Category Archives: Uncategorized

Anonymous, Random Acts of Kindness

We have all read the stories, the tab paid by some stranger.  The super tip left behind.  However, it is the small ones that sometimes go unreported that can make all the difference.  This morning was one of those times you stumble upon one of those small things that just might make a difference…

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There were a dozen odd chalk messages scrolled on the neighborhood sidewalks.

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Some were whimsical and quite cliche, and others were straight to the point.

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But all were positive and uplifting, they brought a smile to your face, but above all were simply “just there” for everyone to read.

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The real beauty is that we will never really know who did it, and we are all better for it, the not knowing.  An all too aware adult or an innocent child?  It does not matter.  It is the message that matters, and I for one am better for it.

A thanks is owed to someone, and whomever they are, please know I am grateful and the message has been passed.

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Peyton and Being Likable

All it takes is a catchy jingle and you have a pop culture phenomena.  Well done Nationwide Insurance…”Nationwide is on your side” easily becomes “being likable makes all the difference”.  People like what they relate to, what makes them feel comfortable.  There is no question, Peyton Manning has hummed his way into the American consciousness as “a good guy”.  Of course it does not hurt that he is widely regarded as the face of his sport, one of the all-time greats, and is standing at the threshold of a storybook ending to his career.  Peyton winning Super Bowl 50 – it is the stuff of legend.

It has been called many things, with the current flavor being Emotional Intelligence or EQ.  Then there are the more traditional “cultural fit”, interpersonal skills, or empathy.  In its simplest form, being likable, a nice person, is one of the most valued traits in all of hiring.  Never, not once in all the years and the literally thousands of hiring conversations we have been privy to, has the phrase “you know, we do not like them; heck they are a real jerk, but we will hire them anyway” ever been used.  Not one time.  Countless times we have heard the inverse.  Being likable brings an enormous degree of benefit of the doubt, of a higher forgiveness factor, of being given a chance, or two, or three.  It is a classic idiom of sales, “people do business with people they like”.  Throughout his career, from college to the NFL, Peyton Manning has ensured he remains at the top of the likable list.

There is no greater illustrator of the “likability factor” than Tom Brady.  It was one of the stories of 2015, Deflategate.  The Patriots, their coaches and Tom Brady have a long history of pushing the edges, testing the lines, but also of grinding, studying, preparing, and of winning…a lot.  Tom Brady, despite all the wins, all the championships, the spotless record, the incredible story of afterthought to champion, of a relentless work ethic, of being the consummate leader and professional, remains unlikable.  He is not like everyone else, his life is not like ours, he is apparently aloof, cold and distant.  Tom and Peyton literally have the same job, live a life wildly removed from the vast majority of us, yet one is perceived completely differently based on “likability”.

An athlete, the face of their sport, considered by many to be the best of a generation, dominating the competition, setting new records, a marketers dream, giving back to the community and charities, the personification of the comeback, overcoming career ending medical challenges, returning to form and dominating.  It is a timeless story.  And when doubts and dispersion are cast, as always happens in our society, when the “too good to be true” flag is waived, being likable will save the day.

It is comically sad.   Peyton and HGH – 100% benefit of the doubt.  Disparage the source of the story, proclaim innocence, threaten lawsuits, be folksy, be hurt, be staunch yet wounded.  Peyton is righteous.  He is likable.  Looks like Peyton learned the lesson of Lance Armstrong…being nice will get you the benefit of the doubt, and sometimes that is all that matters in the court of public opinion.

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GameDay on Leadership

Most Saturday mornings in the fall, College GameDay is on in the background as we go through the usual morning rituals.  It is not a “sit and watch” sort of thing, but it is a streaming commentary that provides an easy way to stay somewhat connected to all that is college football, pop culture and even current events.  The stories, the drama, the games, the rankings, the conversations around playoffs, suspensions and above all, the passion of the fans.  But what I have really noted this year, College Football has to be the greatest, most visible, easily comprehensible to the masses, case study in why leadership truly matters.

Though college football tends to be a fairly consistent parade of the same schools at the top, there is a pretty noticeable trend of how programs tend to rise and fall based on coaching changes.  Part of it is recruiting.  Part of it is organizational skills and management, and some of it has to do with hiring.  But what is abundantly clear, leadership is the core issue.  The great “coaches” are great leaders.  They attract the best talent, hire the best staffs, and they build the best, most efficient organizations.  Thankfully, in our highly scheduled and information saturated worlds, the simplicity of wins and losses makes for a quick and easy way to quantify the results of good leadership.

On the downside, take Michigan, Texas and Florida.  They all have the talent, the facilities, donors, boosters and the support of the school, yet the wrong coach…down they go, and quickly.  Yet, great leadership also has an immediate impact in the positive direction.  Texas A&M, Stanford and Oregon, have all found the right coach, or coaches.  They have taken average teams with inherent disadvantages to the heights of college football.  Nick Saban and Urban Meyer are clearly the best examples of what a difference good leadership can make for a program.  Each has resurrected floundering programs, quickly having major success at more than one school.  Nick Saban has been incredibly successful at both LSU and Alabama, while Urban Meyer was instrumental in taking Florida to multiple championships, and has rapidly turned Ohio State back into a perennial power.

Leaders get the right folks in the right roles, then let them perform. The best coaches have the best staffs  They are NOT afraid to hire good people. It takes a strong leader to hire a talented subordinate, or to take a risk when hiring.  There has been no better example of that adage than Nick Saban’s hiring of Lane Kiffin as his Offensive Coordinator.  Kiffin had issues as a head coach, has a fair bit of baggage, but clearly knows what he is doing when it comes to running an offense.  He might not be the best head coach, but he is certainly really good at what he does.  Saban hired him, has let him run the offense, and thus far the results speak volumes.

Just as Lane Kiffin is a “technical expert” when it comes to offense, it was clear from his tenures at Tennessee and USC, that he was not a head coach and leader.  Technical expertise does not always equate to good leadership.  Charlie Weis was just fired, again, from another head coaching job.  He might be great with an offense, but he is clearly no leader.  Will Muschamp at Florida, a defensive “genius” is standing by to be fired, as are several other technical experts who became head coaches.  It is such a common pitfall. Good salesman – make him the sales manager. Disaster.  Technical skills are not leadership skills.

Sure, College Football is just a game, and extrapolating leadership maxims from head coaches is a dicey proposition, but there are some themes that hold true.  It is tough to argue when the results are binary…someone wins, some loses.  Everything is leadership. The rest matters, but without the proper leader, it is abundantly clear, the team just does not jell and the organization founders.

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Early July, John Adams and Celebrations

As the saying goes, “we all become our parents”, at least to some degree.  Not sure who said it first, but it is one of those phrases that we all scoff at in youth, yet with time come to recognize as accurate.  For me, it is the watching of 60 Minutes on a fair number of Sunday evenings.  This week the interview of David McCullough, the author and narrator of so many great historical moments of American history, is what struck a chord.  Granted, I am a huge history geek and have most of McCullough’s books sitting a few feet away from me as I type, but his discussion of the significance of the 4th of July was timely indeed.

As mentioned in the interview, it is the prophetic lines of a letter John Adams sent to his wife Abigail that has truly survived the test of time:

The second day of July, 1776, will be the most memorable epoch in the history of America. I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated by succeeding generations as the great anniversary festival. It ought to be commemorated as the day of deliverance, by solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations, from one end of this continent to the other, from this time forward forever more.

Granted he was off by a couple of days, the final copy of the Declaration of Independence was dated on the 4th, the vote was on the 2nd, but the spirit holds.

Adams, and all the Founders, took the ultimate risk: they committed high treason.  They had everything to lose, for they were the “top 1%” of the era.   Their lives, their families, their wealth.  It was all on the line.  Though we often hear the term “Founding Fathers” or “Founding Brothers”, make no mistake, their wifes and families were just as much involved and at risk.  It is impossible to imagine Abigail Adams or Martha Washington not knowing what their husbands were up to during all those meetings in Philadelphia in 1776.  Yet, in spite of the odds, they did it, they  declared our independence. It was neither asked for nor granted. It was taken. No one had ever done such a thing…not to the British Empire.

Independence declared and ultimately won, the significance of early July does not end there.  A true, unified  nation was finally forged in the crucible of the American Civil War. Gettysburg is the one battle almost everyone has heard of, mostly thanks to Lincoln’s Address.  It is a staple of the American educational journey…memorize it, recite it, study it, or at least endure it.  Almost every child encounters it in school.  The battle was fought from 1-3 July 1863…150 years ago.  Never before or since has America suffered such loses in such a short period of time. It should not be forgotten amongst the celebrations of 4th of July. Not necessarily celebrated, but certainly not forgotten.

History is one of those things that some people love, some hate, and most tolerate.  One can debate the relative “value” of history as a subject, an academic major, a course of study or a hobby, but it is something we need to be aware of, respect and appreciate. It shapes us and our world.  These first few days of July are as good a time as any to take a moment and just reflect on what happened years ago.  We owe it to them and ourselves to not forget where we came from and what gift we have truly been given.

It is pretty cool…200+ years on and we still celebrate our independence with parades, pomp, fireworks, games, solemn pageantry, from one end of the continent to the other.  It has not been the smoothest journey realizing the vision, but we are getting there.

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Super Bowl, Super Irony and Super Clarity

Super Bowl week, a week of unrelenting media bombardment and hype. Stories of what might happen, what should happen, and commercials.  Blows my mind that as a society we get wound-up over the idea of how well something is going to be pitched to us for our consumption.  Then again, the commercials are sometimes more entertaining than the game.   Super Bowl Sunday has become a part of our national fabric.  And this year is no different, except for a story that broke on Tuesday regarding Performance Enhancing Drugs. Sort of makes me feel like it is cycling season. However, this time names like Alex Rodriguez and Ray Lewis, and a bunch of other “mainstream” athletes are tied to the story.

Here we sit on Friday, and not a word of the story.  It was a story for 24 hours, then it was simply swept away or ignored…48 hours later hardly a peep.  And the response from Ray Lewis to the media in New Orleans, well it sounded a lot like other comments we have heard from other high-profile athletes over the years.  It was all a bit ironic, the face of the sport, on the sports biggest stage, with a world-wide audience, denying, minimizing the story and ultimately turning the spot-light onto the accusers, their motivations and their credibility.  Love irony, just love it.

As we reach the end of the week, irony has brought clarity – the NFL is too big to fail.  Same goes for MLB.  A-Rod and Ray Lewis are marquee players, faces of their sport, and no one cares about what they did or did not do when it comes to PEDs.  It is so clear what is valued and what is not.  Marion Jones cheated and lied; she went to prison.  Lance cheated and is literally and figuratively only beginning to paying the price.  Ray Lewis, A-Rod, Bonds, Clemens, or any of the others in the NFL or MLB…not a dime.  Nothing.  It is another moment of clarity.

Now the real irony is the fact that one of the government’s reasons for going after Lance is because of the US Postal Service sponsorship of the cycling team.  The positive press the US Postal Service received for those years was absolutely massive.  It was a marketing coup and might represent one of the best advertising investments in the history of marketing, yet the government feels they were a victim of fraud.  The US Postal Service has had two other positive moments in its entire history before the cycling team, the Pony Express and “neither rain, nor sleet, nor snow”.  Gotta love irony.

Clearly, like everyone else in the country, I will be watching the Super Bowl Sunday.  Well, after I get back from my bike ride that is…

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Olympic Lessons and Too Much Television

As expected, there has been a lot of “tv time” over the last two weeks.  Sleep patterns are off, productivity is down, and I really want a kayak and my own white water slalom course.  But above all, it is the lessons the two weeks of athletic competition teach and remind us of that is the real benefit.  Now the geography and cultural lessons are not a bad benefit either.

So, what have we all learned?

– If you are going to be involved in something where there are winners and losers, rankings and awards, do NOT do it in a field that is judged.  Utter committment to something to have your fate determined by others – no thank you.  Give me points scored, targets hit, times recorded, or whatever quantifiable scoring system you wish, but not judges.

– Clearly, Ryan Lochte wanted to beat Michael Phelps in a head-to-head race in the Olympics. Once he did it, he never raced as well.  Motivation and goals are funny things.  It was interesting how much better Michael Phelps swam after loosing a few races.

– Hope Solo, and really anyone who struggles to control their emotions, needs to stay off Twitter. Though it will rarely if ever make you millions, I am confident Twitter can cost you millions.

– It does not matter what you have done. It only matters what you do in the moment. #1 ranking, reigning World Champion, world record holder, being the favorite – none of that matters when you are in the moment.

– The general public LOVES to be spoon fed their entertainment. Tape delay, knowing the results, sappy back stories and profiles – it has all been consumed at an unprecedented level. Easy and prepackaged – it’s what people want.

– There is now, and probably always has been, just a certain percentage of folks who will never be happy.   They just have to snipe at things.  The irony is that all of the snarky comments and criticisms are usually delivered while the person is doing the thing they are criticizing.  The bashing of the Olympics was done as folks were sitting and watching.  Really?

– Misty and Kerri.  First off, when you can go by one name, you have truly “made it”.  But it is that reminder that loving what you do, and with whom you do it, is the key to greatness.

– Just be nice – it makes such a huge difference.  Gabby Douglas will be the face, well certainly the smile, of these games.  Not only did she perform when it mattered most, but she did it all with a smile.  Everyone likes the positive, warm and just plain likeable person…especially when they win.

– The corollary to the above is also true – not everyone will like the arrogant and cocky person, but they will certainly respect them IF they deliver.  Say what you will about Usain Bolt, but there is no doubt that guy delivers.  Flat out amazing.

– Yet again, it is proven that everyone loves Canada.  Who, other than the host country, always gets the loudest ovation at the Opening Ceremonies?  Canada.

For all the obscure events, sappy stories, P&G commercials, and endless pitches for NBC’s fall programing line-up (Matthew Perry anyone?) it has been a great two weeks.  Yes it was all tape delayed, but it is still an amazing thing to see absolute perfection in motion.  The way Bolt runs, Phelps swims, and Douglas flies, or any of the other folks who toil in total anonymity, it is an amazing thing to see.   Thanks for sharing.

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A Highschool Writing Assignment

It seemed such an easy request – share a card or letter for a soon to be high school graduate.  We soon came to the harsh realization that this was no easy assignment.  Over the last 7-8 years we have quite literally watched a young girl mature into a fine young woman, but to have a teenager willingly and positively acknowledge the presence of any adult is such a wonderful exception.  Adults that are nothing more than friends of her parents, well one could say flattering even.  Of course we would oblige – it was a special honor.  And there the easy, flattering part ended and the real weight of what we were asked began to sink in…writing for a teenager.

We debated how to approach this and quickly realized there were basically two paths – the easy and the hard.  We could just buy a card, compose a quick “congratulations on your accomplishment/good luck on your journey/you are a wonderful person” note, or we could actually take some time and really capture the moment.  We could honestly and openly share of ourselves, maybe include a few lessons learned, thank a teen for opening up to us, share how special it is to give of oneself, and above all encourage her to look forward and embrace the life that lies ahead.  Of course, neither of us wanted to come off as “preachy”.  The last thing we wanted to have happen was the venerable “teen eye roll”.

It was an interesting and rewarding task, looking back and thinking about what really mattered.  What things you wish somebody would have told you.  Let’s be honest, we were told all of these things, but we did not listen – we were all teens once, and damn if we did not know everything at 17.   In the end, it seemed to boil down to a couple of simple things…go to class, visit every professor during office hours at least once, always embrace the moment – good or bad – embrace it all, surround yourself with positive people, and simply ignore all the extraneous noise and just live your life.

So it has been a year since we wrote our letters.  Who knows if any of it really mattered, but I do know that someone has thrived their first year of college; their first year away from home.  Grades are good (going to class really works), they know their professors (yes, it has helped making a point to see them during office hours), they are doing all that college has to offer (campus life, philanthropy, intramural sports, part-time jobs, and dare I say the “social scene”).  But above all they are realizing what real, lifelong friendship really means, how special it is to meet people who care about you, your dreams, your goals.  Who actually encourage and help you in those pursuits.

So who knows, maybe we wrote something of value.  What we did realize pretty quickly last year as we were writing is that most of the lessons learned, short of “take a road trip”, is actually still very applicable to our current life.  Surround ourselves with positive people, ignore the extraneous noise and live your life, always get up and go to work, see the boss now and again, and above all embrace all that life offers – good and bad.  Yea, we need to stop and realize in some ways life really is pretty simple.

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