What if the Most Important Leadership Work You Ever Do Is…

…Totally indirect?

I teach leadership to grads and undergrads at Cal. I think about leading all the time. I try to inspire, challenge, encourage them. I’m the show. But I’m just a coach. And I know some of these young people are going to do bigger things than I ever have. One’s running for Congress in 2018. Another just 24 years old just got a huge job at Symantec. A third is finishing two years of TFA (Teach for America) and can put on her resume that she is godmother to a 16 year old student’s baby girl. I have no illusions:  I work with these students today, but they will do far more than I, tomorrow.

So, some of those people reporting to you, some of those clients or customers, and certainly your kids and grandkids may do more amazing things than you can even imagine. Here is one of the coolest graphics I’ve ever seen, because it tracks the power of mentorship over time. Sports buffs will recognize the names of three of the most successful NFL coaches:

Click here to see the full image


These 3 tree-trunks were highly successful in their own right:  Walsh won 3 Super Bowls, Parcells 2, and Schottenheimer has the most wins of any coach who didn’t take a team to the Super Bowl – an ironic tribute. But sports buffs will recognize that each of these coaches produced even more amazing “offspring” who won many Super Bowls (and, well yes, my long-suffering Detroit Lions brothers and sisters will also note that the tree holds 5 Lions coaches who never got close to the Super Bowl 🙁 ).

Now, with March Madness upon us, we can’t deny Bobby Knight was a great coach, but his mentee Coach K is better.  And Coach K has had seven of his assistants become full-time NCAA coaches.

As March Madness begins, it might be worth taking a minute to look at your “assistant coaches:”

  1.  See what they add.
  2. Ask how you can use them more and better.
  3. Ask them what’s next for them and how you can help!

I read that in 2006, there were no less than 22 former NFL head coaches who were in that season functioning as assistant coaches.  Leadership is no one way street and no solo affair.  So, whom can you help to

Lead with their best self?


  • As I’m reading the “tree trunks” and notice these extremely talented people were in the right place and the right time and blessed to have mentor that wasn’t afraid to see the “assistant coaches succeed”. How can an “assistant coach” find the right professional mentor to aid in professional and personal growth, beyond your Everyday Leadership? 🙂

    • Lisa,
      I think Coach Wooden’s first piece of advice to basketball coaches was: Get the best talent. If that’s how the “top” leaders should think, why shouldn’t you? So find the best talent and recruit them to mentor you. Just like Izzo recruits basketball players or Harbaugh recruits football players. It’s fierce competition for those coaches, so they have to have a great story. What’s yours? Why should someone put you on their tree????

  • I do not know if it is still there, but in the Michigan State University chemistry building there is, or was a chart of this kind for chemists. One aspect of good leadership is passing on the skills. It is a matter of understanding our own mortality. I remember composer/ conductor, Leonard Bernstein was proud of the conductors he had helped develop in their careers.

  • Great post Dan. This visual of the fruits a leader’s tree challenges and inspires me simultaneously.

  • This was outstanding. I love the concept of visually displaying the greats you are lineage of and to…whole family reunion/genealogy concept

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