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Jeff Saturday: Leading on and off the field

Jeff Saturday - UNC Kenan-FlaglerJeff Saturday always knew his place on the field.

The former starting center for the Indianapolis Colts, who started his career at UNC, played alongside quarterback Peyton Manning for 13 years – a position that taught him the importance of staying within the confines of the role his team needed him to fulfill.

“I often had to listen to the authority, the quarterback, in my game,” he said. “That was my role as a teammate. At times we would battle about what that was, but he was the authority – I would have to follow through with it.”

That lesson was one of several that Saturday (BSBA ’97) outlined in his Dean’s Speaker Series talk on Nov. 17 – lessons that can be taken from football and applied to personal and professional lives, he said.

“The game of football translates to business or any other aspect of your life like no other sport will,” Saturday said. “You have 53 guys with one common goal, and everybody has to lay aside what may be their interests for the greater good.

“The company is strongest when everyone is in their own role.”

Saturday, who joined ESPN as an NFL analyst after retiring from the league last year, said he ended his 14-year career having acquired “pillars of leadership” skills, including understanding the importance of setting attainable and effective goals.

“It never was about the win, it never was about the loss. It was about are you reaching those attainable goals,” Saturday said. The goals provided a basis by which team members could evaluate their progress, adapt and reminded themselves what they were working toward.

Saturday stressed the importance of communicating those goals to every member of the team to ensure that everyone was headed down the same path.

“I know a good leader when I see everybody who’s following him is speaking the same language he is,” Saturday said. “If I see one guy cast his vision, and then I see a quarterback cast his vision and it’s different, I know they’re going nowhere.” He paused. “They’re going to be the Oakland Raiders.”

Jeff Saturday - UNC Kenan-FlaglerSaturday peppered his talk with stories from his career, using a memorable come-from-behind victory over the New England Patriots in a 2007 championship game to explain the importance of learning to “survive the storms.”

In that game, when the Colts trailed 21-3 at halftime, head coach Tony Dungy grabbed each player individually to remind him that it was “still our time” to score and get back in the game. “If we survived this storm, they wouldn’t have the guts to finish this off,” he said. The Colts won the game to advance to the Super Bowl.

When confronted with failure, realize that it is part of the process and move past it, Saturday said. “Failure is a singular event versus a description of a person. Failure is not a definition of a person.”

And the way you deal with failure will determine where you go in the future, he said. “The minute we believe that failure identifies us as people, we quit.”

“Take the risk” and don’t be afraid of failure, said Saturday, noting that he “forged more in failure than in any success I’ve had.”

Saturday is happy in his current role at ESPN and he’s reached a point where his “family is the No. 1 goal,” though it’s something he’s worked to balance with his professional life all along.

“That is a key of all keys in life: Chalking the boundaries of what you’re willing to do and not do,” he said. “You have to create the space where you live, so if being home for dinner with your family every night is important, you have to build your schedule so you can be at home with your family.”

Saturday ended his talk with two pieces of advice for students beginning their careers:

  • Work on time management. “It sounds so simple, but so many of us screw it up,” he said. “You’re in early, you leave late, you’re focused on what you’re supposed to do – that’s very important as you start your career. That’s how you prove that you’re a valuable employee.”
  • Serve other people. “So much of your career is going to be defined by how good you are to people,” he said. “You could be the smartest guy in the room, you could have the best idea, but if you can’t take it to others and share it with others, that idea probably isn’t going to go very far.” To be a leader you need to earn credibility and the “trust that you have a vested interest in their future,” he said. “Lead, do and serve.”

When Dean Douglas A. Shackelford introduced Saturday to the packed audience in Koury Auditorium, he said that the former Carolina football player Saturday had been introduced at the UNC Homecoming football game to “thunderous applause.” Saturday said his oldest child celebrated his 14th birthday that day and being back in Chapel Hill felt like coming back home. “I came to UNC as a boy and left here as a man,” he said. “I’m appreciative of the education I got here and proud to be a Tar Heel.” The evening ended with the traditional “vote of thanks” from Dick Blackburn, one of Saturday’s UNC Kenan-Flagler professors and now associate dean of the Undergraduate Business Program.

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