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The ‘human science’ of leadership

By Deborah Holdship

From sidetrack to success

Like any good engineer worth his Michigan degree, executive coach Fritz Seyferth, BSIOE ’73, takes a systems approach to virtually everything in life.

Consider his consulting business, Fritz Seyferth & Associates (FS&A), in which he demystifies the “human science” behind enduring success. It’s his way of helping organizations develop exceptional leaders and extraordinary teams.

Seyferth has decades of credible experience on which to draw, beginning in 1968 when he joined the U-M football team as a walk-on player. He finished his senior year with a perfect record, starting every game and scoring a fourth-quarter touchdown in the 1972 Rose Bowl. In the classroom, he earned a scholarship in engineering and collected a number of academic awards.

But it was his relationship with legendary coach Bo Schembechler after he ended his football career that most inspired his current passion.

“Bo was a natural, gifted leader,” says Seyferth. “He couldn’t do it any other way. In being around him, I wanted to know: Can you repeat winning? And as an engineer, I needed to know: ‘Is there a system behind success?’ And I found, yes. Yes, there is.”

Words of wisdom

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There’s something about Bo

It is likely Seyferth would not have discovered this truth had he not made what colleagues in 1979 called a “huge mistake, a major sidetrack” when he left Arthur Young & Company in New York to accept a position on Schembechler’s football staff.

“There was just something about the experience of being with Bo that was hard to quantify at the time,” he says of the opportunity to observe his mentor on a daily basis. It was then that he began to study — and ultimately systematize — the approach to leadership that today comprises the core of FS&A’s leadership coaching business.

Seyferth estimates about six percent of people are natural-born leaders, like Schembechler. And some 80 percent of us possess the potential to be great leaders — with the right education, he says. Great leaders, like great athletes, require vision, focus, and discipline, of course. But most importantly, they need to establish the “why” of what they do.

The best leaders are compelled to contribute to other people’s lives, and to embrace a legacy that “we’re here to make a difference bigger than ourselves,” he says.

Anyone familiar with Schembechler is well aware of his famous credo: “The team, the team, the team.” That was just one early lesson Seyferth gleaned from his longtime boss.

“One of the things Bo did was live his life in service of others. He’s that person people followed because he was there for them. He was tough but you knew he loved you. That’s what great leaders do.”

Getting better all the time

For two decades, Seyferth contributed to Michigan Athletics as director of football operations, recruiting coordinator, and executive associate athletic director. In 2002 he moved to the U-M Health System as director of development for what is now known as the Frankel Cardiovascular Center.

That same year he founded Ann Arbor-based FS&A, and his team has worked with clients in health care, construction, real estate development, and higher education among others. The goal is to set the foundation of winning for “leaders who desire to capitalize upon natural strengths to realize individual and organizational peak performance.”

Among the many tenets his team shares with clients? Growth mindset. It is a key determinant of winning. But that requires maturity, humility, trust, and, yes, love.

“Successful leaders and successful organizations don’t mind making mistakes,” Seyferth says, “and they don’t mind revealing who they are, because they know tomorrow they’re going to be better than they are today, and they know today they are better than they were yesterday.”

Deborah Holdship

Deborah Holdship

DEBORAH HOLDSHIP is the editor of Michigan Today. She joined the University in 2007 as editorial manager in the marketing communications department at the Ross School of Business, where she was editor of Dividend magazine for five years. Prior to working at Michigan, Deborah was associate director of publications at the UCLA Anderson School of Management. From 1988-2001, Deborah worked in the entertainment industry in Los Angeles, where she was a reporter and editor at Billboard magazine and an associate editor and video producer at LAUNCH media. Follow her on Twitter: @michigantoday.