UND Today

University of North Dakota’s Official News Source

‘Touching hearts:’ Lessons on leadership from Bubba Schweigert

Finding what motivates others is the key to effective leadership, UND’s head football coach says in 18:83 Speaker Series talk

UND Head Football Coach Bubba Schweigert lectures on effective leadership as part of the University’s 18:83 Speaker Series. Photo by Joe Banish/UND Today.

Bubba Schweigert, UND’s head football coach, visited the Memorial Union last week to chronicle his journey to leading the Fighting Hawks, and offer advice on effective leadership.

Entering his 11th season on the sidelines, Schweigert spoke as part of UND’s 18:83 Speaker Series on leadership The series takes place on Wednesday afternoons at the Memorial Union’s Social Stairs. Speakers time their addresses to about 18 minutes and 83 seconds, a number that coincides with the University’s founding year.

A native of Zeeland, N.D., Schweigert said his small-town upbringing let him develop close relationships with mentors who helped shape him into the leader he is today.

“I think of my high school football coach and music teacher often,” he said. “They really got the best out of a lot of students.”

Schweigert impressed upon attendees the importance of separating the practices of leadership and management, arguing that the latter is but one small facet of the former.

“At first, I thought if you can get out and coach, plan meetings and budget, then ‘Boy, that’s a great deal,” he said. “But that’s not really leadership, in my opinion. In your role, you may have to do it, and right now it’s not my favorite part of my job.

“But I believe leadership is touching the hearts of people. Those people you’re leading better know that you care about them, that you love them and that what you’re doing for them is to help them improve and be their best.”

A large part of touching your subordinates’ hearts, Schweigert said, is finding out what motivates them to fulfil their potential — what “makes them tick.”

“Not everyone is the same,” he said. “Trying to get to the bottom of that is the job of a leader, and it’s challenging.”

Schweigert added that key to any leader and their organization’s success is culture — a set of values and behaviors developed and emulated daily.

“It doesn’t have to do with just the sport we’re practicing,” he said. “That has to be all day long. How do we conduct ourselves on campus? How do we get ready for practice? How do we handle adversity? Those are constant decisions we’re making.”

Schweigert said that although a football team has “natural dividers” — think highly specialized coaching roles, support staff and positions on the field — the program must operate cohesively to succeed. One challenge to doing so, he added, is bringing together the diverse upbringings of UND’s roster — who come to Grand Forks from across the U.S. and Canada.

“We have kids who grew up in cities, some who grew up in rural areas, some who hunt,” he said. “I’m not even going to get into all the different types of music that guys like on our team. Those are barriers that we have to overcome, and in any organization, you have to get rid of the natural dividers because you have a common cause.”

According to Schweigert, building a common cause requires that an ethos of selflessness permeate an organization.

“It’s not what you get from the team, it’s what you give for the team and to the team,” Schweigert said. “When you have people on your team who are doing that, I think they’re great teammates.”

Schweigert then paused for 10 seconds, asking the audience to choose their best teammate. Schweigert then shared his own answer: his mother.

“She raised six boys — my dad was away a lot working,” he said. “The reason she was the best teammate, is that she was constantly putting the family’s needs in front of her own. When you’re only worried about your own needs, I don’t think you can have a great team or culture. When you give a lot, you’re going to get a lot — you increase your value to the team and organization.”

A prime example of selflessness on the football field is the offensive line. Although they play an invaluable role — often sacrificing their bodies to protect the quarterback and creating running room — linemen rarely, if ever, appear on the scoresheet.

“Why is that group so close, and most times the closest group on your football team?” Schweigert asked. “Because they’re selfless, and they know they must do it together.”

Schweigert concluded by stating that everyone within an organization or team brings value to the table, irrespective of their role. He relayed an anecdote from his childhood

“My dad always said, ‘You know what? They both have jobs to do at the school, and they have equal importance — they have to do their jobs to the best of their ability,’” he said. “That is no different in any organization. As the leader, it really helps you to recognize that.”

The 18:83 Speaker Series will resume Wednesday, Aug. 28, with Peter Johnson, director of Government Relations & Public Affairs for the UND Alumni Association & Foundation.


Attendees gather at the Memorial Union’s Social Stairs to hear UND Football Coach Bubba Schweigert’s 18:83 Speaker Series Address. Photo by Joe Banish/UND Today.