Iowa may be best known for producing corn and pork, not to mention failed presidential ambitions, but it has one other thing to boast about—16 head coaches and assistants working in Division I NCAA football, more than any other school.
To be specific, I am referring to the University of Iowa. As the The Wall Street Journal reported, the reason is simple—82-year old Hayden Fry, a native Texan. Under his head coach tenure at Iowa he developed a cadre of players and assistants who today carry his legacy. They include Bob Stoops (Oklahoma), Bret Bielema (Wisconsin) and his successor at Iowa, Kirk Ferentz.
Fry is a colorful figure, literally. He changed the uniforms of Iowa to make them more like the aggressive black and gold of the Pittsburgh Steelers and he painted the visitor locker room pink—as a calming influence on opposing players. But there is no gimmick in the way he coached and especially developed his assistants.
One of the most overlooked aspects of leadership development is how a manager develops those underneath him. In the landmark book, First, Break All the Rules, one salient feature culled from the mammoth Gallup study of then 80,000 managers, was the fact that good managers develop their people. These managers may have stayed in middle management but in doing so they got a reputation for grooming and promoting subordinates.
Fry's method of identifying talent and nurturing it to succeed is rooted in his upbringing. As a youngster he grew up on a ranch in Texas and before going to school his chore was to round up the cows, no mean feat when the ranch was 2,000 acres. When young Hayden protested, his daddy cut him short. "All you have to do is drive out and listen," Fry told the Journal his father said. "One cow is the leader, the bell cow. Find the bell cow and you find the whole herd."
In football it works like this. Find the players who are the natural leaders. Use them to reach the other players and in doing so you reinforce teamwork and better yet commitment. For Fry, these were "player coaches." And for those who expressed an interest in coaching, Fry hired them as graduate assistants, the entry-level position.
The curious thing, however, as many coaches told the The Wall Street Journal, is that Fry did not treat his assistants as gofers—a typical practice in major football programs. He expected them to coach, that is, figure things out for themselves. He was also looking for potential head coaches. And he was their biggest advocate when they came under consideration for head coaching positions.
Managers seeking to develop their own cadre of future leaders can follow Fry's example by doing the following:
1. Identify those with a potential to assume more responsibility.
2. Provide them with opportunities to show what they can do.
3. Evaluate their progress.
4. Advocate for their advancement.
5. Keep in touch with them as they move up in the organization.
Fry exemplifies what it means to leave a legacy. The young men he developed have gone on to success that has not only helped Iowa but also expanded his positive influence throughout college football.
Legacy is not something that occurs just before you sign retirement papers; It begins on day one of a new job. And for leaders, legacy matters a great deal in how you develop the talents of those who report to you.