Please enjoy this transcript of this episode with Kevin Colbert, general manager of the Pittsburgh Steelers. It was transcribed and therefore might contain a few typos.
Kevin Colbert: 00:00 I think at a young age, you know, leadership is something that it’s not, you don’t get appointed leader, you have to earn it.
Doug Smith: 00:09 This is the L3 Leadership podcast, episode number 160.
Doug Smith: 00:17 What’s up everyone and welcome to another episode of the L3 Leadership podcast. My name is Doug Smith and I’m the founder of L3 Leadership.
Doug Smith: 00:23 We are a leadership development company devoted to helping you become the best leader that you can be. If you’re new to this podcast, we’re committed to bringing new three or four episodes every single month to help you in your leadership journey. One will always be a talk that a leader gives it. One of our leadership events, one will be an interview that I do with a high-level leader and then once a month you’ll get a personal leadership lesson by me. If you’ve been with us for a, it would mean the world to me. If you would subscribe and leave a rating and review on whatever service you listened to this through, it really doesn’t make a difference in helping us grow our audience. So thank you in advance for that in this specific episode. I’m really excited you’re going to get to hear me interview Kevin Colbert, who’s the general manager of the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Doug Smith: 01:00 And I really, I love this interview. What I love about Kevin is he grew up in Pittsburgh. He was one of five brothers and he actually lost both of his parents at a young age. And in spite of that, he’s worked his way up and obviously it’s become the general manager of the Pittsburgh Steelers. But over his career, he’s worked for some world-class leaders and world-class coaches in the NFL and he’s also helped out and developed two Superbowl championship teams. And, this was just such a fun interview and I learned so much from Kevin, he’s humble, he’s down to earth and I believe he’s a shining example to all of us of what can happen if you work hard and chase your dreams. But before we jump into the interview with Kevin, just a few announcements. I want to let you know that we recently introduced L3 Leadership membership.
Doug Smith: 01:41 That’s right. You can now become a member of L3 Leadership. He might say, well with Doug, why do I need to become a member? First and foremost, I believe you need a group of leaders that go through life with who will encourage you, hold you accountable to your goals and help you reach your potential and it all three. We’ve developed a community of leaders that’ll help you do just that. You’ll also have access to our community of leaders, the ability to join a mastermind group, which we believe is absolutely critical to your success in your leadership journey. And we also, you also get resources, extra content in a member-only forum on our member-only site memberships, only $25 a month and you can sign up at L3leadership.org/membership. It’s also a great way to support what we’re doing. If we add value to your life month in and month out,
Doug Smith: 02:23 it would really, it means the world to us if you would support us financially as well by becoming a member. I want to thank our sponsors, Henne Jewelers, their jewelry owned by my friend and mentor, John Henne. My wife and I both got our engagement and wedding rings through Henne Jewelers and they’re just an incredible company and not only do they have great jewelry, but they also invest in couples like Laura and I and John’s been a friend and a mentor and investing in me as a husband and a dad now for years. So if you’re in need of a good jeweler, checkout Hennejewelers.com. I want to think about other sponsor, Alex Tulandin real estate resources. Alex is a full-time realtor with Keller Williams Realty, whose team is committed to providing clients with highly premier real estate experiences throughout the Greater Pittsburgh area as a member and supporter of all three, he loved the opportunity to connect with you. You can find out more on how to connect with alex at Pittsburghpropertyshowcase.com. With that being said, enjoy my interview with Kevin Colbert, general manager of the Pittsburgh Steelers, and I will be back at the end with a few announcements. All right. Well, Hey Kevin, thank you so much for doing this interview. And why don’t you just give us a brief overview of who you are and what you do.
Kevin Colbert: 03:25 I’m the general manager with the Pittsburgh Steelers and I’m responsible for, basically finding and retaining players, to try to help us win a super bowl championship.
Doug Smith: 03:38 That’s a pretty awesome job. So you’ve been at it a while. I’m curious, what is maybe one of your favorite moments in your career with the Steelers?
Kevin Colbert: 03:47 Well, obviously when you, when you win, super bowls that I’ve been blessed to do on two opportunities, those obviously are, are your most enjoyable moments, and those are the moments that you strive to be able to accomplish again.
Doug Smith: 04:04 Yeah. Did you enjoy one more than the other? Was the first one more special because it was the first time or were they both kind of same level?
Kevin Colbert: 04:12 Well, I would think the first was special because it was the first that I think the second was, was just a special, if not more so, because you were able to do and do it again. You know, unfortunately, the third was when we lost to Green Bay. That was, that was devastating because you had been, you know, in the mountain. And this time you didn’t quite make it and that one, that one hangs with you just as much as the, you know, the winds are enjoyable, the losses are just as devastating.
Doug Smith: 04:48 Yeah. I do want to talk a little bit about your leadership journey. So, born and raised in Pittsburgh. I think you have a really interesting story. You were one of five brothers and lost both of your parents at a young age. You ended up going Robert Morris coaching basketball there, and then ultimately now fast forward, you’ve made your way up to the VP and general manager of the Pittsburgh Steelers. Can you just, I’m just curious, what do you wish people knew about that journey and maybe some of the prices that you’ve had to pay to get to where you are today?
Kevin Colbert: 05:16 Really, you know, when, when you look back on it, it, it made look like it was difficult. But I had, you know, great family support around me. From a personal standpoint and then a lot of professional standpoint. I mean a lot of professional support, around me as well. So, you know, as a family we were able to, you know, get through our losses and, be able to move on with our professional lives and the, in the professional, you know, largely just, we, I’ve had a lot of opportunities to grow and you know, there have been so many people along the way that gave you those opportunities and taught you how to make the most of them that, you know, truly blessed along those lines as well.
Doug Smith: 06:05 Yeah. On that, I was going to ask this later. So you’ve got to work under and with some legendary leaders, it sounds like you started off your career under Don Shula. You’ve worked with Bill Cower, Mike Tomlin, the Rooney’s. I’m just curious, are there one or two leaders that have impacted you professionally that, that really stand out and what did they teach you?
Kevin Colbert: 06:23 Well, again, aside from my family who are always the most important influences, and I go back to my high school football coach, Ron Hughes, who not only taught me in, you know, taught me, as a young player, but you know, he also gave me an opportunity to come back to North Catholic when I was, you know, attending Community College of Allegheny County on the north side and they gave me a chance to coach and to work with the football program. Yu know, from there I did go on Robert Morris and a guy like Matt Forjanet who was the basketball coach at that time, gave me an opportunity to work with, with the basketball team while I was concluding my education. And then, you know, moving on to Jack Butler, who through Ron Hughes, my high school coach, gave me an opportunity to get into scouting, over to Ohio Wesleyan where my brother Bob Colbert, helped me get a position at all as a running back coach and assistant baseball coach.
Kevin Colbert: 07:25 Then on back to Blesto and then onto coach Shula. Again, hall of fame coach who, you know, will allow me to work with them as a young scout and you know, move on from, from Miami, moved back to Detroit where Ron Hughes again, helped me get into a different position, and advanced position with the lions and of course work with coach fonts and coach Bobby Ross who taught me a lot. And then obviously moving on to Pittsburgh and being able to work with the Rooney family and coach cower and coach Tomlin. And it’s been a special journey with a lot of, like I said, a lot, a lot of help along the way.
Doug Smith: 08:06 Yeah. So I guess I just want to confirm cause a lot of kids that if they lost both their parents losing, I lost my mom when I was a teenager and I know losing one parent is difficult enough for losing both. So you basically because of the people that surrounded you and supported you, that’s what enabled you to get out of that circumstance and ended up having the career you have. Would you give credit to those?
Kevin Colbert: 08:26 Yeah, it is. No, question. I mean, my four older brothers were all, we’re all mentors to me and you know, again, we had to help each other through those times, but we had aunts and uncles that were there for us as well. But you know, the five of us collectively, helped each other because we all had to go through different challenges. Me as the youngest, had, you know, the more different, I guess different ones because they had to care for me at a younger age when I wasn’t able to, you know, completely take care of myself. But again, we helped each other and we had extended families that were there for us as well. And I did that. All that helped us all have professional opportunities as well and they, everybody, all my brothers have done great.
Doug Smith: 09:20 That’s great. I’m going to talk a little bit about your position, your role. My first question is, what did you say? What do you think, uh, or what do you wish you knew about leadership when you started out as a scout that you learned over time that you may not have known about leadership then?
Kevin Colbert: 09:36 Well, I think at a young age, you know, leadership is something that, it’s not, you don’t get appointed leader, you have to earn it. And, that’s something that I think I learned over time. You can’t demand leadership. You can’t create leadership. You just create opportunities for people, when whatever field to become leaders and then you sit back and watch them grow. And I think you learn that leadership is not something that’s anointed, it’s something that’s earned.
Doug Smith: 10:11 That’s so good. I was going to ask this later as well, but, so what would your advice be to young leaders, you know, in their twenties, early thirties, about earning leadership? What would you tell them as far as advice to earn it?
Kevin Colbert: 10:24 Well, I think you just have to, you know, understand the opportunity exists. You have to be the example. And you have to recognize the moment when people are leaning on you. You may not consider yourself a leader, but then you, you think back and you look back and said, wait a minute. And all these eyes are on me. It’s my time to, you know, it’s my time to, to help these other folks. And I think that is something, again, it’s, there’s no timetable for it. I don’t think you are one day not a leader and the next day you are. I think those moments will dictate whether you are your arms. So I think you have to recognize those moments and try to and then try to become that leader if you feel the call to do so.
Doug Smith: 11:18 That’s good. So in your business, when you have to make a ton of tough calls and a ton of tough decisions that impact people’s lives, what have you learned about that process and then how, how do you deal with that personally? You know, do you detach yourself emotionally? Do you have the recharge after big decisions like that? I’m just curious.
Kevin Colbert: 11:37 Yeah. You can’t detach yourself emotionally because you’re human beings. So you do make decisions that affect people’s lives, professionalizing sometimes their personal lives. I mean, the hardest thing to do in our businesses, just to cut a play on, to tell them you don’t have an opportunity for him. That doesn’t mean necessarily that he’s a failure. It just means that you want to have an opportunity for them at this time. So, you find, you find some consolation and knowing that you know, hopefully, you’ve given him, you’ve given him enough background or experience that maybe he can go and find a better opportunity than he might have with, with your team. And, you know, you find some constellation and that, but it’s never easy to be able, you know, to have to tell someone that you have to, you know, you don’t have a spot for them, but at the end they may be better off and you may be better off and you have to make decisions based on them, the good of the organization. And that’s never, not always easy and not always pleasant, but it’s part of the job.
Doug Smith: 12:49 Yeah. I’m going to talk about talent acquisition. So this is a huge part of your job obviously, and I’m just curious, you know, I did a lot of research on you and it seems like over and over again you say it’s easy to judge a player’s skills, right? You can see how fast they run the 40 and all of those different things, but it’s hard to assess their character. Can you talk about just how you assess a player’s character and who they are to see if they’re a fit for the team and the best for your organization?
Kevin Colbert: 13:17 Yeah, sure. Just to clarify, I don’t mean to say it’s easy. I think it’s easier to assess football town than it is, character because it’s more tangible. So in trying to figure out players as I think, you know, we, the main source that we have is our own intuition and experience. Both coach Tomlin and I, and coach cower before that and the Rooney family, we’ve all been in this and around this for a long time. We’ve seen a lot of different personality types and we know what can be successful. We know what can be a problem as well. So we try to, you know, surround ourselves with people that we think can be successful and will help our organization be a success. And we have to understand that players come from all different, backgrounds and venues and, you know, the really, the core of the evaluation is, are they good? Are they good people even though they may not be perfect and can they live this life in a manner that, would like them to, I mean, can they be a functioning part of your community as well as your team? And we looked for the idea. We don’t always find the ideal, but you know, somewhere in those imperfections, there’s a lot of good. And then we try to unearth that good as best we can.
Doug Smith: 14:43 Yeah. Have you ever, have you ever sent things that you weren’t, that weren’t ideal in a character of a player and chose them anyway? And I’m just curious, how did that work?
Kevin Colbert: 14:53 We always try to quantify the risk and you know, know what the risks may be and we try to manage those. But in the end, we won’t know until we, we get ’em and put them in our environment and see if they can, see if they can thrive. And again, you don’t, you have to quantify the risk and know you have to know the risk and then quantify it and then see, if you are willing to take the chance. If you do, can you help manage it? And if you do, at what point to you, make that decision that this player’s either wanting to adhere or he won’t.
Doug Smith: 15:34 Yeah, I mean, that was going to be my next, next question. Do you guys have, I mean, what did, what is your system like, obviously you have an opportunity to develop young men. How long do you tend to invest in someone until you realize they’re not gonna take the journey with you? Are there certain personality traits that you’re like, Yep, this is pretty much a huge indicator that they’re not going to take that journey?
Kevin Colbert: 15:54 No, there are no set rules. I mean, I think it’s a, it’s a fluid, evaluation, a fluid assessment. And I think in general that if you just think that there’s no, you know, there’s no hope after you’ve given opportunities and you tried to help and you’re still not, you know, you’re still not getting a message home and you probably have to move on. And that’s unfortunate. But again, that’s reality.
Doug Smith: 16:23 Yeah. I want to talk about team culture. Obviously, you guys have an incredible culture and history with the Steelers. I’m just curious, what are one or two of the biggest lessons you’ve learned while being a part of the Pittsburgh Steelers and maybe even specifically from the Rooney family?
Kevin Colbert: 16:38 Well, I mean, the Rooney family is, such a shining example for all of us. So I, you know, the lessons that I’ve learned from not only, you know, the late Mr. Dan Rooney, but his son art the second and, and Mr. Rooney’s brother are, are junior who held my, the equivalent of my position in the 70s. It’s invaluable because they do things the right way, you know, and you learn from that. What’s, you know, you always talk about the Steeler way and what is that? And I don’t think any of us can put a finger on it. You’re not going to find it in any dictionary. It’s just something that you’ve learned and you feel and you learn to appreciate, uh, along the way because the lessons they taught us, um, or lessons that, you know, not only helped us but can help future generations.
Kevin Colbert: 17:38 And that’s the one thing I was, you know, both Arts are still here and we can continue to learn from them. But, you know, Mr. Rooney is not with us any longer obligation to him is not only to live the things he taught us, but to teach others that maybe, didn’t have the opportunity to meet him more than the younger generations that’ll come along, that, that won’t have the opportunity to meet him and, you know, have the same benefits that we’ve had. So that’s, you know, that’s our duty as we move forward.
Doug Smith: 18:13 Yeah. And then, the last question, I just, I’ll leave open-ended, any, any advice you want to leave young leaders with? Maybe if you were to leave your kids with something, what would you tell them? I have to set them up for success in life?
Kevin Colbert: 18:27 Well, I, you know, I obviously, yeah, you have to be willing to, you have to be willing to work, but you have to be willing to work not only for your own company or team’s success but for the success of whatever industry you’re in, for that industry as well. I mean, you have to do it in a manner that’s ethical. That’s beneficial to all. And I don’t know what else to add to that, you know what I mean? I mean there’s certain ways to go about things and again, if you can do it in a manner that you can hold your head up high and say, okay, we won or we, you know, we accomplished, but we did it in a manner that I can be proud of, I think then you are later. And if you can show that example to, to the next generation, then we’ll all be served better.
Doug Smith: 19:24 Just real quick on that, is that something you had to learn? It seemed like over and over again, the thing that people say most about you is that you’re a team player. You don’t care at all about personal recognition or personal credit. It’s all about the team. Is that, is that an attitude you’ve always had or is that something that you’ve had to grow and develop?
Kevin Colbert: 19:41 I think it’s something that I learn every day. Again, going back to, you know, my youth, that was something that was embedded in me at a young age, continued through high school, through my experiences, through college, my college experiences, and even into the professional ranks. Again, I’ve been blessed to be around a lot of special people and hopefully I can take that and you know, so hopefully, I have learned from that and will continue to learn because we grow every day and we change every day. And as long as we’re changing for the better and the better off we will all be.
Doug Smith: 20:18 That’s so good. Well, Hey, thank you so much for your time, Kevin. I really appreciate it.
Kevin Colbert: 20:22 All right, take care now.
Speaker 3: 20:25 Hey everyone. Thank you so much for listening to my interview with Kevin Colbert. You can find ways to connect with him and everything that we talked about in the show notes and L3 Leadership.org
Doug Smith: 20:33 /episode160. Again, if this podcast added value to your life, it would mean the world to me. If you would share it with your friends on social media, if you would subscribe to it on whatever service you listen to, podcast through and leave a rating and review. All of those things. Help us grow our audience. So thank you. Thank you. Thank you. And I want to thank our other sponsor, Babb inc they’re an insurance broker led by my friend named Russell Livingston and he has a huge passion for developing next-generation leaders, which is why he hosts our monthly leadership breakfasts and they’re just doing some really unique creative stuff in the insurance world. So if your organization has any insurance needs, check them out at the web at www.Babbins.com that’s, Babbins.com and lastly, if you want to stay in touch with everything we’re doing here at L3 Leadership, you can sign up for our email list on our website at L3leadership.org and you will start to get emails immediately. And as always I like to end with a quote and given everything that’s going on in our world today, I just love what Andy Stanley once said. Andy said, “Do for one what you wish you could do for everyone.” “Do for one what you wish you could do for everyone.” Thanks for listening and being a part of L3 Leadership. Laura and I appreciate you so much and we’ll talk to you next episode.