What's Love Got to Do With It?

The greatest honor that comes with being a leader is the opportunity to impact the lives of the people you are leading. Impacting them in such a way that your positive influence touches every area of their life. It increases the value they add in their professional career to their teammates and customers…increases the value they add to their relationships at home and in their community and it provides an example for the power of paying it forward. 

See, I think you would be hard pressed to look into the background of any successful leader and not find at least one person who made a positive impact in their life. Someone who believed in them more than they believed in themselves at times. Someone who genuinely cared about them as a person and was also comfortable with holding them accountable. 

For many of us that person is often an athletic coach. Regardless of the sport, the great coaches have a way to get to their people — touching their minds and their hearts. They are the ones that do not pound themselves on the chest to tell you how great they are because they are too busy picking people up as they realize it is all about what you give not the attention you get. 

Great coaches want to develop the complete person and not just the athlete and they care just as much about the growth of the person sitting at the end of their bench as they do for their superstar. They teach that if you work hard enough, long enough, and smart enough good things will happen. 

The elite coaches do things the right way, for the right reasons, and at the right time. 

I was blessed to not only play high school basketball for an elite coach, but to also be able to call him Dad. 

It only took us 11 years after his retirement, but we finally put together a golf outing and it was not to honor him, but rather to get the guys back together to catch up and have a few thousand laughs. We even named it after one of the most brutal drills he ever ran, the alley drill. 

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There were guys from the west coast and guys from east coast, guys who got up at the crack of dan to get there — one flying standby from Omaha and one driving up from Central Illinois. 

There was a former Commanding Officer and Executive Officer for Naval Air Station Oceana, a successful high school girls basketball coach, executive recruiters, financial planners, business owners, and an array of other successful professionals. 

These guys are all successful and they still carry themselves with the edge which was required to play in the Palatine Basketball program for four years. Confident not cocky, selfless, confident, comedians, and an abundance of positive energy. 

And each one spoke about the impact that coach had, and still has on them as they want on to share stories about things, he did for them during times of success and times of struggle. 

As things were winding down, I hugged a former teammate who is an extremely successful businessman and he asked me what the key was to my Dad being able to have such an impact on so many people’s lives for such a long period of time. 

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The answer was simple as I told him what allowed him to be so successful and to impact the people involved in his business was the very same driver of the impact my Dad had on his players. 

Love.

Love what you do.

Love who you do it with.

Love who you do it for.

Love for What You Do

The leaders who have the greatest impact on their people have an absolute passion for what they do. That does not mean, by any stretch of the imagination, that they love everything about their job. Not close. 

For example, when I was coaching college basketball I did not always love some of the things that went on inside the recruiting process but I loved building the relationships with the kids, as well as their parents, coaches and other folks who were a part of their inner circle. 

Recognize the opportunity you have each day to help your people grow and achieve things that maybe they thought they were not capable of. Appreciate the fact that they are going to lean into you for leadership.

Love Who You Do It With

Who are you in the trenches with? Be intentional about identifying everyone who is on your team. When I say everyone, I mean everyone. The receptionist, support staff, your team, and your family. 

Think about the teams you have been a part of that were truly special. Teams that you knew you were better for being a part of and that feeling you had for each other. Again, it doesn’t always mean it was unicorns and rainbows, you went through some trying times, disagreed and grew together. But at the end of the day you loved working together and you cared about each other. 

Love Who You Do It For

Loving who you do it for will get you through some pretty challenging times as well as to stay aligned with your values and mission. 

So, who do you do it for? 

You are not only impacting your employees, your team and your customers — you are impacting their families and friends as well. 

When you lead with love you do things the right way, for the right reasons and you try like heck to do it at the right time. This  will help you make decisions quicker with more confidence…make yourself vulnerable…develop a self-confidence that is contagious…operate with a positive energy that your team can feel…lead authentically…grow through adversity, learn from failure and sustain success…drive culture that is the foundation of a resilient organization.

And — it provides you the opportunity to make an IMPACT that will last a lifetime.

It All Comes Down to Trust

They say association becomes assimilation which worked out well for me at an early age. See, studying what made successful coaches such great leaders and how they got the most out of their team’s ability was just a way of life to me as my Dad was a successful high school basketball coach who is known more for the impact he had on his players than any of his 500 plus wins. 

My childhood was literally a clinic on leadership between my Dad and his inner circle. They were giants in my life, mentors before I knew what that meant, and they showed me what it took to develop championship teams. 

As my playing career evolved into my coaching career, I became very intentional about studying the habits, traits, behavior, and philosophies of those whom I consider to be great coaches and great leaders. I would do anything I could to learn as much as possible about what it took to get the most out of your players, to get buy-in, to have the ability to push your players outside of their comfort zone physically and mentally all the while your players knowing you care about them, how to get a team of high school superstars to operate as one and realize they were a part of something bigger than themselves, and how to create an environment that nurtured competitive greatness which resulted in a championship culture where everyone took joy in going to battle together. 

Certain things became apparent to me. I realized that great coaches are able to see more in their people than they sometimes see in themselves. They believe in their people, want them to succeed, and are committed to helping each team member reach their potential. I do mean each and every team member as they understand that the value a person brings to the organization is how well they embrace and execute their role. 

The great coaches get the most out of their people because they invest the most in their people. 

I want to share something else I learned which I believe is so key to our success in the business world as we work with leaders to shift from a manager’s mindset to a coach’s mindset. Coaching is not something you do…rather a coach is someone you become. 

As I look back over my business career and coaching career, I realize that there is one cornerstone of every coaching relationship. It is what it all comes back to. This cornerstone is the key to developing people, building amazing relationships, experiencing sustained success, and increasing the level of positive influence you have on others. 

The cornerstone of every coaching relationship is TRUST. Establishing a high level of trust allows you to establish expectations on your team, effectively coach them, and to establish accountability at an elite level. 

When you earn the trust of your people…and trust is definitely earned not given…they are going to feel safe to get outside their comfort zones, take risks, learn from failure, grow through adversity, and they will make themselves vulnerable to you. They will be more open to your leadership and be coachable. 

The coaches I trusted the most had an influence on me that will stay with me the rest of my life. 

Earning trust is not complicated and it is not rocket science. 

Trust starts with honesty. 

One of my all-time favorite coaches regardless of sport or level is Gregg Popovich of the San Antonio Spurs. You want to talk about sustained success.

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Pop has led the Spurs to a winning season in each of his 22 full seasons of coaching, five NBA Titles and has been named NBA Coach of the Year three times. 

It is no secret that his guys love to play for him even though he can get after them a bit. The reason, they trust immensely and that all starts with his honesty. Business Insider asked Pop about his honesty with the players and he had this to say:

“They are different. I just try to be as honest with them as I can. I just think blowing smoke at guys and trying to manipulate guys or trick guys into thinking this or that, it doesn’t work. And it’s tiresome…if you are just brutally honest with guys, when they do well, love them and praise them and they do poorly, get on their butt and let them know it and let them know you care. And if a player knows that you really care and believes that you can make it better, you got the guy for life.”

The other part of being honest is keeping your word and doing what you say you are going to do, when you say you are going to do it. 

People will forgive a skill gap and even a knowledge gap, but they will never tolerate dishonesty as that causes the most difficult gap to close and that is the trust gap.

Four other ways you build trust:

Integrity

Your behavior and execution have to be aligned with your stated values and beliefs. It is easy to fall prey to integrity slippage not only when we are dealing with adversity but when we are tempted by shortcuts as we are looking success in the eye.

Vulnerability

People want to know they are valued and that what they think and do matters. As a leader, it is powerful when you stop thinking you are responsible for having all the answers and instead focusing on working toward the solutions with your team. By asking for input and assistance you are letting that person know that you value them, you value their opinions, and that you trust them because you are being vulnerable with them.

Discretion

This is when they know you have their back! As a leader you help your people grow through adversity and celebrate each success. They need to know that your door truly is always open and that you genuinely care and are invested in them as a person. There is a comfort in that and it contributes to the safety factor in your culture. As your people open up to you they will share with you the information you need to know in order to make decisions based on where they are at in their head and what is going on in their world. 

Consistency

Your team needs to know what to expect from you on a daily basis and in different circumstances. They need to know they can count on you and that you walk the talk, which separates you from many other leaders. Your consistency is what supports, strengthens and elevates the level of trust your people have in you. 

One of the challenges most companies are facing right now is recruiting in a tight labor market which also puts the focus on retaining your top talent and developing your “bench.” 

When your people feel they can trust you because you are honest, operate with integrity, vulnerable, discrete, and consistent…they are not going to want to leave and the ones who are struggling are going to do everything they can to grow so that they can make a significant contribution in their role. 

Take some time and visualize the vibe of the culture an unshakeable foundation of trust can create and the results we have talked about. Retention, developing talent, recruiting top talent, and joy. 

The great coaches…great leaders…embrace the opportunity to make a positive impact on their people while building an elite team and program. They may not always like what the job entails, but they take great satisfaction in the work they are doing. 

The cornerstone of all of this?

Trust!

As a leader it would behoove you to sit down and be honest with yourself when you answer the questions:

Am I consistently operating with integrity?

Do I make myself vulnerable when appropriate?

Am I discrete and does my team know they can talk to me about anything, that I am truly here for them?

Can my team predict how I will respond in a given situation?

Check out Episode 52 of The Athletics of Business podcast where I discuss the topic of trust along with the DNA of a Great Coach!

Want What Matters Most

There are certain pictures of your children that make you pause as they truly capture your little one in a moment of pure JOY. There is nothing like the feeling as a parent knowing that your child is genuinely happy. Not just smiling because you told them to as you snapped a picture…but that unscripted moment where they do not have a care in the world other than what is making them smile.

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That is this picture of our daughter Maddie opening a present on the morning of her 7th birthday!

Since I was the cameraman, we feel quite fortunate that we actually captured that moment. And in full disclosure, I look at it about ten times a day because she is glowing.

Maddie knew that the Nintendo Switch inside that bag was a reward for being such an incredible little girl who tries her hardest to make good choices, is kind to people, and says please and thank you.

Oh, if life could stay so simple for our kids.

I am excited about what the future holds for Maddie and her brother EJ. Of course, you hope and pray they don’t make the same mistakes you made yet you know they need to make some to learn. The one mistake I hope to help them avoid making is to identify who they are by what they do.

I see it all the time with my clients, whether it be executive coaching clients or corporate clients.

Think about it though….isn’t how we are programmed by society at a young age?

“What do you want to be when you grow up?”

Shouldn’t we be asking them, “What type of person do you want to be?!”

For some reason, I woke up quite early the Sunday before Maddie’s birthday and retreated to my office to write. What I found myself writing was a journal entry on what I wanted for my daughter in life.

I wrote quick and what came to mind immediately. I wrote from the heart and was actually moved to laughter and tears as I pictured her one day reading this and both giving me a hard time and a thank you hug.

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Here is the entry!

In three days, Maddie will be seven years old….whoa! She is growing up to be such a free-spirited, fun-loving, and adventurous girl. I find myself “wanting” certain things for her.

Things like…

A strong circle of friends who contribute to her growth, make positive choices, love her for who she is and who she wants to be. Friends who support her and lift her up for her good and not theirs. In other words, they are genuine, authentic, and consistent.

And I want her to do the same.

I want for her to love, care, and support her friends and family — not to make her look good but to help them grow while pursuing their dreams and navigating their journey.

I want Maddie to never feel the need to wait for others permission to be great or to worry about others acceptance of her ‘Why.’

To understand at the right age that life can be short and not in a negative way. Because life can be glorious and it is full of opportunity…to do more and be more.

To do more good while serving others and to be more curious, adventurous, and knowledgeable.

I want her to understand…all kidding aside…that she is, in fact, a mass of energy, one that is either expanding or contracting…..that we simply do not remain the same.

With that, I want for her to operate every day with a growth mindset and to realize the importance of grit.

With grit all things are possible and without it…well, greatness will always just be out of reach.

I want for her to be kind, caring, loving, and compassionate not just to others, but to herself as well!

I want for her to get 1% better every day by accumulating positive habits and making the right choices.

That starts with the first choice she gets to make every day…her attitude.

I want for her to choose a positive attitude and to exude positive energy.

Speaking of positive energy…I want for her to confidently choose where to direct her attention and to understand what she focuses her mind on will drive her beliefs and those beliefs will dictate her behavior…a behavior that will empower her to be part of the solution, not part of the problem.

I want for her to find joy in competing and to realize that sometimes you win and sometimes you learn.

I want for her to see opportunity in adversity…lessons in what may seem like failure…humility in her success.

I want for her to be happy, to find her ‘Why’, passion and purpose on her terms and not the terms dictated by society, social media, and her peers.

I want for her to be a great teammate.

I want for her to know that the best path to being whatever she wants to be is to first decide what type of person she wants to be.

I want her to know that an unsatisfied heart cannot be changed by an outward accomplishment or material possessions.

I want her to learn at an early age that being this type of person is both rewarding and fulfilling. 

I want her to know that people may not remember the jobs and titles that you have but they will always remember how you made them feel.

And at the end of the day…I want for her to have learned all this by having a Father who consistently modeled this behavior to the best of his ability…every single day!

Never would I have ever imagined I would share a journal entry. As I wrote though, it dawned on me that the words going down on paper and the emotions being stirred were so applicable to what I work on with my clients.

Think about it…

From a leadership perspective, how powerful would it be if this were the things you wanted from your people?

AND…

How powerful would it be if you consistently modeled it for your people?

Let me answer that for you…POWERFUL!

I have always said that a team is a direct reflection of their head coach. Imagine the level of authenticity you can reach by focusing on your inner circle, responding to adversity, learning through failure, having a positive attitude, accumulating positive habits, having grit, showing care/compassion/love for your team and operating in that sweet spot where your passion, purpose, and skill intersect.

Most importantly, doing it all consistently.

Your culture would thrive, your sales would go up, retention would increase, recruiting would improve, and all these things would be sustainable.

I encourage you to take some time to write out what you want for your people and then communicate that to them whether it be in a 1-on-1 or in a group setting. This is just one step into helping them realize that their job does have meaning, their work is important, and that they are valued.

Accept the Challenge

A good coach can change a game; a great coach can change a life. ~ John Wooden

Regardless of your field of endeavor or the path you have taken to get to where you are today, there are people who come into your life and impact you in ways you cannot imagine. They represent something to you, whether it be hope, belief, resilience, persistence, joy, struggle, passion, loyalty, humor or family.

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Tony Barone...Coach B…was one of those people in my life.

After graduating from Duke University where he played on a Final 4 team and an Academic All-American he coached at his St. George H.S. (Chicago), Mt. Carmel H.S (Chicago), Duke University, St. Rita (Chicago), Bradley University (Assistant), Creighton University (Head Coach), Texas A&M University (Head Coach), and the Memphis Grizzlies (various roles in personnel and player development, assistant coach and Interim Head Coach).

I played for Coach at Creighton University and experienced the highs of college basketball while I was there. We won a Missouri Valley Conference regular season and MVC Tournament Championship, made the NCAA Tournament, and the NIT.

Unfortunately, I also experienced the lows of college basketball as I was an assistant coach for Tony at Texas A&M when he was fired in 1998. An event that, though it changed the course of my life, would go on to deepen the relationship which Coach B and I shared.

Coach’s impact on me and countless others transcended the game of basketball.

On Saturday, June 29th , hundreds of us gathered at his funeral on the north side of Chicago, not far from Wrigley Field where he served as a bat boy growing up. We shared laughs and tears, told stories of triumphs and maybe a few disasters, said the words “remember when…” countless times, and then each of us most likely retreated to some place in our own mind and wished we could do it all over again with Coach.

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Like all of us, Coach was not perfect and he had his flaws. But his heart, sense of humor, infectious smile, passion for the game and passion for people overcame everything. As I said on social media….Coach could light any room, any gym, and any referee!

There are two things that were said about Coach in each story, whether it was a family member, former player, former assistant, or friend.

First, Coach genuinely cared about, and was interested in, how you were doing. It did not matter whether or not you could ever help him win games or land a player. He was always asking people about their families, sending handwritten notes, picking up the phone and calling and sharing a laugh with whomever he happened to be sharing a conversation.

Second, and this was powerful, Coach had the ability to see things in you that you could not see in yourself. Then, he had the ability to get you to achieve things individually and collectively that even you may not have imagined possible.

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While at Creighton he created ‘Operation BlueJay’ where we fed the homeless in Omaha, including on Thanksgiving morning. This was no publicity stunt…..we spent the morning there dishing out food, eating with the folks that were staying at the shelter, playing cards and checkers with them, and being intentional about having conversations where we got to know a little bit about their story.

He also started ‘Booking with Barone’ at Creighton, which was a program to encourage reading in the grade schools of Omaha. There was a book reading contest with great rewards attached and me and my teammates would take turns going and reading to the younger kids. It was a blast.

Those programs taught us the power of serving our community and to use our positions of influence to positively impact others. We had became closer as a team and learned some things about ourselves along the way.

Then...there was the basketball side of things. Articulating all the lessons I learned while playing for Coach is nearly impossible in an blog post but I would love to share a few:

  • Dream Big because to be the best you must beat the best….my sophomore year we beat Nebraska, ND, Iowa State, Virginia Tech

  • Accept the Challenge….my freshman year we were picked to finish second to last in the MVC and we won the regular season title and the MVC tournament championship and went on to the NCAA tournament

  • Do More….you can always do one more rep, get up one more shot, play just a little bit harder, be a better teammate

  • Believe….it didn’t matter who doubted you, as long as you locked into the process and focused on controlling what you can control then you had no reason not to believe in yourself

  • Family Culture…our programs were not like a family we were a family and you fight for your families and you fight for that culture

  • There was a vision, an established set of expectations and if we did not meet those expectations we were held accountable….but he loved us and cared about us, especially away from the basketball floor

  • Care…It was that genuine concern for you away from basketball that truly made Coach so special

So many people dropped everything they were doing, some traveling cross-country, to say goodbye to Coach B one last time.

For me, there will be no last time because the impact he had on me will always show in the relationships I have with my family, friends, and strangers. It will show up every time I ask the barista at Starbucks or the parking attendant in the parking garage how they are doing….and I will try my best to leave them with a smile on my face, just like Coach did.

As a leader it is critical for you to realize the opportunity you have in front of you to positively impact every team member’s life in such a way that you let them know that they are important, that their role is valued, and that what they are doing has meaning that extends well beyond the boundaries of work.

Do not ever sell yourself short as a leader. The impact you have on your people, the confidence they gain, the mental strength they build, the joy they get from the laughs you share, and the resilience they build from growing through adversity with you will show up in all aspects of their life, thus multiplying the impact you had on them.

As I told Coach’s son Brian who is the Head Men’s Basketball Coach at Southern Illinois University- Edwardsville, Coach would have been extremely successful in any career he chose to pursue because of his ability to genuinely connect with people, see the best in others, set expectations for his team, hold each person accountable, and then his masterful skill of getting others to achieve things they may have never thought possible.

Take a page out of Coach’s book and get your people to stretch themselves, believe, find joy in what they do, purpose in what they are doing, and become something they may have never thought they could become and in doing so multiply your leadership at home, in the community, and with the teams they will lead in the future.

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Getting to Them

There will be a number of conversations and talks throughout your professional career that you will never forget. You will always be able to see the look on the other person’s face, hear the words that were said and remember the thoughts running through your head as things unfolded.

As a college basketball coach, those conversations usually were a result of me talking to a player not about basketball, but about life. Their effort, inner circle, attitude, choices, circumstances, energy level, and the type of teammate they were.

Sometimes you could see the light bulb go on and their eyes light up and other times your words just fell on deaf ears. Regardless, you kept trying to figure out how to get to them.

That is just how I was raised……to understand the honor in the opportunity to make a positive impact on someone’s life. Especially a young person who may not have been exposed to a positive learning environment. Maybe they have heard what they wanted to instead of what they needed to, maybe they have had experiences that have made them a hard person who does not trust others, circumstances that cause them to lack self-confidence and breaks their will, and maybe…….just maybe….they made a choice or two that created a mess in their life as opposed to driving success.

May 3rd , 2019 was one of those days. I was invited to speak to over 900 Juniors and Seniors at our high school’s pre-prom assembly.

900 Juniors and Seniors, the night before their prom and I was following up a 55-minute presentation on the dangers of impaired driving as well as texting and driving. It was an amazing presentation but not one that was easy to follow. Especially when my plan was to tell them more things they needed to hear and not necessarily what they wanted to hear.

Now, I get to speak to and work with amazing leaders all the time in my line of work. Heck, this past April I shared the stage for a full day with Don Yaeger where we talked about Unleashing Greatness. Regardless of who I speak to or what the event is, I feel a tremendous sense of responsibility to deliver no matter how I feel or the challenges I face.

However, I am not sure I have ever felt more responsible and a greater sense of duty than I did that morning.

Why?

Because for 35 minutes I had the eyes and ears of those kids who had zero idea of what I possibly could say that would mean anything. Truth was, I had a lot to say and I was prepared to entertain and educate.

Something happened though right as I was about to talk and I went to complete default mode and followed my gut.

They didn’t want rehearsed, they wanted substance. Don’t get me wrong, you absolutely can have both. As a matter of fact that is how I make my living by having both. But, not that morning. I was going with my gut and most importantly from my heart.

What we talked about was no different than the things I work with business clients on, just a few different stories.

Our experiences shape us.

Our circumstances do not define us.

The choices we make, make us.

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I was not standing there in front of them simply trying to motivate them and get them to see how great their lives were if they could just peel away all of the crap. Like us, kids spend an incredible amount of time worried about what they THINK others think about them.

What I wanted to do was to inspire them to take action and make the right choices. Not just the big ones, but the little ones as well. To focus on the what they could control every single day…….attitude, gratitude, where they directed their attention, what things they valued, and their inner circle.

I was shocked when I saw their eyes light up when I talked about the power of a positive attitude and that the attitude they chose to have that day was the first decision they GET to make every day. Even before they decide if, not when, they will get out of bed!

See, a high percentage of them lose the attitude choice as soon as they go to their phone first thing in the morning and look at what is out there on social media. It was as if they had never heard (though I know they have because we have unbelievable people working with these kids every day) that where they direct their attention will dictate their thoughts and those thoughts will determine their beliefs and thus their actions.

I do not envy all that these kids have to deal with today, yet I believe that if we teach them how to grow through that stress and not just get through it then we are preparing them for their journey. That is why I urged them to shift their focus to what they have and away from what they don’t have or what others have that they want. To be grateful for the opportunities ahead of them and away from the circumstances they may allow to control them.

Sound familiar?

Finally, I spent a lot of time on their inner circle and the positive consequences involved in making the choice of surrounding yourself with the right people.

Why?

Because at the end of the day in order to be successful what is one of the things that you absolutely have to do…..fail.

Don’t you want folks in you inner circle who have your back, who care? Don’t you need folks in your inner circle who will hold you accountable, yet at the same time provide a relationship where it is safe for you to get outside of your comfort zone, fail, and then be supported, encouraged, and pushed to keep going?

Then why let toxic people in your world at all. Heck, I am not saying you need all angels in your inner circle. You need real people, with real work ethics who have similar values.

Would you want you kids to look up to them and grow up to be like them? Do they have your back, would you get in a foxhole with them? If you are laying on your deathbed would you want them to visit, hold your hand and have a conversation? If your back is up against the wall and you called them, would they stop what they are doing and ask how they could help…..and then help?

I explained to them that the habits they accumulate know, the type of relationships they build now, and the attention they make to making the right choices will show up later in life in their careers, regardless of what path they choose. By making positive choices now they will enjoy the benefits later.

Finally, I said that the most important thing for them to understand in all of this is that they are going to leave a legacy everywhere they go to school, every relationship they are in, and eventually everywhere they work.

Serve others. Serve your inner circle. Give, don’t take. Be part of the solution and not part of the problem. Stay humble and hungry and GIVE YOURSELF PERMISSION TO BE GREAT. You do not need permission from others to be a massive success, however success looks to you.

My intention was not to simply motivate them, but to inspire them to do the little things as much and as well as they possibly can.

I encourage you, heck I challenge you, to think about how different things would look if you were able to have this conversation with yourself and the people on your team and inside of your organization.

Nothing dramatic, just really significant.