Today, we continue to look back at our past CYInterviews with frequent guest, the late, great college football head coach Mike Leach.
We look back to December of 2014, when we spoke with Mike about his new book Geronimo: Leadership Strategies of an American Warrior. Geronimo was a famous Native American leader of the 19th century.
You can read the December 2014 article for that CYInterview and listen to it in its entirety below:
Listen to the entire Mike Leach CYInterview:
Speaking about his fascination with Geornimo, Mike says he valued that the Apache warrior always stuck to his principles:
“It started when I was a young kid ‘cause, you know, I always valued those qualities and I was always a very patriotic kid, you know, as far as proud to be an American and, you know, anything’s possible in this country and that type of thing. And then, I don’t know that I gave a definition of it, but I always valued really competitive people and Geronimo personified that. … Anybody that knows anything about the Apaches knows that what they did was truly impressive historically and hasn’t been done before and in some cases will never be done again. So what we took a huge interest in was how did he do it?”
One of the lessons offered in the book is, “Leaders plan, down to the smallest possible details.” I asked Coach if he thought the small details are what make the difference between winning and losing, success and non-success and achievement and failure?
“Well, I think there’s no question about that and I also think pride in that’s important. I mean, you know, kind of dealing sort of like John Wooden used to say, ‘Make each day your masterpiece.’ I mean, if that’s the case, then you’re fascinated by what you’re doing to the point where even the nuts and bolts of it are fascinating and they’re training [Apaches] started as very young children. The elders would train the young kids every day how to develop their skills.”
In the book, he and his co-author Buddy Levy write about how Geronimo never blamed others for his failures. Talking about why that quality made the Apache warrior different and relating it to society today, where even our most prominent leaders want to blame others for things not being accomplished, Coach Leach offered this:
“I think a portion of it had to do with the Apache culture. You know, there was a sense of accountability and there was a sense of destiny that things would be accomplished and they, part was the hardship that they lived under. I mean, they’re Nomadic people, they’re in tough conditions and so there was a pragmatism to move everything that they did and I think that the ability to move forward, I think it really started with moving forward, the most effective way to move forward and the Apaches were always very quick to move forward, which really didn’t provide a lot of time, opportunity and it was ridiculously impractical to blame others if you are busy moving forward and I think that’s one of the problems the leaders in our country have right now is they don’t want to move forward.
They just want to survive or maintain their elected position or whatever that might be as opposed to move forward. In other words, they’re thinking about themselves rather than the group and the Apaches were in a position where it was extremely difficult to just think about yourself because the group and the team was incredibly important for the success of everyone because everyone had a role and it was a vital goal when you consider that, you know, they were walking a fairly thin line between prosperity and survival.”
Some other traits that are written about the Apache warrior in the title are that he never stopped learning and always stayed humble. Mike and I discussed how he reminds his players about improvement and the pursuit of greatness. He offered this:
“If you don’t do that, you know, you stop. And then there’s also a spot or two in that book where Geronimo regretted and felt like he got ahead of himself you know. And but the thing is, I think, well, it starts with respecting your opponent, what he’s potentially capable of. But in particular with regards to yourself what you can always learn, always achieve, always improve. And then one thing the Apaches were able to do is they were able to conceive that the impossible is possible.”
There are many great passages in Geronimo. One of them is, “No matter what happens to you, always have an acute awareness about yourself and your identity. Know who you are, no matter what others choose to call you.” I asked Mike if he thought it was difficult for people in society today to keep their identity, hold to their principles and do what they really want to do, instead of conforming to what others want them to be. He said this:
“I think it’s very difficult to do and I think especially in, you know, one of the greatest tools of all time of course is the information and the efficiency that exists with computers and technology, but by the same token, if you are not careful I think it’s pretty easy to rely on it to the point where things become cookie cutter. And I think that maintaining a level of individual focus, individual thought, in the end, you know, there’s no great people that ever existed that weren’t told that it wouldn’t work. I mean, everybody was told it wouldn’t work. …
Everybody who’s ever accomplished anything of significance had to step outside the norm and they didn’t just take the norm and do the norm better, I mean they stepped outside the norm a little bit and failure to do that, you’re not gonna accomplish anything significant. I mean if you’re constantly working on being the other guy or being everyone else, that’s exactly who you’ll turn out to be is everyone else.
And so I think that, you know, finding a fulfilling objective and focusing on it, but also understanding that everyone else is very possibly doing a lot of great things, but nobody’s doing it perfectly and so finding ways to improve and build a better mouse trap whether it’s you as an individual personally or your business or your philosophy or whatever it is you’re doing. I think you need to constantly keep stretching for something like that and then pretty soon if it is a good thing and everyone else adopts that approach then everyone else is better, we can keep extending, keep going, keep developing.”