Let me start by prefacing, I was born in Columbus, Ohio. And while I ended up going to the University of Illinois, I was always “raised Ohio State” and it is very hard not to take notice of Ohio State Football in the state of Ohio. It also affected my life directly because my father traveled to all OSU games as part of a sports news crew.
I was too young to really know what was happening but on game day Columbus was bustling. Often, the famed-Goodyear blimp could be seen overhead. There was a carnival atmosphere. With the polarizing and historic figure Woody Hayes at the helm, Ohio State became one of the first bona fide football factories.
Many questioned his competitive ethics when over-emphasis on college athletics was thought to do unrepairable damage to the reputation of the university. And, his unfortunate removal as Ohio State’s head coach tarnished an already weather-beaten legacy when he punched an opposing player on the sidelines of the 1978 Gator Bowl. It wasn’t his best moment.
Here were his best moments. During his 28 seasons as the head coach of the Ohio State Buckeyes football program, Hayes’ teams won five national championships (1954, 1957, 1961, 1968, 1970), captured 13 Big Ten Conference titles, and amassed a record of 205–61–10.
In my eyes, he was a leader and not just a winner. I admired that emphasis on process greatly. Winning with people was more than putting trust in the right hands to Woody. His premise was that as the leader it is the responsibility to set the example of expectations. For Woody, that meant through his actions and leading by example to the extreme.
An example. To show his players how unaffected they should be by the brutal temperatures during a game- Woody wanted to show resolute toughness. He wore a typical short-sleeved white button-down shirt, tie, and his iconic hat. He wore no coat. His message: “If I can do this, you better be able to do it too.” Typically, his teams performed very well for him.
I read “You Win With People” when I was in the fifth grade. It was simply a book on our bookshelf. But, when I think of portraits in leadership, misguided or not, I think Wayne Woodrow Hayes. His concept of being as tough (if not tougher) as any of his players/staff/coaches fascinated me. And I wanted to lead like that.
As a leader, I wanted my staff to feel like they had a fulfilling day at work. Be happy. Work happy. Trickles to all parts of work culture which should flow to customer satisfaction. But, I had to have some way of showing that satisfaction doesn’t mean we can stop pushing forward. So, even in times of stillness- I did my best to show that I’m working as if there was an overload of work. I would never ask a co-worker to do a difficult job when it would have been convenient to take leadership privilege and hand it off. I had to show occupational fearlessness and the fact that it paid off in handling my workflow. Those small behaviors get noticed.
Its the difference between commanding respect and demanding respect. Of course, if you have to “demand” respect with your words – you’re probably getting obedience over respect. This produces non-thinking workers. You command respect with your behavior as a leader. You set the expectation and watch your team strive as they meet them. If expectations aren’t being met then you “coach up” that individual and teach them what they are missing. Worked for Woody. Works for me.
I will not forget what Woody taught this fifth grader on how to be a moving leader in the face of extreme adversity. Thank you, Woody. I thank a lot of people at the end of my articles.
Authors note: After a game in 1986 I got to meet Woody. He was sitting in his extremely humble Chrysler K-car (anyone?) after the game in traffic. My dad walked up to the car like he knew him. He wanted me to meet Woody Hayes. Brief words were exchanged… and I will never forget it as a formative moment.