Tag Archives: football

But Everybody Else Is Doing It

Ah, the ultimate in deflection and justification. The stuff of childhood and apparently an accepted part of adulthood in some circles.  Granted there is an ethical piece to going with that excuse, but to many it seems the question is more “will the excuse hold water”?  Will it buy the shadow of a doubt, the sympathy or the forgiveness one seeks?  Or better yet, does it justify the behavior in question, does it make the wrong decision a bit less wrong?  An ethical roll of the dice maybe?  Like any roll of the dice, the unknown is in the outcome.

I could not help but think of that wonderful excuse of childhood when I read the below quote from Floyd Landis:

“But there was no scenario in my mind where I was ever going to get the chance to race the Tour de France and win clean. There was no good scenario. It was either cheat or get cheated. And I’d rather not be the guy getting cheated.”

Granted the Floyd Landis journey has been “interesting”, but I have to admit, his quote in the recent Paul Kimmage interview is telling on a host of levels.  Truth be told, as much as I have never been a fan of the “everybody else is doing it” line of reasoning, I did feel for the guy when I reflected on the above.  On some very real level he has a point.  However, it is the life lesson in that quote that it would be wise of us all to remember.

How much of what is going on around us is really a case of “cheat or get cheated” thinking? Clearly Floyd Landis gave us the example of cycling, but might there be a bit of that in the “financial crisis”? Bankers, lenders, borrowers, brokers…maybe a touch of “but everybody else is doing it” floating around there in the roaring market just a few years back.  And take a moment Sunday when everyone is gathered around that classic American event, the Super Bowl. Might there be one or two guys on that field who have faced that debate of “cheat or get cheated” when it comes to steroids…maybe.

The challenge we all face, as leaders, as parents, and as people, is to ensure we are never creating situations of “cheat or get cheated”. It is not easy. It is sometimes not easy to recognize when we have created such an environment, and it is certainly not easy to acknowledge it when we have. Especially in those cases where everything seems to be moving along nicely. Let’s face it, when revenues are up, times are good, the kids are getting good grades, the money is flowing, who really wants to ask the hard “why”.

As much as any of us hate that classic excuse of a child, the Super Bowl will be one of the most watched events of the year. Are we sanctioning the behaviour and justification of “well everyone else is doing it” by our watching the game? Who knows, but to some degree I will be watching. Unless of course the weather is decent, in which case I will be out on the bike.

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Hiring and Retaining Leaders – The Ultimate Example

Imagine if you will – the most succesful single company in an entire industry over the last 41 years.  And over that period the company has had exactly 3 leaders (the industry norm is to change leaders every 3 – 4 years).  All were recruited from outside the company, none had ever run a company before, all were under the age of 40, and none were “big names” in their profession.  Is that extreme luck or is that incredible wisdom and insight when it comes to hiring?

In the NFL’s “modern era” (since the AFL-NFL merged in 1970) the Pittsburgh Steelers have posted the best record in the league. The franchise has won the most total games, won the most divisional and conference titles, earned the best winning percentage (including every expansion team), earned the most All-Pro nominations, and have accumulated the most Super Bowl wins (six) since 1970.  And in that span they have had just 3 head coaches – Chuck Knoll, Bill Cowher, and Mike Tomlin.

The Pittsburgh Steelers and the Rooney Family are the model for sourcing, hiring and retaining great leaders.  They find them young, they engender loyalty by giving the young leader “their chance” and then supporting them in the job, and they eliminate ambiguity when it comes to expectations.  Above all else, they hire with a very keen awareness of the organizations culture – the leader fits the organization.  And think about what the Rooney’s do not do…they do not over pay, they do not chase the “hot coach” and they do not overreact, in good times or bad.  Oh, and they win – a lot.

Imagine if you will, a business that sourced and hired based on culture and fit, skill and abilities. And then actually created win-win scenarios.  An environment of mutual respect, of open communications, and realistic expectations.  Think about it the next time you are “chasing the market” for talent, or debating the “easy hire”, the “proven commodity”.  Maybe it is time to stop playing musical chairs and hire based on talent and fit, not on titles and past performance.  Who knows, maybe you can help your business go on a nice 40+ year run.


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Play Through The Whistle

It is one of “those” classic coach phrases we have all had directed our way at least once.  It just seems to be a right of passage…gym class, football, basketball, or soccer practice. Through a shower of spittle and frustration, the coach reminds us to “play through the whistle”.  When the sport involves a whistle, you will hear the phrase.  Their point:  always give it your all…you never quite on the play.  One never knows what might happen, so you try as best you can until the whistle blows.  And as only the wisdom of youth allows, we acknowledge the coach and move on with life.

Last week we saw this great lesson of sport played out on the biggest possible stages – the BCS National Championship game and in the NFL Divisional Playoffs.  The events are separated by only 5 days, and the players involved are supposed to be the best at their sport…a priceless example really.  Never give up, never assume, and always play to the whistle.

First there is this gem from late in the Oregon and Auburn national championship game:

Then as if seeing such a shinning example from the best of the college players, the professionals have a similar moment in the Steelers – Ravens game Saturday:

Like so much of life, it is all about the fundamentals. Level, scope, title, or even the amount of money being earned do not change the basic lessons…it is after all why they are called fundamentals. And as it is in sports, so it is with business, and even life – never give up and never stop.  At least until the whistle blows.

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Addition by Subtraction

Even the most casual observer of the NFL is aware of the Patriots and their blowout of the Jets last night.  After a great deal of hype about “the epic” Monday night match up, the absolute pummeling of the Jets, though impressive, was rather anti-climatic. One thing that was readily apparent is how much better the Patriots have become since they traded away Randy Moss.  It was quite the reminder that sometimes addition by subtraction really does work.

Randy Moss, the future hall of famer and game changing wide receiver, was traded by the Patriots only 4 games into the 2010 season.  No one argues that the man still has loads of talent, skills, and abilities.  What did become very clear was how he was not good for that team.  And in football, as in life and business, Team trumps the individual. No matter what their talent level, their skills, or their production, no one is above the team.  We have been able to watch this lesson play out over the course of this season – the Patriots are thriving and Randy Moss is onto his third team of the year.

It is not the right answer in every scenario, but sometimes addition by subtraction is the right course.  Doing what is best for the team has to be paramount.  If the person with the best sales numbers, the highest rankings, the most visible role, is not bought into the culture and making the team better, it might be time to make a tough choice.  It is a slippery slope, addition by subtraction, but when done for the right reasons, done well, and done with forethought and wisdom, it can be a game changer.

Of course, all of the above said, it sure helps to have one awfully good team already in place, with people ready to pick-up the slack.  Yes, having Tom Brady at quarterback, a host of strong players on the team, and Bill Belichick as head coach does make a difference…just a bit.

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The Behavior and Feedback Loop

The first week of October is quickly becoming “the week of dope” – and not in a Randy Jackson American Idol sort of way.  First we hear that Alberto Contador, the recent Tour de France winner has tested positive not just for trace amounts of a PED, but also for a plastic residue found in blood bags.  Then, we hear ever so quietly that Steve Gregory of the San Diego Chargers popped positive.  To hear a cyclist popping, even the face of the sport, is not too terribly unexpected – they are tested constantly.  To hear of an NFL player – that was surprising.   Not surprising in that I am naive enough to think there are no PEDs in football.  Rather surprising in that for someone to pop in such a lightly tested sport is almost a miracle.

Again, a huge thank you to the world of sport for providing a reflection of life. This time they help us see ever so clearly how behaviors are reinforced and perpetuated based upon feedback. Call it risk versus reward; positive or negative reinforcement.  There is no question behaviors are encouraged or discouraged based upon the feedback the behavior elicits. And we all know, we cannot mention the world of sport without mentioning Performance Enhancing Drugs.

So what does any of this have to do with behavior?  Consider this – Contador is looking at a 2 year suspension.  Gregory – 4 games.  Seriously, 2 years versus 4 weeks.  Bash the Olympic sports all you wish, but there is no question they are serious about trying to eliminate doping in their sports.  Clearly the NFL does not really care.  The players know it and will act accordingly.  The rewards far outweighs the risk in professional sports – at least in the United States and certainly in the NFL.

It is the ultimate question for leaders, coaches, educators and even parents – how does one influence behavior?  How can you get someone to do, or not do, something?  There are countless answers to that question, but one of them is clearly based on feedback.  What feedback are you providing for certain behaviors?  Are your actions, or inaction, encouraging or discouraging certain behaviors.  Think about sports and the culture of doping – what message do the individual sports send to their players and their fans?  Telling on a host of levels.

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Learning From Michael Vick?

Ironic sometimes how timing is everything.  The same weekend we have an old friend in town is the same weekend Michael Vick makes the news…again.  Certainly there is no real link between the two. However, after a weekend spent chatting with a seasoned educator and administrator who happens to also be a Doctor of Education (an Ed.D not a Ph.D as he likes to say), I was reminded how environment has enormous impact on situations and outcomes.  Education, learning, business, life – one’s environment does matters.  It is not the only thing, but it is something.

To even the casual observer, the story of Michael Vick is just another example of the rapid rise and dramatic fall of yet another professional athlete.  Sordid details of dog fighting rings, hangers-on, and other colorful gems litter the biography of the man.  I will admit a particular interest in the story – I lived in Virgina in the early to mid 90’s and remember the stories of two gifted high school athletes.  Michael Vick the football player and the Allen Iverson the basketball player.  Both were from Newport News – a pit of crime, poverty and violence.  It was the beginnings of their rags to riches story.  Stories I just happened to follow a little more than most over the years.

So this week brings us another story of Michael Vick, this one involving a shooting at his birthday party. As of now he is not officially accused of, nor linked to the crime, but there is no question that it was at his party and that the victim was an acquaintance and part of his dog fighting ring.  What struck me is not that the events happened, but rather where and who was involved.  Michael Vick finds himself right back in the same old situation – the same area, the same friends, and inevitably the same problems.  In spite of everything that has happened in his life, all the chances he has been given, all the opportunities he has been afforded, he has yet to change his environment.

Unfortunately we hear it all to often in business; folks are unhappy or frustrated with their careers, their professions, their path or just general situation.  They are not feeling challenged, fairly compensated, or just are not passionate about their work.  However, when they elect to or are forced to make a change, they tend to go to the competition, or at least stay in the same field.  More often than not, they find themselves right back in the same old situation.  For many people it becomes an unending cycle of searching for and changing jobs every few years, yet they never really change their environment.  Sure, they change the company name on their business card, but their environment remains the same.  Change the environment, and there is a good chance you will change your circumstances.

Yes, there is friction in any change.  Changing fields or careers, locations or areas is never easy.  There is emotional, professional and real capital involved – it will often cost – sometimes a lot. It is not easy, but there just might come a time when you have to break free of the old ways; to start fresh.  Change the environment and you will change the situation.   However, remain in the same environment, the same things just seem to keep on happening.  There is something to be learned from Michael Vick, or a buddy who happens to be a Doctor of Education.  Whichever one you feel is more credible is your call.

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The Cost of the Contrarian Cowboy

Winning cures all ills.  Then there is the unspoken part of that statement…for a while.  As with anything, eventually there comes a day of reckoning. Case in point, the recently fired Mike Leach and Texas Tech.  Just last year he was praised as a football genius, profiled on 60 Minutes. He was heralded as a gifted coach, rewarded with massive contracts.  And yes, he won – a lot. However, being the contrarian comes at a price.  You burn bridges, sacrifice goodwill, hurt feelings, alienate peers, subordinates and superiors, and just generally become annoying.  And for a while it can all be overlooked.

It is called many things – “not playing politics”, “being a cowboy”, or “going against the grain” – and often times it is necessary, fitting, and plain effective.  But as with all things, moderation is the key.  Being contrarian is often the very thing that allows the mold to be broken, for the paradigm to shift, for breakthroughs and advancements to be made.  Leaders are often the “cowboys” who are able to overcome group think; who can get the team out of the rut; who can take them to the next level.  Being contrarian has a place, a time, and a finite life span.

However, being a contrarian leader all the time eventually becomes ones normal behaviour.  And in the case of contrarian behaviour, eventually organizational, societal, and social norms will demand a day of reckoning.  More simply put – you cannot just always be a jerk.  No matter how good the results, eventually the schtick wears thin.  One would think Coach Leach would have paid a touch more attention to that other contrarian coach on campus.  Eventually everybody tired of Bobby Knight, and he did much more than just win championships – much more.

Regardless of how good you are, how good the results, how often you win, no one can be a jerk forever.  Being a leader by its nature will require contrarian behaviour to some degree.  Being a “cowboy” is not a bad thing.  But being that way all the time is not effective.  It becomes counter productive.  You sacrifice goodwill, you no longer have the benefit of the doubt, you lose your supporters, your advocates, and your protectors.  In the end, there is a cost and it will have to be paid.

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Winners are Crowned at the End…Not in the Beginning

Thank you to the world of sports for offering yet another example of why the long view trumps the snapshot.  Last night the Oregon Ducks beat the Oregon State Beavers, winning both the Pac 10 Conference Championship and a trip to the Rose Bowl.  It was a great game, but it was also exactly 90 days since Oregon opened their season with a nationally televised loss and epic player melt down that was the stuff of YouTube fame.  Above all it was a reminder that champions are crowned at the end of the season, not the beginning.

There is a reason those classic sports sayings have become cliché – they are true. “Taking it one game at a time” and “every game matters” are critical ingredients to long-term success in any arena. Championships in sports are awarded for a body of work, not singular moments. Winning in business is about a body of work, not singular, flash in the pan, lightning in a bottle moments. Take a quick look at the 2009 Oregon Ducks – from preseason hype and hope, to early, ugly failure, through a long season of great peaks and some valleys, and ultimately a conference championship and a trip to the Rose Bowl.

A body of work takes time, perseverance, focus and committment – call it 90% work and 10% luck. Great singular moments are 10% work and 90% luck. There is a reason champions are crowned based on the sum of their efforts at the end of the season.  As it is in sports, so it is in business and life – winners are consistent and focused – they grind, they face adversity, they regroup and overcome losses.  They practice and prepare for the next day.  They fight and they win.  Highlights fade in a day, championships shine on in perpetuity.

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Of GM, ND and Realistic Expectations

Head Football Coach at Notre Dame. CEO for GM.  Couple prestigious job opportunities have come open in the last few days.  Dare I say each will also bring a healthy compensation plan and just a few “additional benefits”.  However, just because the job sounds great, it does not mean it is the right next move for you, either professionally or personally.  Sometimes there is a great deal more to consider than just the title, the compensation and the prestige when evaluating the next step in your career.  Specifically, does the role entail realistic expectations?

Talk about situations in which realistic expectations are not exactly the norm.  Turning around the massive, floundering ship that is GM while satisfying the UAW and answering to the federal government, or meeting the incredibly lofty expectations of the Notre Dame football fans and alumni, NBC and every sports talk radio host in North America.  Certainly some tall orders.  While we all embrace challenges and thrive in the face of adversity, the realist must consider what is truly expected relative to what is truly achievable.  While we all have goals, make no mistake that in any situation there are other stakeholders and shareholders who influence and often set expectations regardless of how based in reality they or their expectations might be.  In the end they will determine your fate.

The corollary to the above is that as a leader you have to not only evaluate if you have realistic expectations set for you, but are you setting realistic expectations for your team and organization?  Ensuring you are putting yourself in a viable position for  professional success is critical.  Ensuring you have put others in viable situations with realistic expectations is equally important.  In the end, how can you attract and retain the best talent if you have set unrealistic expectations for their performance.

Lofty goals are wonderful. However, lofty AND achievable goals are mandatory. If expectations are not based in reality, success will never be achieved.  And just as success breeds success, so to the momentum of failure breeds its own sense of inevitability in an organiztion.  Fair or not, morale on all levels is undercut by the perception of failure.  Setting yourself or others up for failure by having unrealistic expectations is just plain silly.

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Starting A New Season – The Long View

The start of a new season – hope springs anew and optimism abounds. No one has lost and no one has won.  It is a glorious time of year in every sport, and tonight it is college football’s turn. The pageantry, the passion, the rivalries and the traditions will once again be played out in the coming months.  A season of individual games that in the end will create a final, full picture.

However, in just a few hours the temptation will arise amongst fans and pundits, as well as in the hearts of some players and coaches, to declare a season “over”.  It is an inescapable truth – half the teams will win and half will loose each and every weekend.  How one builds on the results of each game is what determines a season.  It is the sum of all the games, not an individual game, that counts in the end.  Making long term decisions on short term facts is not a winning formula.  Extrapolating one event to predict a final outcome is not sound science and it is not a sound way to look at a season long campaign.

Leaders and winners take the long view – no solitary event defines the greater whole.  The temptation is high in college football, much as it is in life, to let one event set the tone.  The big play, the one game – that one loss.  Rarely is it one single event that makes the season.  Rather it is how the team handles the highs and the lows, the wins and the losses, the practices and preparation, that determines the season.

The question for us all is how we approach each new day, each new challenge in business and life – how we approach our “seasons” and “games”.  Allowing one event to set the tone is never wise.  Building on the momentum of  a win is great, just as drawing motivation from a defeat is wise.  However, it is all about focus, about never loosing sight of the end goal, of building a body of work.

Tonight is just the start in a long season for every team.  Though the morning after is tough for those that loose, it is the next game that is the next opportunity to win.  Approaching every individual event as a chance to win is what allows one to overcome and persevere, and typically results in more wins that loses in the final analysis.  Starting a new season is a moment of optimism and hope, of opportunity and potential.  And yes, a new season means that maybe the Illini can get back to Pasadena…maybe.

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