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A Moment of Greatness with Kansas State’s Bill Snyder: Building a Winning Team

Contagious Enthusiasm
They are Positive Thinkers. They are enthusiastic and that enthusiasm rubs off.

Bill Snyder said that when he took over as the head football coach at Kansas State in 1989, he “wasn’t completely sure” what he was getting into. All he saw was “the friendliest campus that I’ve ever encountered” and as he considered the job, he did so with a belief that the most important resource for any kind of success is enthusiastic people.

Apply this Characteristic

Identify at least one thing your co-workers have done that shows improvement or advancement, and praise them for it. Even if it is only a small step, remember that small steps come together to make big strides.

“That’s what you put on the field–people,” he told me in a recent interview I conducted as part of my ongoing research for a series of webinars on Building a Culture of Greatness. “It’s been my belief that if you have the right people (and I think corporate America would tell you the same thing) if we’ve got good people then we’ve got a chance.”

But what Snyder didn’t realize was that the football program was in far worse shape than he could have imagined when he was approached with the job offer. “I wasn’t looking for a job,” he explained, noting that he was quite happy as the offensive coordinator at the University of Iowa. But when the opportunity came, he felt the caliber of people was so high that it seemed like a great opportunity.

Listen to Coach Snyder talk about Trust!

“I didn’t even know at the time that it was the only college football program at the time that had 500 losses, was the losingest program in college football history,” he admitted. “All players returning had not won a ball game. They had one tie. We only had 47 on scholarship at that time and that’s when you could have 95. That’s what walked in the door when I came.”

Bill Snyder

Rather than throw up his hands in despair, however, Snyder dug in, determined to tap the incredible human potential he saw among the athletes, others students, coaching staff, and a supportive administration. “In the first year we only won one ballgame,” he remembered, adding that a lot of people told him he should move on before he developed a losing reputation and was driven from the business.

Instead of running away to a better program, he sought to create a culture of enthusiasm where he currently coached by making sure his team understood the importance of momentum by celebrating each small victory that moved them forward, rather than getting mired down in the fact that they had not magically transformed into national championship contenders overnight. The key, Snyder believed, was generating enthusiasm for the process of daily improvement.

“Every person on the face of the earth sets goals; very few achieve them,” Snyder said. “I believe in having a process. A goal is an intrinsic thing; we talk about those a lot. But here’s how we carried that message: Wildcat goals for success. What does goal really mean? What do we do with that? When I first came here, my message to young people was to spend a lot of time addressing the ability to establish a process by which you could achieve whatever goals were important to you. . . . Once we’ve achieved that, then we talk about defining the steps we have to take. We won’t get from a-z today or tomorrow, but we’ve got to build the foundation a step at a time and find a way to do that every single day.”

Listen to Coach Snyder talk about the importance of Values!

Bill Snyder

And as the days passed, his athletes began to buy in more and more to the vision and excitement their coach had for their team, despite their rather dismal record. “We got a little bit better. One [win] the first year. Four wins the second year,” he laughed. “Five, seven, nine, ten, eleven–five years in a row. I can share with our players: Here’s what that incremental improvement allows you to do in reference to achieving the goals that you set for yourself.”

In 2012, K-State won its second Big 12 championship under Snyder’s leadership, and was only a few plays away from competing for the BCS National Championship. Snyder’s record with the Wildcats stands at 170 wins–more than the school totaled from 1935-1988 under the leadership of eleven other head coaches combined. Snyder has won numerous major coaching awards himself, as well as developing 33 All-Americans, 46 first-team Academic All-Americans, and 42 players who were selected in the NFL draft.

Those little victories of the first few years have certainly laid the foundation for some legitimate accomplishments.

Listen to Coach Snyder talk about Improvement!

Tips from the Great Ones

How does your team celebrate the growth process? Are you drumming up enthusiasm for each step along the way and how far you’ve come, or are you allowing your energy to be drained by focusing on how far you still have to go?

What the Great Ones, like Bill Snyder, understand is that every victory, no matter how small it might seem at the time, means something. By recognizing even the smallest successes, a team or a company stuck in a rut can turn itself around as the individual members catch hold of positive thinking and optimistic vision for the future.

Quote the Great Ones

“The more you praise and celebrate your life, the more there is in life to celebrate.”

– Oprah Winfrey

In Snyder’s case, he outlined 16 goals for leading his team to success–and the very first one is commitment. When all the individuals on a team agree that they are determined to give it their all and stick together through each challenge, it creates a sense of trust and empowerment that energizes and inspires everyone involved.

Challenge yourself today to help your teammates catch sight of your common goal, and encourage them in every little step they make along the way toward it. By doing so, you are not only making progress toward bigger things, you are helping to build a positive culture of Greatness!

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About Don Yaeger

Don Yaeger

Don Yaeger is a Certified Speaking Professional (CSP), longtime Associate Editor for Sports Illustrated, 11-time New York Times best-selling author, leadership expert and executive coach.

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