Gary Pinkel and Henry Josey

Leading a team at the collegiate level takes tremendous effort.  It’s not unlike running a company; in fact, it may be tougher. The list of expectations associated with these collegiate coaching jobs is plenty, from scouting opponents and game day preparation to playbook organization, recruiting and general sideline operations. Job security is certainly lacking, and at the end of the day, your livelihood is tied to the performance of a group of 18 to 22-year-olds. Try and keep up.

The spotlight is on you. And with the rise of big money in collegiate sports, coaching at a national level means you must also satisfy a mélange of powerful people, donors, departmental administrators and even politicians. With immense pressure comes the opportunity for great leadership to emerge. Every entrepreneur knows this; it’s why we play the game.

I’ve learned a few lessons in business from Gary Pinkel, one of the nation’s hottest football coaches and 13-year leader of the Missouri Tigers. Following a forgettable first season in the Southeastern Conference, Missouri clenched the SEC East with an 11-2 record, and they’re headed to the AT&T Cotton Bowl. They made remarkable improvements this year, beating a top-10 Georgia team on the road, picking apart Florida’s defense to the tune of 500 yards, and shutting down Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel for a final home-game win.

Such a turnaround gives any entrepreneur or leader the chance to observe and takeaway key philosophies to make their own. After all, emulation is often underrated as a faster path to knowledge and success. Here are six entrepreneurial takeaways from Coach Pinkel:

1. The key to motivation is preparation

Preparation takes the form of habit. We all have mental habits, physical habits, social habits, game-day habits. Entrepreneurs and athletes alike must prepare for success by habitually studying their own performance and measuring results, analyzing competitors, visualizing the end goal, controlling your sleep, your health and having a battle plan.

For athletes and coaches performing on a national stage, motivation is fueled by preparation, and with preparation comes confidence. With confidence, you have a superior opportunity to play your best with consistency.

2.  When things get tough, and they will get tough, just do your job

“You don’t let any outside influences get to you, because if you do that in this business it will chew you up,” says Pinkel. “This was probably the greatest thing I learned from my mentor, Don James. When things get tough, you wake up and focus on doing your job.  Focus every hour on doing your job.”

Missouri’s success this season is the product of determination to focus on the sport, rather than earning the respect of their elite counterparts in the SEC. Going forward, the team must have the discipline and mental toughness to successfully handle the spotlight and attention that will be thrown on them.

3. The hay is never in the barn

Missouri has proven that they have what it takes to become a legitimate SEC title contender. And although it’s tempting to become complacent or dangerously overconfident, there is still much success to be had.

“The hay is never in the barn,” says Pinkel. “You have to play your opponents one game at a time, one quarter at a time, one play at a time.  Focus on the task at hand.” In business and athletics, confidence is imperative, but success will never be achieved by bypassing the preparation, the hard work or the focused execution it takes to win. Begin with the end in mind, but not as if it’s in the bag.

4.  A good system is no substitute for a locker room full of self-starters

Behind any winning coach is the motivation to recruit, to sell his team to the nation’s top players. Sure, your systems are in place. You’ve measured every detail and key performance indicator, but if you don’t have self-starters or a roster full of playmakers, you’re not wining games and in turn losing recruits. It’s a vicious cycle.

At the end of the day, the people in your organization make all the difference. You look to recruit players that are the strongest, fastest or quickest in their respective positions. Finding and developing self-starters into elite players is the key to success in any organization or team.

5. Excuses and success are incompatible

A big part of having a successful attitude is eliminating excuses from your life. “We change the attitudes of players so that they’re positive, they’re encouraging, and they function well and have a big impact on their life,” says Pinkel. Excuses and success are simply incompatible.

However valid they may be, excuses for non-performance soften your character and sedate your own conscience. When players take responsibility and accept their mistakes, they correct their issues and find more accountable ways to handle adversities and challenges. For Pinkel, it’s an incredible feeling to see the boost of self-esteem in players who have gotten rid of the excuse habit.

The world measures success in terms of performance. Nothing else.

6. Align yourself with another go-getter that’s achieved what you want

It is said that when the student is ready the teacher will appear. Pinkel’s programs at Toledo and Missouri are fully attributed to how his mentor and friend, the late and accomplished Don James, built football programs and developed men into leaders. At Missouri, Pinkel pairs incoming freshmen with experienced seniors to learn the ropes of achieving success on and off the field.

Pinkel is a proud ‘Don James disciple’ and has developed personally and professionally because of him. At any stage of business or life, someone else has already been through a similar battle. Find that person and reach out; the opportunities for education are vast.