Hearing Coach Urban Meyer talk about Focus3, a leadership-training company he had contracted to work with the Buckeye football team, I was surprised.
After all, like most in Columbus, I think Meyer is pretty much the greatest leader since General George S. Patton.
So I decided to conference call the father-son team behind Focus3 to get a glimpse at a leadership magic enticing enough to interest a legendary boss like Meyer.
Two years ago, Tim Kight met Coach Meyer at a fundraiser and the two struck up a serendipitous conversation about leadership systems.
“He was immediately intrigued and we started a conversation that really hasn’t stopped,” noted the senior Kight.
I pointed out that the Coach’s leadership style seemed already to be pretty strong, something many have noticed throughout the Coach’s storied career.
“Yes, anyone who’s spent any time around Urban Meyer would agree, he has a strong leadership style,” said Brian, adding the basis of their first formal meeting with Meyer was centered on the question of what was missing from his leadership approach.
“And what we suggested was, he had great leadership content, he had great leadership intensity, but he did not have a great leadership system,” said Brian. “And what we brought was a leadership system that allowed him, his staff, and his players to learn more, to learn faster, and to apply it much better than they currently were.”
“If Urban were on this call, he would say that we brought a systematic approach,” injected Tim.
And that system? While their approach details many moving parts, Brian said that at final realization, it’s quite simple.
“Leadership creates culture, culture creates behavior, and behavior produces results,” he said. “That’s the highest level. We call it the ‘R’ factor.”
For the Kights, outcomes are all dictated by their equation “E+R=O,” or “event plus response equals outcome.” (In this system, “events” are limited to those out of your control, which controls the variable to your response…this would be the “R” factor.)
“We teach players and coaches how to manage the way they respond to any situation they experience, and how to respond in pursuit of any outcome they want to achieve,” explained Brian. “Whether you’re a player or a coach or, from a reader’s perspective, whether you’re a housewife or a manager or an executive or a sales person or an editor, the only thing you have control over in your life is how you respond. You don’t control events and you don’t control outcomes, you only control your response, and however you respond is going to control what outcome is created.”
Together, the two Kights elaborated further on their system: they advocate a six-step response management pattern that requires adherents pause after an event, get their mind right, step up, adjust and adapt, make a difference, and build skill. They also categorize potential responses as either “below the line” (impulsive, reactionary, and skill-less), or “above the line”: a directed, intentional reaction, and presumably one filtered through the aforementioned six steps.
All in all, their system sounds useful, simple, and even obvious. I’m sure they could hear the incredulity in my voice when I pointed out that most, if not everything, inherent to the system they proponed was more or less common sense.
“That question gets asked a lot,” said Tim. “It may be common sense, but it is absolutely not common practice. We work with organizations all over the world and the number of times very intelligent, very experienced people in positions of authority and leadership at the highest level act on impulse and autopilot is staggering. It happens all the time. A below-the-line response doesn’t take any skill. It’s the path of least resistance.”
He added that, despite praise from the coaches, Focus3 didn’t actually change the culture of the football team.
“We didn’t change anything about their culture, we just helped them strengthen what they already believed in,” noted Tim Kight. “It just gave [the coaches] a language and a way to systemize and teach what they already believed in.”
A week after our interview, Braxton Miller reinjured his shoulder in practice and a morose Columbus saw their chances for a national title smothered in an Ace bandage. Shortly after, I received an email from Brian Kight.
You asked why we work on culture so much & on what appears to be ‘common sense’ thinking. Today is the reason. How this team (each individual player, coach, [and] staff member) responds is what will define the season. Not this injury. The individual responses and collective culture of Ohio State Football will make or break this year.
Events are never fair. And sometimes they’re just tragic. But there is always a Response.
Focus3 is located in Columbus, Ohio, but serve clients all over the world, including the University of Washington’s football team, where head coach Chris Peterson is deploying their tactics to systemize their own program’s leadership culture. The company also serves businesses and government, and offer a variety of services aimed at strengthening leadership culture; for more information, visit www.focus3organizationalculture.com