Are you ‘All-in’?

March 3, 2020

Full disclosure, my sons and my money went to the University of South Carolina. Both played baseball for the Gamecocks and my loyalties are with them. However, many years ago while I was following them to a game against the cross-state rival, Clemson University, I found myself near the football practice area.  Spring practice had begun and I ran into then new head football coach, Dabo Swinney.

At the time, Swinney was probably in his 2nd or 3rd season as the head football coach at Clemson and was not the name he is now in college football. I walked up and introduced myself and was immediately struck by his connect-ability. I told him why I was at Clemson and he asked how my sons were playing and how the season was unfolding. He truly cared or at least was great at expressing it sincerely. We talked for a few minutes and he thanked me for being a law enforcement officer and we parted ways. As he walked on, I noticed a group of kids that came running up to him yelling “Coach Swinney, Coach Swinney”. He stopped and engaged each child and talked to them just as he had me. He bent down on a knee or lifted the smaller ones up in the air so that he could meet them face-to-face.  He spent several minutes with them and although I knew he was on his way to spring practice, not once with me, nor with the kids, did he ever say that or act as if he was pre-occupied with it.

That encounter has made me a big fan of Coach Swinney as a leader. A few lessons I have learned watching him over the years that I want to share with you today include:

  • ALL-IN: When he first came to Clemson, it was toward the end of the season and with only a few games left. He was replacing a relatively well-liked and successful coach at the time in Tommy Bowden who had just had a terrible season. The decision was made by the Athletic Director the Monday after a Clemson loss and Swinney literally talks about going into the janitor’s closet to talk to his wife about the move and told her he’d be home late that night because he already knew that he would have to make some bold personnel moves. Later, he held an all-team meeting where he talked to the players and coaches and asked what has now become Clemson’s rally cry to players and fans alike, “Are you All-In?” As a leader, you have to decide if you’re “all-in” and then ask your team if they are as well. Anyone that isn’t needs to be addressed immediately.
  • HUMBLENESS: Swinney showed his humbleness in that he knew he’d been given the opportunity of a lifetime, but many were not sure he was prepared. He showed humbleness toward his staff and team that had committed to being ‘all-in’ for helping achieve mutual goals. Anyone that looks at Swinney’s life can see he comes from very humble beginnings, but his optimism and willingness to put others first has created a recipe for success that is virtually unparalleled in the college football world today.


“I would love to hear your examples of leaders professionally and personally that exhibit some or all of these characteristics. Did I miss any? Tell me! I would love to hear them!”

  • HE EXPLAINED THE ‘WHY’: In that famous ‘All-in’ meeting with his team, Swinney explained to the players, the coaches, and fans what his football program at Clemson would be all about. That it was more than winning football games, it was about winning at life. He consistently says his program is about being the best at graduating students, growing boys into men, and being the best on the field. The stats back him up. Clemson has won awards for the highest graduation rate for a Division I football team and, with a few exceptions, has success stories of their players far beyond the gridiron.
  • OPTIMISM and ADVOCACY: Swinney is one of the most optimistic people you could meet. It’s infectious in fact. He advocates for his team with the media and the fans and, whether it is real or not, conveys a true positive image of himself and the program. Further, he advocates on behalf of the university and the team. In every post-game presser whether he wins or loses, he never once blames a player by name nor does he spend time on things he can’t control like officiating. Remarkably, he always finds something positive to say about the opponent. When his team loses such as in the national championship game, he uses the word “we” didn’t execute; “we” didn’t figure out how to manage what the opponent was doing. Many leaders and head coaches could learn the same. The best leaders put the spotlight on their team when things go well and take the responsibility when it doesn’t.
  • CONNECTIVITY: I will end where I began. Swinney is successful, just as most successful leaders are, because they live in the moment and make all they encounter the most important in that moment. How many leaders don’t do this? You can tell immediately that they are distracted by something else OR are simply not “all in” with you at that moment. Whether it’s a co-worker or a spouse or a child, being fully present is critical to becoming a successful leader.

I hope this post will spark your understanding of what makes a successful leader. I would love to hear your examples of leaders professionally and personally that exhibit some or all of these characteristics. Did I miss any? Tell me! I would love to hear.

I write every week to keep the growth going. It’s a two-way street and I learn as much from many of you and I hope you learn from me. Remember, be ‘All-in’ in your leadership goals, be clear on your ‘why’ of leaders and how that translates to the mission of your organization.

Remember, Leadership Rocks!



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Email Dean at or call him at 803-240-3024


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