In the high-profile world of SEC football, “care” is typically not among the first words used when discussing the key ingredients of a winning program.

The list is a long one: dedication, sacrifice, hard work, excellence, no excuses, toughness, relentlessness, focus — all qualities that usually come to mind before care does. These terms have been used to describe football programs for decades and it’s likely they will for years to come.

I wouldn’t argue against any of these traits individually, but I would insist that the list falls short. It’s incomplete. It’s lacking the foundational component of care.

Without building upon a bedrock of care, the message rings hollow. Every season, our football coaches at Mizzou pour a foundation of care into our incoming class and reaffirm that same care to our returning players.

Quite simply, I define this concept as caring more about the person than the player.

Here are four reasons why establishing a caring culture is critical to the success of Mizzou football and to your business as well.

1. It’s not players vs. coaches. Incoming players at Mizzou learn that a coach’s instruction isn’t always negative. Even the tough messages, reprimands or suspensions arise because the coach cares deeply for the player. We want the player’s best on the field and in life. When care is the building block, players respond with respect. Tough love is still coming from a good place. In business, your teams crave your care. If you build a culture of care, it cuts the politicking, gossip and backstabbing while creating a culture of respect and accountability.

2. Healthy conflict increases performance. With a foundation of care in place, Mizzou teammates are free to be their best and compete. The amazing thing about a culture of caring is that this healthy competition and safe place for conflict leads to more wins, more productivity and better results. There may be seasons you doubt if it will really work, but be patient, keep planting the seeds of care, encourage healthy conflict and then watch it yield a tremendous harvest. It happened with our program at Mizzou and it happens in businesses every day. Frankly, a caring, engaging culture at work wins more than it loses.

3. No one individual is bigger than the team. Listen to an interview after a Mizzou game. After a win, we hold up the team, reinforcing the unity. After a loss, I take responsibility for falling short. This isn’t accidental; rather, it is a public display of the honor that comes from building a care-led team-first culture. If coaches didn’t care, then it would always be about looking out for No. 1, the self. But since we do care, the team is held up and not the individual. At work, you can do the same. Leaders can begin to accept blame and delegate praise.

4. There is more concern for the person than for the player/performance. I believe deeply that if the person is cared for, the player will develop and performance will follow. It begins with the person, not the performance. It’s critical to understand this difference in football as well as in business. Understanding motivations, diverse backgrounds, life experiences and personal situations lead to an intimate concern for the person’s overall well-being, not simply an increase in performance. And once the person is cared for, performance almost always follows in big ways.


There are lots of lessons you can apply in business from the game of football, but most of them won’t matter if you don’t start with investing in building a caring culture.
Gary Pinkel is in his 14th year as head coach of the University of Missouri football team. The winningest coach in Mizzou football history, Pinkel was named 2014 SEC Coach of the Year by the Southeastern Conference. A 1973 graduate of Kent State University, Pinkel is a member of the University of Toledo Athletic Hall of Fame.