Ohio State football coach Urban Meyer had low expectations when asked to host a school fundraiser at his home after last season. Schmoozing with the public is probably the least appealing aspect of his job.
But one of the guests was Tim Kight, founder of a Dublin-based leadership consulting firm called Focus3. And though Meyer, carrying a plate of hors d’oeuvres and a Coke, blew past Kight at first, something told him to go back and strike up a conversation.
“I’m not a big people guy. I’m not known for, ‘Hey, how’s it going?’ “ Meyer said. “I look at him, and he looks at me, and I turn around and say, ‘Have we met?’ “
The two hadn’t, but they clicked immediately because of their common interests.
Kight ran track at UCLA and had frequent interactions with the late coaching legend John Wooden. Meyer likes the sport and admired the man.
Kight also is a former church pastor and has a Master’s degree in Theology. Meyer has been carving out time in his life for Bible reading and spiritual pursuits.
But what drew the two together most was a mutual passion for building a winning culture and the belief that leaders are absolutely indispensable for that.
“We sat together at my house for the next two hours while this fundraiser’s going in,” Meyer said. “The next day, I had him at a meeting with our strength coach (Mickey Marotti). And ever since then, they’ve been a part of our program.”
Said Kight: “They have a deep belief that leaders are made, not born. That’s a statement around their program. And that’s something we believe in very much.”
Meyer knows the leadership of his seniors last year was instrumental in turning somewhat ordinary talent into an undefeated team. And he’s convinced that the two months about 20 hand-picked players spent over the summer with Kight and his son, Brian, could change the course of this season.
They concluded their eighth one-hour seminar just before preseason camp. The sessions included video clips, talks from Meyer and Marotti and leadership training from the Kights, whose main premise is an Albert Einstein-sounding formula known as “E plus R equals O.”
E stands for an event, R for a person’s response to it and O for the ultimate outcome. The middle component is where the focus of the budding leaders should be.
“You can’t control the event,” Meyer said. “You can’t control the outcome. What you can control as a leader is your response.”
Another way to put it might be, life is 10 percent what happens to us and 90 percent how we react to it.
“I just think that’s profound, and it follows them off the football field, too,” Meyer said. “I’m 49 years old, and I’ve learned more in those leadership classes, I bet, than our players.”
The coach might be surprised. The Kights have worked with Fortune 500 companies as well as a few college and high school teams, and they sum up their guiding principles in six topics: Press pause, Get your mind right, Step up, Adjust and adapt, Make a difference and Build skill.
Senior tackle Jack Mewhort has been impacted most by the first one.
“If you feel yourself going on autopilot and not making purposeful decisions, we talk about pressing ‘pause.’ It’s stopping and evaluating and putting yourself on an intentional, purposeful track as opposed to going back to bad habits,” Mewhort said. “That’s something that’s hit me pretty hard and something I’ve used since we learned it last month.”
Players who seem to be mastering the class are given wrist bands with the “E+R=O” equation on them. Tim Kight said junior linebacker Ryan Shazier has been a sponge, and junior quarterback Braxton Miller, though less outspoken, also is absorbing the tools.
“Braxton and I have had a number of conversations,” Kight said. “You see him really grasping this stuff. I’ve watched him take very deep notes.
“Braxton is a processor. He processes things inside, not outside. You see him working on that. He’s not going to accelerate through it like some other guys just because he doesn’t have that type of personality, but there’s no question Braxton Miller is taking his role as a leader very seriously.”
The star QB has noticed a change in himself and others.
“We watch videos, and guys get up and talk about what they learned in the previous class and what we’re going to do to get better and how we can encourage guys on the team,” he said. “You’re growing as a man and growing as a player. We’re going to need that to get to the next level.”
The Buckeyes may be ranked No. 2 in the preseason coaches poll, but Kight has told the players bluntly that many teams have just as much talent and that they need to be vigilant about addressing the intangibles to separate themselves. “I call it talent-plus,” he said.
And while Meyer may be an offensive mastermind, they can’t rely solely on the edge his system may provide. “A winning culture eats strategy for lunch,” Kight said.
The leadership guru has been retained to teach seven more sessions to the rest of the football team (co-led by the graduates of the summer program). And he doesn’t believe the players would have been so quick to buy into the program if their coach didn’t embrace it wholeheartedly.
“I’ve been in this business 30 years. I’ve worked with companies all across the world of every size and shape. No one has grasped this stuff faster than Urban Meyer,” Kight said. “He’ll jump up in the middle of a workshop and say, ‘Stop, I’ve just got to say something.’
“He’ll do some immediate application of a principle we just taught — and he just heard for the first time — and will do a world-class job of converting that principle into something very specific for Ohio State football better than anyone I’ve ever seen.”
OSU athletic director Gene Smith marvels at how innovative Meyer can be to help his team prosper. And Smith plans to meet with Kight this week to see if the program could be tailored to other Buckeyes sports.
“That’s the great thing about Urban. He’s always looking for something different and bringing someone in. It’s awesome,” Smith said. “