On December 15, 2000 at a press conference the University of Southern California football program announced the hiring of Pete Carroll as the new head coach. It was a surprising move considering Carroll’s coaching history. Not only was he fired from two previous head coaching jobs in the NFL after unsuccessful stints, he also had exactly zero years of college head coaching experience. In fact, he had been out of college football for 17 years before being hired by USC.
The announcement was met with, at the very least skepticism and often with outright opposition. Carroll was derided from every angle by boosters and fans. He was laughed at and it was generally assumed that he would fail. So, what did he do to turn the program around? More importantly, how did he adjust to improve his own effectiveness as a head coach? Carroll found his own, authentic leadership identity.
Coach Carroll realized that what he had done in the NFL didn’t work for him. During a period of intense introspection and self-evaluation, he became aware that he lacked a core set of real values to guide him in his role as head coach.
"Are you willing to adjust your focus to create the changes and reach the potential that you already own?" ~Pete Carroll
He read a book by the legendary UCLA basketball coach John Wooden. Carroll was surprised and inspired by the fact that although Wooden’s teams won 11 championships, the first didn’t come until his sixteenth season. Coach Carroll, taking one of Wooden’s strategies began a process of thinking through his core beliefs and committing them to writing – resulting in a philosophy he communicated widely and leveraged at USC. He developed a strong mindset of goals and values. His goals were very clear and specific: Beat UCLA. Beat Notre Dame. Win the Rose Bowl. Win the National Championship.
The result: huge success on and off the football field. The wins didn’t come immediately though. It was an incremental process as his new philosophies were instilled in his followers. Carroll went 6-6 in 2001, his first season at USC. Then the wins came. 11 in 2002 and 12 more in 2003. During his tenure at USC, Carroll went 97-19 including 7 consecutive AP top 4 finishes and National Championships in 2003, 2004 and 2005. He developed community service programs in Los Angles and created the Win Forever Company. He found a personal philosophy that not only worked for him but was authentic. It was genuine and received sincerely by his followers. In a nutshell, Carroll was true to himself.
An article in the Harvard Business Review said it perfectly:
“No one can be authentic by trying to imitate someone else. You can learn from others’ experiences, but there is no way you can be successful when you are trying to be like them. People trust you when you are genuine and authentic, not a replica of someone else.” ~Bill George, Peter Sims, Andrew N. McLean and Diana Mayer
That’s what we’re talking about when we say leadership identity. It’s about utilizing your strengths, experiences and personality type to become the best leader you can be. In order to become your personal best as a leader, you must first recognize that you have the capacity within you to make it happen. You don’t need to be someone else. You don’t need to imitate someone else. You just need to gain clarity into your personal style and see the value in it as a growing leader.