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.

Sometimes It Takes Being Benched to Remind Us Why We Are So Valuable

It is no secret that I am absolutely in love with my work. No different than when I was coaching basketball.

How so?

Well, I love to dig in with a client, whether it be an executive coaching client or a corporate client whom I am consulting. By dig in I mean to get to the root cause of what is keeping us from moving from where we are to where know we are capable of being. What strength can we leverage or what is it we are really good at that for some reason we stopped doing.

Now, I am not a year-round NBA guy, but I do enjoy the playoffs as the stakes are elevated every night and there always seems to be a new storyline and usually about someone the average fan is not aware of.

And…..there is a lesson inside of that story for all of us.

Take Patrick Beverly of the LA Clippers.

Beverly is a 30-year-old NBA vet who serves as an almost wise Uncle to the younger players as he has collected plenty of stories and advice during his journey. He was drafted in the 2nd round in 2009 by the LA Lakers, traded to Miami, waived by the Heat and played in Ukraine, Greece, and Russia before earning another chance with Houston in 2013.

Early in Beverly’s career, he listened to the advice of Will Bynum, a fellow Chicago native and NBA guard for eight seasons. Bynum told Beverly, who was known as a scorer in high school and college, “to carve out his niche on defense.” He told him to play hard even in garbage time. To embrace whatever role created opportunity!

However…..Beverly struggled early this year to buy-in to how Doc Rivers and the Clippers were doing things. Even though he struggled with the how early on, Beverly came to realize that they wanted the same thing…..wins! But Doc and Beverly had different opinions on what his role should be.

In November, Doc sat him down. Then the two talked and like any successful veteran in business, Beverly, despite his strong opinion about how it should be done, embraced Doc’s honest and directness on who things were going to be done. Not only did he embrace it, he accepted it and immediately adjusted his energy and got back to being selfless.

As Beverly said,

Everything kind of fell in place from there. Put the team first.

According to Clippers assistant, PJ Clark, “Pat is all about the team.” “He is going to be inclusive, and he’s going to try and bring everybody into the team concept.”

And, I do mean everybody.

Not too long ago a young Clippers staffer was eating alone during a road trip and was pleasantly surprised when Beverly called him over to join him at his table.

One of the things that makes Patrick Beverly invaluable without being most valuable (all credit to Don Yaeger for that saying!) is his willingness to share his experiences and knowledge with younger teammates such as Clippers reserve Sindarius Thornwell.

Thornwell says, “Pat is the vet that is going to break it down to you, to get you to understand what the coach is trying to get out of you and what you need to do to stay in the league and survive because he’s done all that.”

Beverly’s words have always held incredible value because of the process he followed to be an NBA vet, but the example of embracing his place on the team in November made him more valuable than ever.

Stories such as this take place in business every day.

Veterans changing companies and pushing back on a new way of doing things because they are so used to doing something a certain way.

People having a hard time adjusting to new leadership for one of a number of reasons….whether they are tired of change, tired of having to build a new relationship from the ground up with a new boss for the third time in four years (had a client who was that new boss and it was not easy for him), and some are just too stubborn to get outside their comfort zone after paying their dues.

I also see it in my clients who are VP’s, SVP’s, Directors, CEO’s and Managers where they know they are doing things the right way and have a team of people who “believe in” the process but they have one or two people who have the ability to be invaluable without being most valuable and yet they are holding the team back. It does not necessarily show up as major problems or acting out, just the everyday challenge of not being all-in.

The great leaders find a way to get to those people, to connect. How? They go to where those people are physically, mentally and emotionally. Then they appeal to their why and their purpose and communicate to them that they are important to the team and have a lot to offer when they do things a certain way.

It is okay to set expectations and to have consequences when those expectations are not met. I am talking about the process, responsibilities, and commitments.

The veterans who continue to positively impact their organization and team are the ones who always go back to the basics, the fundamentals, when they are struggling. They are constantly working on their self-awareness and having the ability to take external feedback and do something positive with it, no matter how hard it is to hear at times, is what sets them apart.

Just like Patrick Beverly!

There is no finish line for improving and being selfless. The great veterans realize they have much to offer and have a responsibility to the younger, as well as the newer members, of the team to mentor them and to mirror the behaviors that will make the organization successful.

Where do you fit in? Where do your veterans fit in? What lesson are you going to take from Patrick Beverly’s story and focus on? Is there someone in your organization or on your team who you need to connect with to get them to pivot and embrace your process?

Are you the veteran who needs to go back to the basics, the fundamentals?

Regardless of which person you are, being intentional about taking action will multiply the value you add and continue to build a culture worth fighting for!

What my Dad, Cal Ripken Jr., Derek Jeter, and Tim Duncan All Have in Common

Something I have learned from being a Dad is that when you are truly present you give yourself the chance to fully enjoy unscripted moments. Not just the excitement and the joy, but the underlying meaning that is attached to those involved.

One such moment occurred this past Labor Day weekend when my Dad, 74-years-young, competed in the Boyne City Triathlon. For those who know him, it was no shock. That is just what he does and who he is as a person. He is not a former professional triathlete, but a man who is authentic as the day is long. He has always set goals that pushed him and never stopped working toward those goals.

Hell, in the fall of 1985 he competed in the Lake Coralville Ironman, a 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike ride, and a 26.2-mile run. It was his first Triathlon of any distance at the age of 41. Insane? Maybe. Especially since the day was miserable and it was a last-minute decision if the race was going to be held because the weather was so hot. 90 degrees with 95 percent humidity, in Iowa. Nothing against Iowa, but that was not the exotic backdrop which the Hawaii Ironman provides. II7 people started the race and I believe somewhere around 21 finished. The 21st person was my Dad. A short while into the run when they realized he was the last one on the course, he was encouraged by race officials to call it a day and be proud of what he accomplished.

Bad move.

My Dad was not going to quit. As a matter of fact, it deepened his resolve to finish. Plus, he could not stop talking about having a beer and fried chicken afterwards. So, finish he did.

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Now here he is, crossing the finish line of his 17th triathlon (not counting the Ironman), and out of the crowd sprints his four-year old grandson. There are many layers to what make this story so special, but the only one that mattered to my Dad was the fact that EJ were going to run across the finish line together! He even said so in an email to EJ. Yes, he writes the kids an email each month on their birth date.

It read, “I have had many special moments involving you in the last month. Let me share some with you. The first one that comes to mind is being with you at karate, either working with you or being a spectator. At karate, I see you as a bundle of unbridled energy: a boy that listens; a boy that accepts challenges; a boy that persists until he accomplishes a required task; a boy that is respectful; a boy that works hard; a boy that has fun. A second special moment was at the Boyne City Triathlon. Do you remember running the last 60 yards or so with me as we crossed the finish line together. Needless to say, I was thrilled when I saw all of you waiting for me. But to have you cross the finish line with me is the thrill of a lifetime, it was totally unscripted, one that I will always remember.”

Nothing surprises me about my Dad. He is someone who I dedicated to a certain lifestyle of constant growth and learning. I am currently re-reading Dr. Jerry Lynch’s incredible book, The Way of the Champion, Lessons from Sun Tzu’s The Art of War and other Tao Wisdom for Sports & Life, and it is my Dad to a tee.

In his book, Dr. Lynch describes dedication as the devotion to a certain way; in this case the lifestyle of a champion, in order to make the most out of oneself and discover just how darn good you can be. Dedication is a deeper, stronger, more passionate level of commitment. Being dedicated is the spiritual space that embraces failures, fatigue, setbacks, mistakes, frustrations, suffering, and sacrifices on the journey of being the best you can be. It requires fundamental faith, trust, and confidence in the process, as you display patience and perseverance…… Being dedicated means a certain willingness to do all that is required to grow and improve- even if you sometimes don’t feel like doing it.

Think Cal Ripken, Jr, Derek Jeter, and Tim Duncan!

How you do anything is how you do everything and it is evident in my Dad, Cal, Derek and Tim… being a champion is a way of life and it is not limited to the court/field/course on which you compete. It shows up in every facet of your life.

In the business world we all talk about balance in the sense of work/life balance, but I want to share another type of balance with you.

Dr. Lynch points out that “the champion embraces the delicate balance between the healthy pursuit of excellence- striving for certain standards, with an interest in results- and the outcome. The process involves searching for internal rewards based on flexible, realistic goals. Emphasis on how the game is played (how you execute), not just the end results. Although you may occasionally feel disappointed in the results, never internalize them as a commentary on who you are.”

And one more thing that struck a chord with me is a study conducted with Olympic athletes have shown that those with balance, those who pursue excellence, have better chances of success than those who set unrealistic, perfectionist goals. This is true in all aspects of the corporate structure, family life and any spiritual/emotional endeavor.

This balance is one of the reasons that champions do not self-destruct when perfection is not attained.

What three things can you do right now that would bring more balance to your career and life?


I study successful people daily and there is a wealth of knowledge in the books I have read. If you would like a list of these books and more then check out my resource page on my website.

How To Build a Culture by Accumulating Habits

How To Build a Culture by Accumulating Habits

I cannot remember if it was one, two or three years ago (and honestly, it is irrelevant since none of those time frames are that long ago!) ... but right now, for the Loyola Ramblers and their Head Coach Porter Moser, that seems like a lifetime ago.

It was a Sunday Missouri Valley Conference afternoon game on Loyola’s Rogers Park campus, and despite the free pizza they were giving away to the students (and the fact they sold beer at this college game), there were still more students in the adjacent Student Union then were in the stands of the Gentile Center.