John RobinsonDon James coachDon James and John Robinson are legendary college football coaches. As a college coach John Robinson put up a winning percentage of 104-35-4. His teams at USC won four Rose Bowls and his 1978 team won a share of the national championship. In 2009 he was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame. He also coached the Los Angeles Rams professional team and was successful there as well.
Don James coached football at Kent State and the University of Washington and has a winning percentage of 178–76–3. His 1991 Washington team won a share of the national championship. He was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1997.
Chuck Nelson was a place kicker for Don James during his collegiate career and for John Robinson for his first year of professional football. I recently had the privilege of hearing him talk about leadership and how these two coaches, both highly successful, developed totally different systems. Don James was the master of detail and precision. Under Coach James, Chuck knew at exactly what time during practice he would do his practice kicks and exactly how many kicks he would get (12). The system was designed to take as much risk out of the kick as possible. Under Coach Robinson, he had no idea when he would get his practice kicks nor how many. The system was designed to maximize risk so that a kick on game day would be easy. Obviously, both systems were highly successful.

I glean two lessons here. 1) leadership is not a one size fits all enterprise, and 2) leadership is more about the system than the person. Two highly successful coaches, two very different types of leadership but both systems were successful. My conclusion: great leaders develop great systems.