Tag Archives: USC

Run the Race, the Entire Race

It has become the trending topic and video of the current news cycle, the Women’s 4×400 relay at the NCAA Championships.  The odds, the pressure, the botched hand-off, and the comeback.  Words do not do it justice.  Watch the video – it is the best 5 minutes of the week.

 

Sports is such an illustrator of life lessons, and in sports there is nothing as humbling and clarifying as the track.  Everyone is competing in the same arena, across the same distance, against the unforgiving clock.  And when it comes to the 400, or 800 and 1600, it is equal parts physical ability and mental stamina.  It flipping hurts running fast over distance.
It was just the reminder we need:
  • Never, ever stop chasing.  Run the entire race.
  • Never take your foot off the gas.  If you are in front, know with absolute certainty that there is someone, somewhere, coming up behind you.
  • There will be hiccups, bobbles and misfortune along the way.   It is not about what happens, it is about how you react.
It was an amazing race for the USC Women.  They had one chance to win the entire meet, win the 4×400, the final event.  While everyone will remember that last closing 100 meters, it was every step, by every one of the women, in every leg, that ensured the victory.  If any of them had run one step slower, none of it would have mattered.  And if any of their teammates, in any of the events, had not given their all throughout the weekend, the stage would not have been set for the dramatic final race.
Sports, and especially the track, is a great equalizer.  It is also a great case study of the relationship between practice, effort, commitment, teamwork, and victory.  It took all they had in that moment, but it also took all they had in practice, throughout the course of the season, and in that meet, to create the opportunity.
We owe it to ourselves to run the race, and do all that it takes to get to the point to be in the race.  And when in the race, we run the entire race, as hard as we can, no matter what happens along the way.
As the Trojan’s say, “fight on”.
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The Promotion Principal – Go With the “Tell”

Peter. Dilbert. Katie, Putt’s Law.  All well-known Principals when it comes to promotion. Well, maybe not the Katie Principle. Regardless, all good satire is based in reality, and these principals and theories of promotion and advancement point out the all too common mistake of placing the wrong person, in the wrong role, for the wrong reasons.  Hiring, promotions and advancement should be based on what the person can do at the next level, not what they have been doing at the current level.

When one looks at some the best college football head coaches, the Nick Saban, Urban Meyer, Bob Stoops types, the one’s who have enjoyed long-term, lasting success, there is a common theme. Yes they are smart “football” guys, but much more importantly, they are great leaders and organizers, salesman and relationship managers. If these guys were not at the top of their profession in coaching, they would be running multimillion dollar businesses. Let’s face it, they are running multimillion dollar businesses.  With every one of those guys, you can just tell, they are just that sharp, they have the “it factor”. They are smart, articulate, level-headed, passionate, committed, driven, focused, impressive and above all, natural leaders.

And the universities that hire folks like that, folks who you can just tell “have it”, continue to have success when change comes.  Look no further than Stanford – David Shaw is as sharp as they come; bright, articulate, polished, driven, focused, and clearly a leader.  No surprise Stanford knew how to replace Jim Harbaugh when he went to the NFL.  They are Stanford after all.  Know your organization and culture, what the role you are hiring for requires, and then find someone who fits the role and the organization.

Then there is the classic mistake of assuming someone who was good at one level is ready to make that jump to the next level.  It is the pitfall of head coach hiring:  promoting the assistant coach or coordinator.  Look no further than the Florida Gators and their ongoing struggles with Will Muschamp.  Muschamp was a very highly respected Defensive Coordinator while at Texas when he took over for Urban Meyer at Florida.  Watching him as a head coach at Florida, well you can just tell he is not in the right role.  Being emotional, fiery, and other such things is great as the number two person in an organization, but it is not what one needs in a head coach.  Ed Orgeron at USC is another great example – the perfect Defensive Coordinator, and a phenomenal person to serve as in interim head coach to lead the Trojans through a turbulent transition period, but not a long-term head coach.  Again, you could just tell.

Contrary to Human Resources, Legal and the general PC nature of our world, there are things that just cannot be quantified.  The more senior the role, the greater the scope, the larger the strategic impact, leadership and interpersonal skills become paramount.  The “it factor”, the polish and poise, the organizational skills, the management and leadership skills, the ability to plan and prioritize, and above all, the emotional maturity all trump technical skills or job experience.  More often than not, when it comes to great hiring, if you truly know what you need, you will just be able to tell who is the right fit.  Go with the tell.

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The Lesson of Lane Kiffin’s…

…well firing.  While some rejoice, some wonder who will replace him, and others just revel in his public downfall, I found myself thinking of what we can learn.  Not about football, play calling, or recruiting, but about leadership, hiring and organizational behaviour.   Lane Kiffin came from a “football family” and had an incredibly rapid rise through the coaching ranks, becoming the youngest NFL head coach in history, as well as one of the youngest head coaches in college.  And with that rapid rise went an equally rapid rotation of coaching jobs…a series of quick changes and job transitions as a head coach.

So what have we learned:

Sustained Success.  When it comes to the whole hiring process, the basics still matter.  You need to meet people face-to-face.  Where folks went to school matters.  Candidates are a sum total of their experiences.  But above all, continuity matters.  “Sustained superior performance” is a phrase that really means something.  Someone who has been in a job for several years and has really impacted an organization, that is the true testament of their abilities.  Someone who has bounced around, “caught lightning in a bottle”, been a “flash in the pan”, or more simply a job-hopper, are living on luck and timing.  Much like Icarus, they fly too high too fast only to crash and burn.   Beware those who frequently change jobs.  They always have a great reason, but in the end the question has to be “have they really had a lasting, positive impact”.

The Non-Quantifiables Matter.  There are things that just cannot be measured, and leadership is one of them.  And in that same vein goes confidence.  Confidence of the organization in the leader is a very real issue.  It cannot be measured or quantified, but we know it when we see it, or do not see it.  Never overlook the non-quantifiables.  How a person acts, speaks, carries themself; their presence, their bearing, their communication, it all matters.  HR and Legal might not like it, but leadership is more art than science, and thus more about behavior than technical competence.

Decisions Demand Action.  Once a decision has been made, one must act.  Avoiding the inevitable helps no one.  If it is time for someone to go, make the call and move on.  It is better for them, it is better for you, and above all it is better for the organization.  An organization can withstand a degree of uncertainty during a leadership transition.  What it cannot withstand is an unending period of internal strife and division due to poor leadership, lingering doubt and general lack of confidence.

All of the above said, it might not all be Lane Kiffin’s fault.  The man obviously has great technical acumen and   did well earlier in his career.  Promoting the “hot runner” too far too fast is a common issue.  Folks who are doing well want to excel, and often that means moving up.  As leaders, we want to reward those folks via promotion and recognition.  However, as a leader one must recognize when someone is truly ready for that next step.  I really wonder if Lane Kiffin was ready to be a head coach.  Three times other folks thought he was, and all three of those times something went wrong.  It cannot be all his fault…they gave him the job.

Though I have no idea how technically competent Lane Kiffin is, or rather was, as a football coach, I do know he was not a good leader…you could just tell.  I am no student of the game, but even as a casual fan you could tell the team, the fans, and even the administration just did not have confidence in him.  Pat Haden as the Athletic Director at USC had to make a call, and credit to him, he made it.  When a leader has lost the team, the customers and the confidence of the organization’s leadership, it is time to turn the page.  Just be sure you hire the new leader for the right reasons.

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