business sphere. At the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation’s LEAD Conference Happy Hour Event, President Carol Cawley interviewed Arizona State Head Football Coach Herm Edwards. Coach Edwards talked about his background, the current state of sports, the outlook for future generations and how to be a leader in uncertain times. Here are four takeaways and leadership tips from their conversation.
A Good Leader Sets the Standard and Tone for Their Entire Organization
Coaches don't just coach their players, they coach everyone below them, including other coaches. Edwards described it like being in a church — you give your message, then you let your followers deliver it.
Coach Edwards doesn’t believe in micromanaging. He sets the tone and game plan, then trusts his coaches and players to carry it out. His coaching philosophy relies on giving his coaching and team one voice while allowing them the opportunities to use theirs.
“You set the standard,” he said. “You make the people that work with you a part of it.”
During the pandemic, Coach Edwards has been a leader off the field. The strong culture and standard set at Arizona State is a big reason why all their football players decided to return amongst the pandemic after they heard the season would be postponed. It even brought back players that were hesitant about playing football.
“We have 110 players, two of them opted out,” Edwards said. “They were a little nervous when this started five months ago. They both came back this week. They're ready to work out, and they want to play again.”
You Have to Be Adaptable and Able to Change Your Plans
When COVID-19 hit in March of this past year, Coach Edwards was the one who had to tell his players that the season was being postponed. Together they talked through their shared situation and the implications it had on their lives. Most importantly, Edwards listened to the plight of his players and what they were going through.
Football is like business, where a calendar is set and you have certain goals and projects you need to have accomplished. But like any great leader, Edwards knows you need to be able to adapt.
“A plan that can't be changed is a bad plan,” he said. “So now we get to adjust. The adjustment was the hard part.”
Know Your Own DNA and How It Affects Your Team Building
When describing his recruiting process, Edwards shared that he looks to his competition and where other great players are coming from. He wanted his incoming players to match the organizational philosophes already established. This process is solid not just for football, but it’s a great leadership tip for any type of talent recruitment.
“When you go about recruiting at anything you do, the first thing you better realize is you got to understand what your DNA is,” Edwards said. “What is the makeup of the people you want in your organization, your company [or] on your football team?”
The Lack of Fans Will Impact the Energy of the Players
The coronavirus has directly altered seasons, schedules and the overall training of players in every sport. One factor that's also been altered is the minimization or lack of fans in attendance at games. Without fans, players now have to play in a new and foreign atmosphere, one without the same energy, noise and overall experience. When asked about how that will impact him and his players, Coach Edwards shared that it’s going to have a significant impact.
“The fans make the difference,” he said. “There's nothing like walking into the stadium, smelling the popcorn, seeing the people and really living off the energy of the fan base … That’s the atmosphere you're used to. This is new.”
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