Drawing inspiration from Ara Parseghian’s legacy
By Tierney Remick, Vice Chairman, Board and CEO Services
Last week saw the passing of a great man and an exceptional leader, Ara Parseghian. Journalists will write about Parseghian as the legendary Notre Dame football coach who led the team to a period of grid-iron dominance after a period of “underperformance”. In fact, it was his earlier coaching success at Northwestern University that led him to South Bend in the mid 1960’s. All of this is true; Parseghian’s performance record and innovative approach to coaching ,on and off the field, speaks for itself.
As a leader, Ara embraced the need to deliver. His performance was on public display every Saturday from the months of September through December for years. He was critiqued and or celebrated weekly and sometimes daily, by his direct superiors as well as thousands of game day fans, or “evaluators.” He owned and embraced the accountability of his position with passion and intensity.
But Parseghian was more than simply a leader who “hit his numbers”. He was a man who instilled a sense of purpose not only among his players, but to the broader community well beyond the field of play. He felt strongly that a key part of his role was to inspire his players to see “what they can become versus what they are”. One former colleague suggested that Ara was not just a coach, but a leader and a mentor who “invented desire “. He viewed his role as that of ambassador who served the alumni and sports community at large by his actions , passion and commitment. This progressive leadership style established his legacy even before he retired from Notre Dame and continued with his work for Niemann- Pick Foundation.
In contrast to many CEO’s in the news these days, Parseghian represented the type of executive leader who understood that to achieve the performance expected, he needed to create a team that believed in the overall mission and their capabilities, but equally important, they believed in each other. He demanded excellence in execution, but he also spent the time to know his players personally and what it took to motivate them individually. He commented that his role as the leader of these young adults to create a sense of “harmonized unity” that optimized their collective performance. Parseghian embodied a level of emotional intelligence long before we knew it was a key differentiating characteristic of the most successful leaders, yet his record stands on its own.
At a time where the humanity of leadership appears to be in short supply, we celebrate the man who left a legacy that inspired the lives of many across generations and circumstances.