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A Lesson on Great Leadership and Team Building – Looking for the Intangibles

passionate team

When building any kind of team, we often focus on finding highly skilled people to add to our powerhouse of talent. Teams are built to work for common goals so why wouldn’t we want the most skilled individuals on our A-list? But take into consideration a lesson I learned from Lou Holtz, a highly respected and winning football coach, who discerned early on that talent and skill, while important, only take you so far.

We must never underestimate the importance of building a healthy team to support our talent and achieve success.

Renowned football coach, Lou Holtz is not the typical build of a man in his professional arena. He is slender, wears glasses and even speaks with a slight lisp. Yet Lou has managed to take six different college football teams, all with losing records, and get them to a bowl game by year two. No other coach in history can claim this victory.  So how is it that this man, who doesn’t meet our visual expectation of a dominating football coach, has built up one of the most impressive resumes in his profession?

Early in his coaching career, Lou had some setbacks, including arriving at a coaching position, purchasing a house and then subsequently being let go. He found himself unemployed for many months before being hired back at a much lower salary to the same team that previously let him go. With a young family to feed and a house to pay for, Lou approached the adversity that had befallen him with the focus to turn it into something great. Two of the skills he honed were learning what to look for when building a team and how he could best motivate that team to victory.

By the time, others took notice of his coaching talent, Lou had determined that some of the best qualities of a football player had nothing to do with skill or raw talent, and everything to do with what was driving the player. He began to notice that the intangibles were way more important than the tangibles when building a winning team.

“The number one criterion I looked for is a love of the game,” Lou shares. “Football is about camaraderie and unity, not just height and weight and speed. Yes talent is important, but it’s the intangibles that create a cohesive team capable of supporting that talent.” With that formula, Lou Holtz has managed to craft some of the greatest success stories in football’s history.

As we pull people together to work toward common goals whether it’s in business, community service or even our community sports teams, remember the guidance of Lou Holtz. Talent and skill can get you in the game, but passion, drive and focus will sustain your team to the winner’s circle.


Washington DC-based BERNIE SWAIN is co-founder of Washington Speakers Bureau and today’s foremost authority on the lecture industry.  Over the past 35 years, Swain has represented former US Presidents, cabinet members, business executives, public figures, media leaders, and sports legends.  His new book, What Made Me Who I Am, is available everywhere.  For more, visit