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Spotting Talent: 3 Managerial Lessons from Joe Torre to Nick Saban

By: David Bekore

 

Business, career and placement concept - successful young man smiling and handshaking with european businessman after successful negotiations or interview in office

As any business manager can tell you, much of their success comes from their ability to surround themselves with the best talent. Nurturing and drawing on the skills of those around you are key factors in growing a business from good to great. Perhaps the best examples of spotting talent come from the sports world, as managers and coaches must depend not only on choosing the best recruits but molding them into productive and then exemplary team members.

Here are three tips for spotting talent from some of the best managers in sports.

Joe Torre

“Competing at the highest level is not about winning. It’s about…nurturing your people. Winning is the result.”

Joe Torre was the 5th all-time most winning MLB manager, having managed the Mets, Braves, Cardinals, Yankees, and Dodgers over 33 years. What made him stand out was his ability to personalize his relationships with each of his players. He was a great believer in treating every player in a unique way, but treating each of them equally. That’s no easy feat, balancing individualized attention with equal diligence, but his players responded with record wins—

Gregg Popovich

“Are you putting in the work and not skipping any steps?”

Gregg Popovich, Head Coach of the NBA’s San Antonio Spurs since 1996, is a five-time championship winner with the Spurs and three-time NBA Coach of the Year. His approach to talent is to search for character, especially empathy, in his players. Talent will always be available, but finding players who are willing to work hard on their own while still feeling responsible for their teammates is his key to success. He famously traded Denis Rodman to the Bulls for Will Purdue, and then went on to build his 5-time championship dream team.

For Popovich, it’s not about having the best players, but the best-fitting players as part of the whole team.

Nick Saban

“It’s not about the Xs and Os but the Jimmies and Joes.”

It’s a well-known phrase that’s tossed around college football, and it speaks to the importance of personal development over wins and losses.

Nick Saban, former University of Alabama Head Coach, exemplified this philosophy with his strict attention and talent for recruiting. No film was too long, no high school too out of the way, for Saban to ignore a potential 16 or 17-year-old fit for his team.

And like with Popovich, the key was fit—not necessarily the best player, or the winningest player, but the right player.

With strict NCAA limitations on how frequently he could reach out to potentials, only allowing one call per recruit per week, analysis and analytics had to play an integral role in his decision. And he made sure his decision was reached by consensus from his entire recruiting team, not just by fiat. Finally, after all the analytics and basic criteria were on the board, Saban addressed the most crucial element—evaluating the person, not the player. Natural talent and honed skills might be the first layer of eligibility, but integrity, work ethic, and motivation were ultimately the deciding factors.

Published: April 10, 2024
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