What Color Flag do You Throw?

My love for the game of football has influenced the way I think as a leader.

Although the colors of flags vary from league to league and have changed over the years, every modern day NFL fan will recognize the yellow and red flag. 

Yellow flags are thrown by the officials to indicate a penalty. Red flags are thrown by a head coach in order to challenge a play call. 

A keen observer will note that penalties occur on nearly every down.  The officials must be judicious. The essence of the game would be lost if penalty flags were thrown too frequently.  The fans would complain. There would be no entertainment value. The players would lose motivation. The game would not sustain itself as a business. The stands would be empty, the TV turned off.

Officials are required to use their best judgment. They must allow some leeway to let the players play.  They must preserve the integrity of the game without overshadowing the fun of the game. They must determine where the line is drawn between competition and outright violation of the rule book. 

While yellow flags may be unlimited, red flags are just the opposite.  Red flags can change the outcome of the game.  There are several rules surrounding the red flag (which I will not cover). In general, coaches are allowed only two per game and at the cost of a  timeout for any unsuccessful challenge.

Before a red challenge flag is thrown coaches must trust their own instinct, the word of the players, and/or receive guidance from assistant coaches with access to a live television feed.

If we apply this to leadership (including parenthood), what can we learn?

Are you the type of leader that mercilessly penalizes every member of your team with no room for error or forgiveness?  Do you put team members on report? Do you bench them? Do you outright fire them?  Is your production compromised because you are too busy throwing yellow flags?

Do you view yourself as a coach or a referee? Do you penalize at the expense of your player when a little coaching would have done the trick?

How often do you throw the challenge flag? Do you challenge your player’s integrity and intentions?  Perhaps your challenge is positive in nature, like always helping them strive to reach their highest level of performance. Do you challenge bad play calls made against your team members?

Before throwing a flag, consider how it is going to affect the REAL game.  The one on the field…the one we call life!

Law of the Beak

A bill of sale is a document that records a transaction between two parties. But let’s explore a different kind of bill, the type found on a bird. 

Birds differ in shape, size, color and song. But there is always one constant between the various species. Birds lay eggs, the eggs hatch and the chicks get fed.

Hatchlings don’t get to choose what they eat. I’ve never seen a bird turn up its beak over a slimy worm the way a young child might do over a piece of broccoli.  Instinctively, the hatchlings know they need vast amounts of nourishment in order to survive. They will take anything they can get.

As humans, we may be unlike the birds when it comes to food. But we are no less dependent upon the bill of sale. This transaction takes place when a parent opens its beak to feed us the traditions of the past – sometimes correct, and sometimes completely off base.

We are hungry birds waiting to be fed. We often don’t know what we want until someone shows us. It’s not until the new phone, or the new movie, or the new car, or the new fashion comes out that we believe we need it.  So, we sit in the nest and squawk. More, more, more!  Another beak comes along and vomits out a new diet, a new drug , a new scientific study, a new religion, a new political party, a new gadget or new learned behavior…we settle down in the nest, feeling full, but only for a short moment.  We soon yearn for the next delivery. 

Every commercial and every ad, includes a bird beak waiting to feed you…waiting to make that bill of sale.  There are plenty of beaks and there is no shortage of food.  

Perhaps every child has said “I wish I could fly.”  But fly we will never do, so long as we are squawking for more! 

Just Ask for the Dragon

Do you remember sitting at the dinner table and your crazy uncle said something like this, “If you don’t eat all your food I’m going to give it to my pet dragon…and tonight I’ll let him sleep underneath your bed.”

What do you do? You eat the food!  No questions asked. 

Is it just me or have the times changed? I noticed that when I am the “crazy uncle” and say anything even remotely close to this, today’s youth simply challenge it. “Can I pet your dragon!?” They ask enthusiastically.  They can sniff out my bluff a mile away. 

As you go throughout your day, listen closely. You will encounter a number of subtle threats.  People know you are scared of “what is hiding underneath the bed.”

Next time someone tries to use power or control to leverage themselves against you in favor of a stronger position, just ask to see the dragon. See what happens. 

I hate to give away the secret… But, there is no dragon!


Disclaimer: There are people with mental health issues that are happy to exercise abusive measures to get what they want.  When dealing with these people it is best to seek professional help.  

Horse Power Vs. Horsepower

Recently I took my daughter treasure hunting at the swap meet. While commuting on the highway we got stuck behind a horse trailer towed by a shiny red pickup truck. The horse stood as if in prison. We couldn’t help but wonder what the horse would say if it could speak to us.

At the swap meet we encountered dozens of artifacts and books depicting man’s relationship to this beautiful animal.

How interesting it is to live in a time where we now pull the horse. If past generations could enjoy what we now take for granted, what would they do with it? How is it that we can ever complain?

We can now trade four legs for four wheels and with mechanical horse power sit in a climate controlled box rich in safety features, and while listening to music, be directed turn by turn, to roll our (lazy) selves to another box filled with isles and isles of groceries. We can lock our modern ‘horses’ up with the click of a button, yet we still fight for the closest spot at the shopping center – and, ironically…even the gym.

Bunny’s Dilemma

In his outstanding book “Antifragile” author Nassim Taleb discusses the danger of data. He explains that effort spent collecting data on the eye color of pedestrians crossing the road can make you miss the big truck.

Are there any trucks in your life? What might you be overlooking?

I related to my five year old son that I ran over a rabbit while driving to work last week. I explained that it dashed beneath my car without a warning. I expected him to express a sigh of sympathy.  I was prepared to explain how birds benefit from the rabbit’s trouncing.  Instead he said with great zeal, “Well dad, that bunny should have looked both ways!

Consider examining what data you are collecting.  Is it necessary? How can you avoid overlooking what matters most? What will you do to look both ways?

Metaphorically speaking, there is plenty of roadkill to go around.  How can you be like the crow and capitalize on this food?  How much time do you invest learning from the mistakes of others?

Get Out of The Cave

I marvel every day at how different everyone’s world view is. We all see and experience life differently. Most of it is experienced in our own head. It takes wisdom to see what is really in front of us. Plato’s allegory of the cave is worth contemplation. (see video below)

Plato aside, everything casts a shadow…but the shadow is not the object…it can’t be grasped…it is almost like an illusion. Why do we spend so much time examining a monotone shade of grey void of three dimensional shape when the very object that casts it is full of rich insignia, sparkling gems and fine textures?

Next time you feel your emotions getting the best of you, pause to consider if you are looking at a shadow. Next, consider if the person offending you is looking at a shadow, thus driving the disillusionment. If there are no shadows involved, you now have a concrete starting point.

Don’t Drop Your Nuts

(1) Grab a bag of peanuts.

(2) Reach in the bag and withdraw a LARGE overflowing handful.  I’m talking maximum capacity.  (Notice how the shells seem to work in unison, as if they all had a unique assignment.)

(3) Set the handful of peanuts down on a flat surface such as a table.

(4) Using only one hand, pick up the peanuts in one attempt. (Notice how each peanut has taken on a new position.  It’s as if they’ve been reassigned and no longer work in harmony)

If your original handful was large enough you will notice one thing.  Failure.  Some of the nuts will still remain on the table.

I observed this phenomena by chance and was pleased to discover that it contained the following lesson.  We are often the beneficiary of great ideas and ambition.  At first these ideas/goals/dreams/aspirations are almost too hot to handle.  So, we put them down thinking we can grasp them again….only to be met with one thing.  Failure!

Next time you feel inspired, act immediately!  Don’t put the idea down.  Sure you can use “two hands” to grasp all the content.  But that just means more work and less magic.

Pay for the Date, Not the Meal

There are few things in life that can match the magical feeling of falling in love. But falling in love is the easy part.  The real challenge is to stay in love, particularly after the newness wears off.  Over time, the person you fall in love with will change.  You will change.  Failure to adapt to change will eventually suffocate the love.

For this reason I place a high priority on continued courtship. Usually, this quality time is spent over an evening meal fused with open conversation.  Not long ago I took my wife to a newly discovered restaurant.  She ordered a salmon and I got a burger.  We both agreed that the food was out of this world…with one minor hiccup.  Almost immediately she pulled out a long hair from beneath the rosy filet.  Naturally, she expressed displeasure.  “You will live”, I said.  My statement was intended to be matter of fact, not rude or impolite in any way. I don’t remember if she heard me, but I do remember how bad my statement sounded.  I do remember thinking the fact of the matter was that my wife deserved my very best.  I quickly made a course correction and said, “Would you rather eat my burger?  I’ll take the Salmon.”

We normally think of dating as an opportunity to learn about the other person. While this should always be the priority, my story illustrates that we can learn a lot about ourselves too.  During all that open conversation, listen!  Not just to your partner, but also to yourself.  What you say isn’t necessarily what gets communicated.

Spit Truth, Not Venom

If you’ve ever been bitten by a poisonous snake in the wild, please comment below and carry on with your day – this post is probably not for you.

Now, for the rest of us…what are we to make of our fears? Are they rational? Today, I refer specifically to snakes.

I overheard the following dialogue this morning:
Q: “Hey are you going to run the firebreak?”
A: “Why? So I can get bit by a snake?”

Camp Pendleton California consists primarily of dry mountainous terrain subject to fire. The aforementioned “firebreak” is a dirt road of loose soil intended to deter the spread of flames. I have come to prefer running mountain trails such as this. Never once have I encountered a “slithering snake.” (click link below to understand this reference)

Have I stumbled upon rattlesnakes while living in Southern California? Yes. In each case they were minding their own business. Occasionally, so docile I thought they were dead. I respected their space but never felt threatened. The odds of getting bit on the firebreak are so slim that I cringe to even entertain the conversation. Stephen King said it best, “Reality is the best reassurance.”

A long lost friend once admonished me to “Say what you mean”. I have reflected on this counsel often. The phrase “I don’t want to get bit by a snake” probably meant, “I don’t want to run uphill”. We replace truth with deceit. We substitute fear for excuse. We know people will be more likely to freely accept a fear than an outright lie. So, we throw snakes. We spit venom.

If you have a tendency to substitute “snakes” for truth, decide now to improve! For example, next time someone knocks at your door, refrain from spitting venom like this;
“I have no money right now”
“I donated last week”
“I need my partner’s permission”
“I am moving soon”
“My neighbors are probably more interested”
(and on and on)

Instead, try the truth. Say what you mean. Be honest, not rude, just honest. Be firm. Stand your ground. You did as a child. Do it again. Maybe our real fear is telling the truth? Maybe we care too much about what the other person thinks so we rattle our tail of deception.

Do You Speak My Speak?

I know a man whose native tongue is Spanish. Over the last year he has stepped far outside of his comfort zone to learn English. He still feels inadequate and I can tell that he is a little apprehensive when addressing a large group.

He informed me that he obtained his citizenship last month. I felt so happy for him and rejoiced in his progress. His English is so much stronger than he gives himself credit for, and I trust that he will continue to improve over time.

It is noteworthy that my friend did not have to master the language PRIOR to becoming a citizen. I wonder if this concept can better be applied in our social circles.

Think of something you are interested in, it might even be in the realm of your employment. Odds are, it has its own lingo. Odds are, you had to spend countless hours learning to “speak that talk”, I mean really master it. But remember, at one point you were that new guy or gal. You were the rookie. You were the recruit. You were the immigrant.

Next time someone is trying to gain citizenship into your hobby, your craft, your line of work or even your life (perhaps a significant other)…extend the hand of mercy. Let them in. Help them along. Grant them citizenship. After all, they have applied for it.