Ignore the Noise

When I grew up, we had a hand full of television stations.  The radio was rarely on and there was no Internet.  No one had cell phones.  Life was quiet.  There is so much noise today.  Coach Belichick instructs his players to “ignore the noise.”  Does this mean unplugging everything and living in Montana?  Probably not.  I do think he means that in order to most effectively focus, one must concentrate on what is most important.  Everything screams for our attention.  In the NFL, the noise is deafening.  Every player has a thousand voices in his ear.

We may not play in the League, but we have enough voices in our heads, don’t we?  I don’t mean crazy voices, I mean noise.  We are inundated with media messages from every angle.  The noise is everywhere.  I don’t think it is healthy.  We get caught up in a matrix of brand messaging, opinions, mindless ‘entertainment,’ and background noise.  These messages are telling us to buy things we don’t need, to meet people we don’t have time for, to eat stuff that clogs our arteries, and to pay attention to meaningless drivel.  Ignore the noise.

Silence brings clarity of thought.  The ancients knew this.  They understood that creativity and thoughtfulness comes from a mind which is focused and clear.  Cut out the noise.  Turn off the spigot of external messages and think about how you can be a better person, better friend, better manager, leader, spouse, better anything.  Turn down the volume in your life and you will hear things you never knew were there.  Monitor your inputs and watch your outputs blossom.

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Manage Expectations

We all experience disappointment.  Things don’t always go our way and we feel a sense of loss.  We expect certain things and when they don’t happen the way we would want, we are disappointed.  This happens in every area of life.  This happens in relationships and in the workplace.  The difference between our expected outcome and reality is our level of disappointment.  So, what do we do?  Do we just expect so little that we will never feel that loss?  Do we simply do our best and hope for the best?

Coach Bill Belichick preaches “managing expectations.”  But what does this mean?  I think it means having a positive, yet realistic, view of the future.  It means looking at possibilities with a positive attitude.  It is about expecting the best in oneself and others.  When we expect the best, we often influence others to be their best.  This is called self-fulfilling prophecy.  Studies have shown that when people believe others to be competent, positive results occur simply because of that confidence.  When one expects more, one gets more.

Does this mean walking through life with rose-colored glasses in some sort of Pollyanna existence?  It certainly does not.  One must be realistic.  In the NFL, managing expectations means having a good head on your shoulders and a can-do attitude.  It means seeing the cup as half full.  Teams succeed when they are full of positive thinkers.  Attitude is everything in the League and in life.

Yet, sometimes we need to change our expectations to meet a new reality.  This is managing expectations.  Take control of your expectations.  View problems as opportunities and believe the best in yourself and others.  Don’t let others’ expectations of you define you.  Once they define you, they will judge you by their definition.  Manage yourself!

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Speak for Yourself

I am studying team dynamics in my master’s program.  There is a concept called “groupthink”, which basically states than many individuals remain silent when they work in teams.   These people basically go along with other group members in spite of having different ideas and possibly disagreements.  They are silent.  Coach Bill Belichick posts the phrase “Speak for Yourself” above one of the entrances at the Patriots’ complex in Foxboro.  I see wisdom in this.  So much of the time, many of us simply acquiesce to others who may have stronger personalities or better formulated opinions.

Everyone has something to contribute.  Your organization will be weaker if only certain voices are heard.  Research does show that a certain amount of diversity in opinions is productive if handled properly.  Don’t let others speak for you.  As you lead, seek feedback.  This will take humility and require you to listen.  Many voices will serve your organization better!

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Back In School

It has been a little while since my last post and that is mainly because I left my job to go back to school full time.  I am a Master’s degree student pursuing my degree in Management and Leadership.  In between my hours of reading and writing I have been thinking about the Super Bowl match up between the Giants and New England.  Once again Bill Belichick is in the big game.  It comes as no surprise to me since I had them the Patriots pegged as favorites before the season began.  In my mind Brady and Belichick will always be the favorites until one of them retires.  Belichick has four sayings posted in different places at the team facility.  They are

1. Manage Expectations 2. Speak for Yourself 3. Ignore the Noise 4. Don’t Believe or Fuel the Hype

I love these concepts and in the coming weeks I will give my thoughts on each one.  I think each concept can be used in any business or personal situation.  Belichick has a philosophy of coaching that seems to bring out the best in his players.  His players are never really the most physically gifted but somehow they play amazingly well as a team.  He gathers the parts and they are greater than their sum.  Those parts will be in Indianapolis a week from Sunday and I would not be surprised to see them holding the Lombardi Trophy.  Talk with you soon.

 

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Taking Stock

It’s half time of the Broncos-Chiefs’ game and I am watching Romeo Crennell do a pretty job coaching Kansas City.  Why is this game so significant to the Chiefs?  Well, for Coach Crennell, it is a second chance.  Romeo aka RAC was a defensive line coach for the Jets when I was in New York and followed Bill Belichick to New England.  RAC got his chance to be the head coach for the Cleveland Browns a few years back and didn’t last long.  The Browns just never seem to turn the corner no matter who coaches them.  RAC is now auditioning for a possible head coaching job again and maybe with the Chiefs.

Bill Belichick had a stint with the Browns as well and was fired.  Belichick got a second chance and learned from his experience and now is an all-time great coach.  We don’t always get second chances to succeed at the highest level.  But, we always get a second chance at some level.  What we do with that second chance often defines us.  Mike Shanahan got a second chance in Denver and won two Super Bowls.

Life is about second chances, about redemption.  Very few of us succeed all the time or even most of the time.  The key to success is learning from the experience and getting better.  Coach Belichick just got a lot better and it has shown over and over.  Romeo Crennell has a chance to show everyone he has gotten better as well.  What will he do with it?

How about you?  Have you been fired? let go? quit?  Have you learned from previous seeming failures?  It is only a failure if you don’t get better.  Success is about getting up off the canvas and fighting again.  Often we get a second chance, but have we learned from the first chance.  Sometimes, no, often times, we have to retool and reinvent ourselves for the second run.  As leaders, it is the nature of our positions to be relieved of our duties.  How we handle that disappoint will ultimately define us.  Get it right the second time.  Analyze what you could have done differently, educate yourself and get better.  Take notes and improve yourself.  Take stock and succeed.

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Going Through The Motions

I had a football Sunday.  I needed some rest and spent the better part of the day watching some games.  I caught parts of the Jets, Giants, and Ravens games and I was taken aback by the efforts I saw.  This, combined with the Packers’ and Titans’ games, inspired me to write this post.

Yesterday, I saw some teams seemingly sleepwalking through their games and others full of emotion and production.  I know that the Giants had a lot to play for with regard to their playoff hopes and dreams, but I was surprised by their lethargic play on both sides of the ball.  The Jets were less lethargic but played frenetically and made mental errors all over the field.  They were just outplayed.  The Ravens allowed the Chargers to jump all over them and never were competitive.  The Titans lost to the winless Colts.  The Packers lost to the Chiefs for their first loss of the season.

Teams which seemed to have little to play for won and teams which had everything to play for seemed to be playing in sand.  How can this be?  Actually it is quite common.  Here is what I mean.

Teams always have something to play for.   Maybe they are not playing for playoff positions or for titles but since teams are made up of people and these people have their jobs on the line each week, teams have something to play for.  Each player is still evaluated.  Each coach is still evaluated even when the team as a whole is not in the hunt.  As long as people think that they have something to gain by preparing and playing hard, they will.  If they don’t, many won’t.  It is human nature that when nothing seems to be at stake people take their feet off the people pedals and cruise.  That’s the key, keeping everyone believing that they are playing for something.  Most won’t quit on you if they do.

As a leader, you will run into times when it will seem that those under you are not putting as much effort in.  Many times this is a result of their not believing that their effort is in their best interests or the interests of people, causes, and things they care about.  For some you will have to continuously monitor their effort and give them things to care about. For others, they are self-motivated and will require little motivation or attention.  It is your job to know the difference and act accordingly.  Most people need a push at times and some need you to back off.  It is your job to find the right buttons to push and at the right time.

Things to think about.  Do I understand those I lead well enough to know which buttons to push?  What motivational tools are at my disposal and when should I use them?  When do I need to back off and let the self starters do their thing?

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Tebow #2

I haven’t been able to watch Tim Tebow play much this season.  I have seen the occasional highlight and post-game interview.  I saw a few plays from the Jets-Broncos game earlier in the season.  For the most part, I have not seen him.  The Denver Broncos are 7-1 with him at the reins and in first place in their division.  They have a tough match up against New England coming up next Sunday and that will test Tebow and his teammates.

One thing I have noticed about Tebow is that he believes.  Obviously he is a man of faith and believes in God and expresses his beliefs openly.  I think that belief steadies his internal ship and gives him the confidence that no matter what happens on or off the field, he is going to be ok.  That kind of contentment confidence engages others and I believe that it helps his teammates.  As a leader, others want to see that you are confident and assured.  They want to see that no matter the storm, you can calm the seas.  Tebow is bringing that to his team.  It is an intangible that cannot be easily measured unless you are looking at the most important measureable…wins.  Tebow has them winning unwinnable games because they don’t quit.

Teams don’t throw in the towel when their leader won’t let them.  That is what Tebow brings, everlasting hope.  They may win.  They may lose. But the leader that refuses to give up gives his/her team the best chance of succeeding. Believing in your team, in each other, in yourself, in your leader, in your philosophy, in your definition of success, will get the most out of your group.

The Broncos are winning these games because they are taking their cues from their leader who refuses to quit.  It is easy to get discouraged and quit.  The road less traveled is often the longer, rockier, uphill one.  Yet, it is that road, the hard road that wins most often.

Ask yourself.  Do I quit?  Do others see me quit?  When I see others quit, what does it do to me?  How can I develop stronger character which will sustain me when things seem unwinnable?  What helps ME believe?

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Pegs and Holes

Pegs and Holes

 

If you have followed football for any length of time lately you know who Tim Tebow is.  He is the current starting quarterback for the Denver Broncos.  He played at the University of Florida and was an absolute star in college.  He won the Heisman Trophy.  He was arguably the greatest college football player of all time.  He played with a style and swagger all his own.  He played like a linebacker or fullback.  He did not have a classic throwing motion.  He threw more like a left-handed sidearm pitcher than a major college quarterback.

 

Coming out of Florida, he was drafted in the first round by the Broncos and was asked to work on his throwing motion and his other quarterbacking skills.  For most of his college career he operated out of the shotgun and ran an option offense where he ran the ball much of the time.  He was not often required to throw the ball with pinpoint accuracy.  He seldom dropped back to pass from under center like most professional quarterbacks are required to do.

 

He played a bit last season toward the end.  He played pretty well.  The Broncos had some major changes.  The head coach was fired and a new general manager was hired.  John Fox, the former Panthers’ coach took the reins in Denver and John Elway, the former Broncos legendary quarterback, became the GM.  Denver entered this season with classic qb Kyle Orton as the starter and Tebow down on the depth chart.

 

This blog is not really about Tebow.  It is about John Fox, the head coach of the Broncos.  John Fox is an excellent coach.  He took Carolina to the Super Bowl a few years back and is a defensive guru.  John Fox had a decision to make when first-string Kyle Orton played poorly at the beginning of the season and the team began losing games.  The fans were calling for a change and Tebow was there readying himself to play if called upon.  Fox never coached a quarterback like Tebow in the pros.  The Denver offense was a classic, dropback/shotgun offense based on a strong running game and the quarterback passing primarily in the pocket.

 

Fox changed quarterbacks and started Tebow and it was immediately visible that the Broncos’ new starter would not thrive in this drop back, pocket passing game.  Fox had another decision to make.  Should he bench Tebow, go back to Orton, or go to third-stringer Brady Quinn?  Or maybe there was another option to consider?

 

Fox changed.  The Broncos’ offense changed as well.  They began calling plays suited to Tebow’s strengths…more rollouts, more shotgun formations, more run-option plays.  Fox understood that at this point in his career, Tebow needed something different than what the Broncos had been using under Orton.  Denver needed to change the scheme to fit the player in order to give themselves the best chance to win.  Great leaders do this.  They flex when necessary.

 

Fox recognized that for his team to have the best chance to win they needed to put their quarterback in the best position to win.  Square pegs don’t fit into round holes.  So, either change the peg or change the hole.  Great leaders know how to get the best out of those whom they lead.  They understand how to put them in positions to succeed.  They flex when flexing is necessary.  Great leaders know the gifting and skill sets of those around them and they get the most out of them.

 

Things to think about:  Do you understand the gifting, experience, and skills of those you lead?  Are you flexible enough to put others in position to succeed even if it means changing some things?

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Oops!

We all make mistakes of many kinds. We are human. No one gets it right every time. We all can agree on this. Yesterday, some things happened in the Jets-Bills’ game that served to remind me of our human frailties and failings.

This story is about Stevie Johnson, the Bills’ number one receiver. Now, let me first say that Johnson is a good player. He made quite a few good plays and really challenged Darrelle Revis yesterday. Revis was the Jets’ star defensive back assigned to cover Johnson all day. Stevie Johnson had a number of timely catches. None were spectacular. Most just moved the chains and kept drives alive. Johnson did a nice job.

In the first half Johnson caught a quick slant for a touchdown on Revis. This gave Buffalo all the momentum and the lead 14-7. Johnson then proceeded to mimic accidentally shooting himself in the leg. This was significant in that Jets’ receiver, Plaxico Burress had shot himself in the leg a couple of years ago and served two years in prison for carrying a concealed weapon in New York City. Johnson continued his post-touchdown antics by mimicking a plane with his arms out to the sides. This is something that the Jets do to celebrate touchdowns. Only Johnson took it a step further and pretended to crash. All this led to a 15-yard unsportsmanlike penalty against Buffalo which was enforced on the following kickoff.

The Bills kicked off from their 20-yard line instead of the usual 35-yard line. Dave Rayner, the Buffalo kicker, was instructed to squib kick the ball because of the penalty and mis-hit the ball and it nailed a frontline player for the Jets and the Jets recovered the ball at about the Bills’ 30-yard line. New York easily scored from this position to tie the game before the half. The Bills prior to this point had control of the game and lost that control.

Fast-forward to the end of the game. With less than thirty seconds and the Bills down by four point, Buffalo quarterback seemingly threw a pass that would have put the Bills in the lead and likely win the game…but Stevie Johnson dropped it. It went right through his hands…game over.

Two mistakes…both cost his team dearly. To Johnson’s credit, he has admitted his fault, but this requires a deeper look. Both mistakes were caused by one player. Both were debilitating. Both were very different from each other.

One mistake was a lapse in judgment, sheer stupidity. Mimicking someone getting shot as part of a celebration was simply out-of-line and hurt the whole team. The other mistake was a physical error, misjudging the flight and speed of the ball and not catching it. It hurt the whole team. Both were mistakes.

There are different kinds of errors and as a leader it is important to understand how to deal with these different types of mistakes. Let’s take a deeper look.

Errors in Judgment: These are mistakes that involve poor judgment and come from a poor attitude, usually self-centeredness. This is often due to immaturity. These can and need to be corrected right away or they tear the team apart. What Johnson did was by his own account “just having fun.” As a parent, you may have heard that reasoning before. “Son, why did you drive 70mph in a 35mph zone?” He answers, “I was just having fun.” This happens in the work place, too. Inappropriate fun at the expense of others and/or productivity leads to lawsuits and shoddy work. You can fix this and you must, quickly. Lay down the law as you have the leverage.

Mental Errors: These are mistakes in mental judgment and come from a lack of preparation or experience. These come from fatigue or lack of concentration. These can be corrected but may take time. These get fixed through training and being properly prepared. Most of these errors have more to do with aptitude rather than attitude. These can be fixed.

Physical Errors: These are mistakes in physical judgment. These happen more often in active jobs like construction. These mistakes could involve dropping an item or losing control of a tool. These may involve muscle fatigue, lack of strength, or lack of perception. Lack of concentration and focus can be issues as well. These may be harder to fix and will involve repetitive training. Some people with great attitudes and mental focus may not be able to handle the physical nature of their task for many reasons. These may or may not be fixed.

Here is the point. Stevie Johnson cost is team both because of errors in judgment related to his attitude and his inability to catch a deep post. The coaches’ job in Buffalo will be to work on both. But they take different approaches. As you lead, remember that people will make mistakes. It is your job to decipher the cause and help get this fixed. Getting better is about taking the steps necessary to fix the problem and that is part of leading.

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The Basics

Today was another day of home improvement…hanging window treatments! In between taking measurements, looking for the Philip’s head driver, and dropping screws endlessly into the ground-level heat vent, I heard a comment from the San Francisco-Arizona game that struck me. Former NFL Coach Brian Billick made an interesting point about the kinds of players he wanted to avoid when he was coaching. He said that he “didn’t want players who can’t do what you ask them to do or can only do what you ask them to do.” I thought that was very insightful and worthy of a few comments with regard to leadership and development.

When I think about one of the main characteristics of a good leader I think about someone who has the ability to both develop people to do things the leader’s way AND allow people to do things their own way. Here is what I mean. Good leaders are able to impart a standard operating procedure that is both productive and acceptable and reflects the passion and philosophy of the leader. Yet, the leaders also must give people the ability to “spread their wings” and fly. There will be times for both. There will be times for conformity and innovation. Both are critical. No one wants a loose cannon and no one wants a robot. The leader must allow for ingenuity while insisting on appropriate boundaries. Great employees and volunteers come in all shapes and sizes. They come with different gift sets and passions. Some are motivated by the stick, some the carrot. Some require more standardization. Some need space. Your job is to get the “company policy” stickler to be creative and to get the pioneer to be accountable. That is tricky. If your tendency is tilted to either side, then you could be less effective with those under you who have a different bent.

In the NFL you want a quarterback who understands the game plan. You want a quarterback who understands the coach’s vision and seeks to impart that vision on and off the field. But you don’t want an automaton, someone who cannot improvise. You want someone who has the freedom to win either by rote or by whim. I think when you are hiring that you should look for people who have the emotional intelligence to stick with the plan but are able to flex when needed. I think that a wide variety of life experiences allows one to have the maturity to do this. Life is neither by rote or by whim. We have science and art, left brains and right brains. Well-rounded people will give you the best chance to succeed. It is hard to measure well-roundedness. I don’t know of any particular measurable in this area. This is where a great leader must have great instincts. Ask yourself, can this person do what I ask them to and know what to do when I don’t?

Think about this. Do you tend to “play by the book” too much or tend to “let it fly”? Are you able to lead others who are unlike you in this regard? How do you rein some in and kick others “out of the nest?”

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