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CEOs must envy aura of coaches


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Iowa State University fans professed to be shocked, shocked that departing football coach Gene Chizik could be so disloyal.

Not that he was leading them to the promised land; the real problem is the resulting chaos in retaining and recruiting players.

Business leaders must be envious of the strong reaction.

Every CEO must have moments of thinking, “How will they manage without me?” However, as Charles De Gaulle pointed out, the graveyards are full of indispensable men. A well-run company has such a solid succession plan that the change can go almost unnoticed.

Job applicants look for the right location and the right salary. They don’t often say, “That’s the boss I want to work for.”

It’s different in sports, where players and recruits are committed to their coach. Not to the team or the school, but to him. So he doesn’t dare to say a word about leaving.

It would be good if coaches set an example of honesty for their young charges, but that’s asking a lot these days. We say it’s the land of the free and the home of the brave, but none of us do anything that might affect our income. There’s bravery, and then there’s common sense, right?

In that respect, coaches are like the rest of us. Always protecting what they have and looking for something better. The difference is, not many of us disrupt the organization with our departure the way a head coach does.

Auburn University hired Chizik after a 5-19 showing in Ames. The next few seasons will offer a lesson about hiring; either Auburn was right, or everyone else was.

In the meantime, we can consider whether sports has something to teach business about the value of a leader who affects employees daily, directly, at a personal level.

Iowa faces a shortage of workers. If a CEO, for example, can become such a force that people at other companies or fresh out of college want to be part of his or her team, that could tilt the playing field enough to make a difference.

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