9 Things to Help You Leave on Top

The best college baseball coach in history is out of a job today. If he retires, Augie Garrido will still go out at the top, even though his stat sheet this year pretty much sucks. Maybe that’s the first thing we can learn from the guy who has won more than any coach in history—it’s a long season, play for the body of work, not just one game.

A few others that all of us will be smart to attend to:

Perform well. The winningest coach cannot stay unless the team wins. Pay attention to your performance today and plan for a better performance next year. Some of my clients became my clients after they realized that their performance was slipping.

Get perspective on losing. Baseball teams often win championships by winning barely over half their games. The best hitters miss two-thirds of the time. The best pitchers get shelled once in a while. The winningest coaches get fired, often. Losing is part of winning if you let it teach you how to get better.

Have a sense of humor. Garrido is known for silly stuff like loudly asking Erin Andrews for a dance during a press conference. He was about 75, and she’d just competed on Dancing with the Stars. A sense of humor will help break the ice, make you seem like a regular person. Don’t take yourself too seriously.

Know how to motivate direct reports. One of his players was in a tough situation with a huge game on the line. He called time, took the player aside, and told him a dirty joke. The guy went back in and got a hit that won the game. Augie is also known for a locker room tirade that would make a sailor blush. Great managers encourage, lighten, and reprimand their directs; exceptional managers known when to do which.

Be kind. During one of the worst weeks of his life, the coach sent a condolence message to a reporter whose father had died. Kindness is exceptional these days.

See the bigger picture. Coaching at the college level is less profitable but more influential than doing so at the professional level (though Garrido was the highest paid college coach). The bigger picture is that he was able to save a few guys from going down a bad path, and helped prepare many, many more for the days when their athletic skills would fade. Seeing the bigger picture means caring about the careers of the people who you will boss around every day. Few managers do that, and so few leave on top.

Communicate. Telling people what you expect of them prepares them to deliver it. Head games, clichés, hidden messages, overly abstract analogies, expecting things that cannot be measured—none of that helps people get done what needs to get done. Athletes and coaches are probably measured a lot more than the rest of us and they probably have to communicate more. If they hide, we remember them poorly (like the just fired Baylor coach). If you communicate clearly, we remember you well.

Be transparent. Of course, we think of the liars who hid the truth and hurt people. Whether in business, politics, religion, or sports, we see them too often. We see the transparent leaders too—they’re the ones who leave on top. You cannot leave at the top if you spent time hiding at the bottom.

Someday, your career will end. Plan ahead.