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Recruiting Lessons by Dabo Swinney


As the holiday season approaches, it’s a great time to be thankful for our support network of personal and professional friends.

As we are watching college football bowl games, remember these lessons from Dabo Swinney.

Life lessons often flow easiest around the areas where we play and have fun. I love college football for a list of reasons. Specifically, I enjoy learning from the best NCAA coaches as they face the constant challenges around recruiting, developing and promoting people. The competition is fierce in the NCAA Division 1 Football Bowl Subdivision, 10 conferences and 130 teams. Coaches know the team with the best talent wins while managing a constant 20% turnover rate to eligibility, not counting injuries.

The pressure to recruit, develop players and win is intense, and Dabo Swinney, the Head Coach of Clemson, has taken on mental illness head-on. Dabo’s genuine interest in his players and their health and happiness is not to be questioned. His approach breaking down the macho bravado and stigma not allowing mental illness to be the “boogie man in the closet” is a great example of innovative, great leadership. He has made mental health central to their culture. I have dropped off all 3 of my children on a vast college campus, leaving behind a wide-eyed 18-yr-old to fend for themselves. As any parent will attest, the feeling is somewhere between the best and worst emotions colliding with the realization your safety net of your child’s well-being is no longer effective. At that point in a parent’s incredible vulnerability, what impact do your think Dabo’s mental health and well being focused culture has on recruiting the nation’s best players? Dabo’s 2 national championships in the last 3 years might be a sign of its success.

Leaders interested in developing a competitive edge recruiting talent, study Dabo’s top 5 mental health practices:

1)     Make mental health part of your common cultural language. Ask the tough questions: How are you managing life stress? What can we do to support you at a higher level? 

2)     Start with empathy. Mistrust, and at times in heavier doses, becoming paranoia, are commonly intertwined when we humans are in a vulnerable state. Leaders – start with being vulnerable, telling a story about yourself in irrational anxiety or a depressed state.

3)     Lead by example: It’s ok to ask for help. The best way to shift the culture is to ask them to help you with your own behavioral ups and downs.

4)     Don’t mistake physical size, strength, reptilian exterior, or masculinity for emotional resiliency.

5)     Be supportive of team and social events. A sense of belonging is powerful, reflected by friendships at work. 

Have fun! I have a bottle of wine for the first company that installs a kid’s slide in their business.

Top performers are typically the most insecure overachievers who have channeled their vulnerability into their professional trade. Workaholism is no different than alcoholism or drug addiction in the damage it can cause. It is as common to be physically exhausted from bouts of anxiety and depression as it is unfocused energy. At now 51 yrs old, in my view, energy is not to be wasted. Focused anxiety and depression can be your personal plutonium reactor, a perpetual energy source when practiced.

Make mental health your competitive edge!

Hire Smarter™! Go Badgers! – Tony

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