Tag Archives: teamwork

Tim Howard and How You Play the Game

It is another one of those timeless clichés, “it’s not if you win or lose, it is how you play the game”.  At this moment in time, no one personifies that more than Tim Howard.  Granted, his “fame” in mainstream American consciousness might be fleeting, but when you are trending on Twitter and have sparked some classic internet memes, you might just have some staying power. #ThingsTimHowardCouldSave has been awesome!  It was not the record-setting 16 stops in a World Cup match, rather it is how he played and what he has said post game that makes all the difference.

There is no question, even to this marginal at best soccer fan, that Tim Howard’s performance on the pitch was nothing short of amazing.  He was a pleasure to watch, both in his skill and his level of committment and passion.  The guy gave his all in every match, setting an example for his teammates and earning the respect of opponents and fans throughout the world.  The guy is a professional.  He plays fulltime in the English Premier League, even I know enough to recognize that he is a world-class athlete.  The EPL is the top of the football world, and Tim Howard has perfected his trade in that crucible.

In all his post game interviews and on the morning infotainment circuit, he has been a class act.  He has praised his teammates, coaches, and opponents.  He has shown a level of committment to the team that has been refreshing.  He is a worker, the type of guy who quite literally plays hurt.  He is about the greater good, the team, the sport.  Just as the San Antonio Spurs were the epitome of team and class last month, so it is Tim Howard this month.

Our culture has become so championship, “win at all costs”, “do whatever it takes” focused, that it has been refreshing to see someone at the top of their profession live up to that classic cliché.  The US Men’s Soccer team was eliminated, but what will be remembered is how Tim Howard played the game.  Not often we get a chance to see such a thing.  Hope that memory lasts a bit longer than a just the tweets.

 

 

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Being Really, Really Good…

…over the long haul.  It is brutally hard to do, and especially so in our world of immediate reward.  However there are some organizations that have proven to be at the very top of their industry.  Being good every now and again is one thing, but to do it more often than not for over 100 years, well that is the St. Louis Cardinals.

11 World Series Championships, 18 National League Pennants, 20 League MVP’s, 4 Triple Crown Winners, 3 Cy Young winners, 6 Rookie of the Year winners, countless Hall of Famers, and tops in league attendance for decades…all in a small market.  The only franchise with a more extensive history and record…the Yankees.

 A few years ago we looked at the Steelers, and with the NLCS starting tonight, it only seemed logical to spend a few minutes looking at the Cardinals.

Vision.  The organization has a history of excellence and remains committed to the pursuit of excellence…over the long haul.  To that end, the Cardinals under Branch Rickey pioneered the farm system,   were leaders in leveraging radio to expand their brand in the 1930’s, embracing integration in the 50’s and 60’s, playing “Whiteyball” in the AstroTurf era of the 80’s, to building power hitting teams in the 90’s “longball” era.  They see the trends, get ahead of the competition, adapt to the market, and lead change.  They evolve but do not lose sight of the core principles of excellence throughout the organization.

Winning Attitude.  Not necessarily just about winning, but certainly about always being committed to being the best possible team.   Winning is an attitude, just as the pursuit of excellence is an attitude.

Organization.  Though it is the team on the field, the reality is that there is a massive organization that enables the team to perform.  The talent scouts, the minor league system, the ball park, the trainers, the managers, coaches, front office and players, they are all part of the organization and they all matter.  It is about the sum of the parts, not the individual parts.

Leadership.  From the very top of the organization, to the field and into the locker room…leadership matters.  The Cardinals have maintained very steady ownership and leadership throughout their history.  As with any organization, things change, but a quick look at the organizational history reveals consistent leadership and ownership.

Culture and Consistency.  It is not about flash.  It is not about the individual.  It is all about the team.  The name on the front of the jersey, not the name on the back (the Cardinals logo has barely changed in the last 100 years).  It is about the profession and the game.  The individual is subordinated to the team, to the sport and even the community.  The Cardinals have a long history of never allowing one person to become greater than the team.  Sometimes it was rough (Curt Flood), unpopular (trading Albert), but always it was done for the best of the team.

Clearly no organization is perfect, and both the Cardinals and Steelers have had their issues, but there is no denying they are both at the top of their industry.  Like any business, they have periods of great success as well as periods of struggle, but their overall trajectory has always been up.  Their achievements are undeniable, and a great part of their success rests with consistency.  They have a system, a culture, an organization and a leadership team that is consistent in message and vision.

They know who they are, they know what works for them, and they hold to their core values.  They do not chase the latest fad, the hot candidate, the latest leadership trend or pop culture phenomena.  Though they stand at the top of their respective industries, neither organization is known as spendthrifts.   In the end, both the Steelers and Cardinals reflect their towns, their fans, and their values.  Interesting really…Pittsburgh and St. Louis are sort of “old school, basic” cities…seems those ideas are fundamental to long-term success.

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Lance, George and Being Nice

Confession – I have always carried a quiet fear of the “day”.  I knew the moment would come, but had hoped it would not be until I was well into my 50’s.  A point when the physical similarities would be long past, that memories would have faded and rancor would be forgotten.  No such luck.  Those that know me know the issue…I am a Lance Armstrong doppelganger.  It has been funny over the years, photo and autograph requests, tons of glances or stares, pointed out in crowds, approached in awkward conversation, yet from time-to-time cluelessly embracing what I thought was just a random act of kindness until my wife would point out “it is the Lance thing dummy”.  Now I carry the mantel of “hey, you look like that dude that cheated”.

Due to the combination of my doppleganger issue and my own love affair with cycling, I get asked about the whole Lance/doping/cycling thing quite often.  I have even written about it occasionally.  However, what I find most important is the reinforcement of that age-old adage of “just be nice“.

What we have seen over the last few weeks is the complete undoing of the “Lance Armstrong” brand.  It is a reasonably safe assumption to say no brand has collapsed as quickly or completely. The last 10 days: epic.  What is interesting is that he is not alone in what he did.  He is however, the literal face of the issue.  His record of denial, counter accusations, law suits, personal attacks, and just general reputation as, well to put it mildly, a real jerk, has only feed into the collapse.  Lance not only cheated, he was self-righteous about it.

And then there is George Hincapie.  Faithful Lieutenant.  Trusted teammate.  Quiet, resolute, reserved.  A strong, tireless, hard worker, and just all around nice guy.  Respected by peers and fans, teammates and managers; the man who is resoundingly held up as a guy who did it right.  Well, come to find out he, along with almost every other American cyclist who rode with Lance on the US Postal/Discovery Teams, were neck-deep in the doping culture.  Yet, as vilified, hated and pilloried as Lance is, barely a word about George.  Yes, Lance was the leader, but George was right there with him the whole way.  Yet barely a word.

One thing all of this has been is a lesson in relationships, in how one treats others.  How one conducts themselves is part of your personal and professional brand.  Lance had an incredible professional brand, but also a very well known personal brand.  George also had an incredible professional brand as well as a very well liked and respected personal brand.  Each have seen their professional brand clobbered, but the impact on their personal brand has been completely different.

In the end, George is seen as just a flat-out great guy…nice, respectful, genuine and sincere.  That fact has and will enable him to weather the storm.  He will be thought of fondly.  His clothing company will survive and more than likely thrive.  Lance…well his reputation has all but sealed his fate.  He will reside alongside that other poster child of sport shame, Pete Rose.

Just be nice.  It never hurts.

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Something of Value From Congress?

Hard to believe, but there just might be something of value that came from Congress and the Debt Ceiling vote this week. Well, something of value that happened in that building during the vote is a better way to put it. Strip away the politics, the sound bites, the rhetorical garbage and for a moment reflect on Representative Gabriel Gifford’s walk into that chamber to vote…incredible.

Yes, it is incredible to see anyone survive an assassination attempt, but a gun shot wound to the head – it ranks up there on the miracle scale. But to see her “show up for work” at such a moment, that is a lesson for us all. And do not forget, her husband, Mark Kelly also “showed up for work” as commander of a space shuttle mission in April. No slouch himself in his ability to focus in trying times.

So what is the point? Remember these two when the temptation is there to sluff it off, to take the easy way out, to put comfort and ease ahead of commitments and responsibilities. Clearly everyone has their priorities, but when you make a committment and a promise to others, as a Representative, a Shuttle Commander, a boss, an employee, a teammate, a parent, a friend or a spouse, that committment trumps your own needs. It is just the way it is, or at least should be.

Oh, and to think, a fair number of her “peers” in Congress do not even have the guts to vote yes or no, they abstained or otherwise vote present or some such noncommittal move. Leaders lead, they make decisions and they live with the consequences, and they do what is best for others, not for themselves. Thankfully something of value came from Congress this week.

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The Dog That Caught Car

Being the outsider, the opposition, the one with the better idea is always easy. The good idea fairy. The one with the great sound bite, the novel approach, the wisdom that can only come from not being the one in charge.  We have seen it all too often in business, the team member who just always knows the right answer…always.  The sports team where the owner, the players, the fans – they all know better than the current coach.  And of course, in politics, entertainment, and just in life in general.

Muslim Brotherhood, GOP or Nancy Pelosi. Ask any of them – it is easy to declare how incompetent and misguided the current leadership is; how terribly wrong things have gone. However, when the pendulum swings, which it always does, the reality of how hard it is sets in…leading is much harder than it looks.

Being the font of “good ideas” and a “better course” are easy roles to take on, and roles in which you will always look good and be loved. Quite literally you can say whatever it is people want to hear. But be warned – someday circumstances will change; the opposition becomes the leader.  It is then that everything gets much harder.

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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 Spirit of St. Louis…Success

Charles Lindbergh, Lucky Lindy, the Spirit of St. Louis. It seems more the stuff of myth than history.  Especially so in our world of instant communication, just in time inventory and air travel for the masses. However, in 1927 the very idea of flying over the Atlantic was fraught with danger.  It had never been done; was considered impossible by many. One man, alone, in a single engine plane did the impossible.  He did it with less than 6 months of planning.  He found financial backers in a midwest town.  Engaged an unknown firm to design and build the plane. Had little to no press coverage, a relatively minimal budget, and no marquee names involved.  It was an absolutely astonishing achievement and an outstanding lesson in business and life.

So what can we learn from a flight that was done over 80 years ago, from a book that was published almost 60 years ago?  Foremost, keep it simple.  Lindbergh’s project checklist was in effect 5 items – a reliable engine, enough gas to get there, a plane that could lift the engine and fuel, a course to steer, and financial backers. Done.  Incredible, and so telling. Think about bringing that thought process back. Everything is so over analyzed. Lindbergh kept it simple, focused on what really mattered, and quite literally scrapped the rest.  No extraneous noise, no distractions.

And the team – what a perfect group.  Lindbergh was the pilot – he dealt with all the plane stuff – make the decisions based on what was required to do the flight. The business leaders and backers in St. Louis, they raised the money and trusted in Lindbergh.  So amazingly simple and so effective.  Trust those on the team to do their job.   And contrast that with the other teams who were competing to be the first to fly the Atlantic.  They built behemoth albatrosses for planes and organizations that were highly political and driven by committees and egos who all fought for credit.  They all failed.

The Spirit of St. Louis” won the Pulitzer Prize in 1953 and is considered a classic tale of aviation and adventure; that alone make it a must read.  However, it is above all a tale of what a person can achieve when they have a dream, a plan, a team, and focus.  It is a lesson for everyone in business, for anyone that has a project to manage, a team to lead, a goal to achieve.  In the end it is a reminder to keep it simple.  Focus on what matters.  Ignore the nay sayers and doubters, the so-called experts and their egos.  Surround yourself with good people – people you trust and who trust you.  Basic, simple, tried and true lessons – lessons for business and lessons for life.

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