For years, former LSU running back Justin Vincent’s professional success was dependent upon his performance in the hyper-competitive and aggressive world of football. But ask him today about what makes a great leader and the first thing he mentions is kindness.
It’s a philosophy on life and leadership that Vincent says he gleaned from two key figures in his playing career: his high-school coach, Jimmy Shaver, and Kirby Wilson, his running backs coach with the Pittsburgh Steelers.
“Jimmy Shaver used to always tell me, ‘If you want to be successful in life, you have to make people fall in love with you,’ ” he says. “Sometimes I think people take being kind to others for granted. Be yourself, treat others with respect and always be willing to help people who need help.”
A native of Lake Charles, Vincent’s name was etched into LSU lore when he was chosen most valuable player in the Tigers’ win over Oklahoma in the BCS national championship game in January 2004. He went on to a four-year stint in the NFL with two teams, earning a Super Bowl title as a member of the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2008.
Vincent returned to LSU after his NFL retirement in 2010 and served four years as assistant director of player personnel for the Tigers before taking a position as a development officer at Tiger Athletic Foundation, where he remains today.
He stopped by Success Labs recently to share with this fall’s Management Incubator class how his sports experience has shaped his leadership approach — and how showing support and kindness to your co-workers is vital in any organization.
An ‘Unwavering Figure’
Vincent, who finished his collegiate career with 2,021 yards and 17 touchdowns, says his sports career yielded valuable insights into leadership that he applies to his life on a daily basis. “It’s something that I will cherish forever because those are important life lessons you learn,” he says.
Among his tenets for leadership success are to talk with conviction and express your decisions in a clear and firm manner. The idea, he says, is that you have to believe in what you’re saying if you want others to follow you.
Vincent also encourages people to actively take steps to become an “unwavering figure” for others by offering support and positive energy as often as possible, particularly when facing challenging situations in the workplace.
“That goes a whole lot further than people think,” he says. “You have to be a guiding light. There are going to be a lot of things that don’t go your way, but if you’re not willing to try to make yourself better and make the organization you’re working for better, you’re losing. You’re not helping them move forward.”
But for Vincent, career success always comes back to his guiding philosophy of kindness, compassion and building connections with people.
“You have to be that shining light for people today because you don’t know what they are going through in their personal lives,” he says. “If you can come into work and leave all your troubles at the door and walk by and talk to people and put smiles on their faces there’s a whole lot more that comes out of that than if you keep to yourself.”
Molding Young Athletes
During his tenure as assistant director of player personnel, Vincent had an active role in the off-the-field development of LSU football players and helped coordinate the team’s high-stakes recruiting operations focused on attracting elite high-school athletes around the country.
The position allowed him to work with young men on developing basic life skills. To that end, he regularly brought in guest speakers to share insights on everything from leadership and toughness to financial management and sex education — “just those everyday things that an 18-year-old kid trying to grow up in society needs to hear,” he says.
“A lot of kids think that everything just falls in your lap,” he says. “Some of them aren’t willing to put in the hard work, and a lot of them have been coddled their whole life. Those are the ones you see transfer, flunk out and fail drug tests.”
As a former player and the youngest member of the football team’s staff, Vincent was in a unique position to leverage his personal successes and failures when mentoring younger players. “I shared the highs, I shared the lows,” he says. “I wouldn’t change anything that happened in my career for the world. I think that made me the man I am today.”
He says it’s a “beautiful thing” when student-athletes internalize the advice and mentoring the staff works so hard to impart and then translate that into personal growth during their time on campus. He cites junior LSU safety John Battle as an example of a player who has grown into a leadership role on and off the field.
“He’s very outgoing, he’s a smart kid, he does things the right way and he’s a leader,” Vincent says. “He’s not really a talker and kind of speaks by his actions, but he is someone who is looked up to. It’s very gratifying when you see some of the things you try to instill in those kids and they’re using those as tools today.”
Success Labs is a full-service, strategic organizational and leadership development company located in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. For more than 25 years, our expert team of consultants has worked with hundreds of companies to explore their business potential and improve their company and cultural performance. Contact us to get proactive about your people strategy.