Penn State Coach Joe Paterno
My nominee for the best leader of the year is the coach of the Pennsylvania State University football team, Joe Paterno. His team will be playing in the Rose Bowl on New Year's Day, 2009, and it won 11 games this year, finishing in the top ten in the national rankings and winning the Big 10 conference championship.
What makes Paterno great, however, was not simply his performance in 2008. It is the fact that, at 82 years of age, after nearly six decades of coaching, Paterno has produced outstanding football teams for longer than many presumably outstanding leaders have been alive, winning more football games, more bowl games, and appearing in more bowls than any other coach in Division 1 college football history.
Yet Paterno is far from being the highest paid college football coach, earning about one-eighth of what Alabama coach Nick Saban earns, for instance. Paterno has not moved from school to school seeking more money or publicity--he has been at Penn State for 43 years, having turned down opportunities to coach Michigan, the Pittsburgh Steelers, and the New England Patriots.
Paterno knows what he likes doing -- coaching college athletics -- and he does it very well, graduating his players and running a program that has avoided the scandals that frequently beset college athletics. Penn State's four-year graduation success rate of 78 percent is substantially higher than the 67 percent Division I average.
Anyone can do something well once. It is reasonably easy to capture the public's imagination for a moment. What makes a real leader is the ability to excel even as conditions and social mores change, to produce success over time, and to do so without leaving others behind.
In turbulent times, it seems particularly appropriate to acknowledge the leadership of people who are truly "built to last." For me, Paterno represents something too infrequently acknowledged in American business--sustained, and sustainable, success.
Posted by: blackandgreen | January 1, 2009 12:57 PM
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