What was Nick Saban Thinking?

Alabama football coach Nick Saban jogged toward the locker room down 13-0 at halftime of the 2018 College Football Playoff Championships. Having previously won 5 national championships, Coach Saban had made some tough decisions in the past to lead his teams to victory. But on Monday night, the seasoned coach probably made one of the toughest decisions of his career, to replace his former SEC Offensive Player of the Year quarterback with a true freshman who had never started a college football game in his life. To him, his rationale was simple, “We knew we needed to throw the football to win the game,” and in his mind the freshman gave him the best chance to win a 6th National Championship.

Was he nuts? Was he desperate? Had he coached one too many games? Not a chance, he dug deep into his own locker room of experience and made the decision that ultimately led Alabama to beat Georgia 26-23 in overtime. Nick Saban is clearly a great football coach and leader. But in my opinion, the difficult decision he made at halftime is what separates good leaders from great leaders.

Business leaders face tough decisions every day but many are challenged to make a hard decision even though they know it is the right thing to do. Why is this? Many times, it is because it involves people, our employees, some who may be personal friends. Where do you draw the line when dealing with your employees? A culture of trust is important, but tough decisions still must be made. Difficult decisions can challenge your confidence. What if you are wrong and you risk your career? What if you are CEO of a publicly traded company and your decision causes your stock price to decline? More career risk or worse yet, a quarterly beating by Wall Street.

As leaders, we must remember that it is our job to make tough decisions, regardless of your pay grade or level of experience. Our employees rely on us for it and the success of our business depends on it. We are rarely going to make everyone happy but that comes with the territory. Coach Saban had to make a tough decision on Monday night. I am sure it rattled a few players and created doubt within the ‘Bama fanbase. But in the end, that tough decision led them to another national championship.

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