Triple Crown Leadership

Triple Crown Leadership

The 3 Questions Asked of Every Leader

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Legendary football coach Lou Holtz, now retired and in the College Football Hall of Fame, had an uncanny ability to turn losing teams into winners. During his college coaching career, he compiled a record of 249 wins, 132 losses, and 7 ties. Holtz’s 1988 Notre Dame team was undefeated and determined to be the consensus national champion.

Lou Holtz

Holtz said that players had three implicit questions about a new coach–the same questions the coach has about players. (See These questions apply to any leader.

1) “Can I trust you?”

Like life itself, leadership is all about relationships. Without trust, these relationships are superficial. People hold back, wait to see if they will be taken advantage of, and watch their backs. People wonder whether their leaders are in it for themselves and their own advancement, recognition, and ego trip.

Trust takes time to build and can be lost quickly. Many of us have been burned by people in authority. Trust is earned or lost one small act at a time between people based on their interactions. “Did you take advantage of me?” If so, trust is lost. If not, especially when someone was vulnerable, then trust is built.

2) “Are you committed?”

High-performing teams are committed to their goals and each other. Without commitment, extraordinary things are unlikely to be accomplished. But with commitment, the laws of physics seem to change–new opportunities open, new ideas flourish, and virtually anything is possible.

Commitment changes the game. Commitment comes when the cause is noble, rich with meaning for the participants, not just a job or a position, but an opportunity to achieve something extraordinary and to work on something that resonates with their values and passions.

Commitment is built when expectations are clear and explicit and people see that others have lived up to their promises. “Did you meet your commitment to me? If so, I will meet my commitment to you. If not, forget about it.” Too many leaders hold people up to phantom commitments without clear communication, follow-up, accountability, or opportunities for development in areas that need work.

3) “Do you care about me?”

The old model was that leaders could not get too close to their followers. A certain distance was essential. Leaders had to be somewhat aloof, distant, perhaps trying to keep people in awe of their wonderful capabilities, always knowing what to do, having the answers, in control, and never being in doubt. In today’s complex, highly competitive, instant-communications world, is this at all realistic?

Caring leaders are deeply involved with their colleagues, listening to them, paying attention to their motivations and aspirations, appreciating their capabilities and contributions, sharing credit, and recognizing that great leadership emerges from the group’s performance. People want to know if leaders value them or view them only as a cog in the corporate productivity machine—squeezing more and more out of them until there is nothing left.

Leaders care about their people, treating them fairly and with true respect.

People implicitly ask, “If you don’t care about me, really care about me personally, then why should I care about you? If you do care about me, then what can I do to help you?”

How are your colleagues answering these questions?

1. Can they trust you?

2. Are you committed?

3. Do you care?


Bob and Gregg Vanourek, father and son, are co-authors of Triple Crown Leadership: Building Excellent, Ethical, and Enduring Organizations, a 2012 USA Best Business Book Awards finalist.



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