Leaders Follow the Best Advice Lou Holtz Ever Heard

Recently, I had the chance to hear legendary football coach Lou Holtz deliver a keynote address. He’s best known for turning around the Notre Dame football program, and one of my favorite factoids about that process is that he removed player names from the backs of jerseys, to emphasize “team” rather than “individual hero.”

As you’d expect, he had much to say about effort and persistence, but I want to elaborate on one bit of wisdom he shared, partly because Lou described it as

“the best advice I ever got.”

Never say a negative word about, or to, your spouse in front of your children.

I love this on its face, of course, as a husband and father, but I also find that it has leadership implications.

A big morale-crusher for teams is hearing a team leader bash their colleagues or their boss. The leader means well, because they think they’re being authentic and showing their people they take their side against the institution.

There may be situations that call for that, but they’re rare. In a family, when children see discord and unkindness between parents, it can affect them in the moment, and it can also teach them the wrong way to be in partnership with another person. When this happens, we know it’s important for there to be some apology and/or healing moment that’s also witnessed.

Similarly, if team members see this kind of discord, it breeds distrust of the whole organization, and they learn the wrong lesson about how to talk to and work with others in the future. Work hard to not throw your boss or your peers under the bus. And if you do, find a time to later acknowledge that it wasn’t the right thing to do.

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