The most ever watched televised college football game in history was the recent College Football Playoff National Championship on January 12 in which The Ohio State University defeated the University of Oregon 42-20. If you had asked the football experts at the end of October in week 10 of the season if the Buckeyes could win the national championship, few would have said yes. The team was ranked 16th in the nation. They had lost their captain, starting quarterback and Heisman Trophy candidate to a shoulder injury before the season even began. The current quarterback was a redshirt freshman and he would eventually be injured in the final game of the regular season and unable to play in any post-season games. Ohio State would go on to win the Big 10 championship, the semi-final national playoff game and the national championship with its third string quarterback. How did they do it?
According to Coach Urban Meyer, his staff and the players, a major reason was “the brotherhood of trust” - the 2014 team theme and an integral part of the Ohio State football culture that Meyer has been re-shaping since his arrival three years ago. “I can honestly say I've never worked on anything as hard in my life to make sure the we have the exact culture that we all want at Ohio State” said Meyer in the spring of 2014.
For two years, Meyer has used the Columbus area consulting firm Focus 3 to help create and shape the new culture. The firm’s two consultants Tim Kight and his son, Brian, worked with Meyer, the coaching staff and the entire team in teaching them the fundamentals of leadership and then tying it to culture and changed behavior. Their formula, E+R=O (Event, plus one’s Reaction to that event, determines the Outcome), is credited with being a key factor in the team’s ability to overcome devastating injuries to players, the death of a team mate and obstacles off the field that resulted in winning the national championship.
Tim Kight ran track at Ohio State and later UCLA. He is a M.Div. graduate of Princeton Seminary and pastored for four years before transferring his ideas about leadership, culture and behavior from the pulpit to a business consulting practice. The story of Kight’s work with Meyer and Ohio State has been the subject of several articles but one of the best is an article on the OhioStateScout.com website. It is well worth the full read.
So what’s the connection between Urban Meyer, the Ohio State football team, Tim Kight and pastors and other ministry leaders? They all deal with leadership, culture and changed behaviors. In reading the scout.com article, I observed at least six parallels between the Ohio State story and pastors and churches.
Culture is more powerful than vision. This is true of a football team and it is true in a church. According to Brian Kight, “You can’t just declare a culture. Every coach declares a culture. You don’t get the culture you declare, you get the culture you lead.” “We don’t blame, complain or defend” said Meyer. “If there’s something great about our program, you’re going to hear the term ‘enhance it’ and make it stronger. When there is something not exactly right, we don’t blame players, we don’t blame coaches.” “Leaders,” says Brian Kight, “when they’re not getting what they want, which demonstrates that they’re not very effective leaders, blame, complain and defend. That’s what lesser leaders do, which only makes the problem worse.” Building on the islands of health and strength is always a better approach that focusing on the weaknesses. Fix the system, not fix the blame, be it your church or football team or any group or human organization.
Kight calls some of the bedrock teachings the “physics” by which any successful organization operates. In addition to the E+R=0 formula, there is the “Performance Pathway” that leaders build culture, culture drives behavior and behavior produces results. Pastors are leaders in the “people transformation business”- a process or pathway by which people who were once in darkness have seen the light and are in the process of being transformed. Their behavior changes in the context of a healthy culture of believers and the results transform communities.
Urban Meyer admits that the missing piece of the puzzle before last season was “clarity of our purpose and that’s on me as the leader.” Clarity of purpose and a system of core beliefs that are held by everyone, from coaches to players to the back office operations have ensured that everyone connected with Ohio State football is on the same page. Rick Warren was right on this one…it is about a purpose driven church and shared beliefs.
Another important piece of the Ohio State culture is the power of the unit. The team is broken down into nine different units led by an assistant coach or “unit leader.” “With the power of the unit, the behavior is an uncommon commitment to each other and the work ethic necessary to achieve our purpose. The outcome we get from that is a brotherhood of trust and the willingness to do what needs to be done,” says Kight. It’s this “brotherhood of trust” that the players kept talking about and tweeting following their national championship win. Pastors know that real life transformation comes in small groups, in Bible classes, in the choir, in ministry teams, and all the other groups where koinonia is created and life change occurs, not in the week-end worship service. Likewise, “the message must be communicated by a unit leader all the time says Kight. “It can’t be just a pre-game speech from Urban Meyer.”
Finally, my last observation comes from Ohio State assistant coach Kerry Coombs. “We’re all life-long learners. I’m 52 and there’s a whole lot of things I still need to learn in this world. I think the only things that educate you are the books you read and the people you meet.” Leaders are learners and pastor/leaders need to be in a continual learning mode. That’s why Cornerstone Pastors Network is focused on not only encouraging pastors, but also equipping them and connecting them to valuable resources.
In a few months, the Ohio State Buckeyes will receive their national championship rings. I sure hope they give one to Tim and Brian Kight for their role in helping to create a brotherhood of trust.