Survive the Ground

Week 15 of the 2017 NFL season contained a solid lesson.  Steelers hosted the Patriots and it came down to the wire.  Great games are always decided by a key play or two and this one was no different.  With less than a minute remaining in regulation, the Steelers’ tight end (Jesse James) caught what appeared to be a touchdown to secure the win.  Instead…they lost.

The NFL rulebook states that if a player goes to the ground in the act of catching a pass he “must maintain control of the ball until afterhis initial contact with the ground.”  During the lengthy official review, it was deemed evident that James did not “survive the ground” and the touchdown was overturned.  Game over.

Survive the Ground

The sequence of these events reminded me of our goals and resolutions.  I started 2017 with some clear goals that would demand a lot of attention.  While some goals were achieved, others were virtually stillborn.

The first obstacle struck early in the year and I dropped the ball.  I didn’t anticipate variables like the Grim Reaper, traveling, moving, or new goals to surface along the way.  Of course, these are all excuses.  Excuses make the ball pop out.

“Good resolutions are a pleasant crop to sow. The seed springs up so readily, and the blossoms open so soon with such a brave show, especially at first. But when the time of flowers has passed, what as to the fruit?”

THE CHALLENGE:  A new year is upon us.  What do you intend to achieve?  Be a season ticket holder to the game of life.  This game is measured in years with no offseason and the stakes are much higher than a measly sporting event.  Remember, opposition will be knocking at your door.  Like it or not, you will make contact with the turf.  It is not enough to simply dream a goal, hope a goal, or even write down a goal.  You must internalize it.  It must excite you, you must dream about it, you must long for it… that is of course if you want to survive the ground.


Illustration by Ashley Goodall


Paper Text

Do you remember when business cards were in vogue?  Okay, maybe you still use them (but not for long). How about Trapper Keepers or My Pet Monster?

Who doesn’t periodically reminisce on trends from the past? So many things have come and gone. I wonder why they have to go. Why were my favorite cartoons not good enough to catch on? Why don’t my kids know what a G.I. Joe is? Why did music change so radically? Is this because of contract obligations, licensing agreements or the rising generation’s need to be original? I guess I will never know.

Long before the digital age we used to “email” by putting pen to paper. We had pen-pals! Life was so slow that we would actually write strangers (sometimes across the globe)  as part of our school work. It would take many days or even weeks before getting a response.

Our “text message” used to be a physical note passed during class when the teacher wasn’t looking. Sometimes the note was exchanged in the hallway or slipped into someone’s locker. I’m not sure if the youth still do this, but I imagine the great majority of communication is via smart phone.

Today (during a meeting) I received a text message.  It was a photo of a study guide and an emoji – thumbs up.  My response was also an emoji – baby bottle. Except to the senders, both messages were vague, cloudy and superficial…ESPECIALLY mine!

I later wondered what this communication would have looked like in an “old school” format. If we put pencil to paper and passed it along, I believe the message would have been much different. The “smart” phones that we rely so heavily upon do a really good job at keeping us “not-so-smart”. We get so used to taking shortcuts that we often slice off the horn of our entire message! On the flip side, sometimes we replace “chat” with “text“. Though, these should never be confused. Our time evaporates typing a lengthy message that would otherwise only take a few seconds to speak.

Class notes were somewhat ideal, given their era. In general terms, they required two way communication. The receiver was usually happy to receive the memo. The message was sufficiently succinct. Dialogue was often very open – just consider all the blushing faces when the teacher would snatch a note off of someone’s desk!

THE CHALLENGE: If applicable, think back to your school days. If notes were as easy as text messaging is now, who would you ping? What would you write? Do you wish there was someone you had sent a note/message to but didn’t?

Next time you are in a meeting, think about who you might want to message. If the gathering happens to be with a group of strangers you can skip the whole business card thing and just ask for their number. Tell them you might reach out for their opinion during the lecture or conference.

Forget the “status updates.” Forget the spam! Nobody cares about “the weather.” What clear message can you send? How can you add value? If this were a handwritten note, would it be different? How so? What meaningful dialogue can you start? Consider that our present text messaging age will eventually be a thing of the past, something future bloggers will reminisce over. Will you wish you had established a friendship with someone while you still had frenzied fingers?

Maybe the opposite is true. For you social butterflies, maybe you need to cut back. Almost every note passed now is “caught by the teacher.” The teacher is social media.  The teacher is your profile. The chalkboard is now digital and our names are on it. Are your kids wondering why you pass notes all day instead of paying attention in class? Where is your middle ground? I challenge you to find it and exploit it!

Photo by hundrednorth

Painful Pervasive Poaching

Over 1,000 rhino’s are poached each year for a single body part, the horn. Apparently this pointy steak skewer is worth a small fortune on the black market. Not that I have any idea how much $$$,$$$ I could get for one, and here’s why:

  1. I can’t think of a single use for a keratin spike.
  2. As far as my corner of the globe is concerned rhinos are already extinct…even looked outside my window to verify.
  3. I respect the wishes of rhino advocates who ask that this information not be published.

Interesting fact: Rhino horns grow back – provided they are cut properly.  In an effort to deter poachers, de-horning is a popular (and very costly) trend.  De-horning is a process similar to cutting your fingernails – only much shorter. What if you were a rhino? How would you feel about this?

What if humans were poached for a valuable body part? What if outside organizations trimmed us up a little bit to keep us safe? Can you imagine a society with no left hands, right feet, or in this case noses? Perhaps you would feel angry, useless, violated, or depressed – as you should!

We all have an individual “rhino horn”, something that makes us truly unique. Your horn is that which you value most. It might be another person, your family, a goal, a vision, a talent, a home, or a reputation.

Every single day, your horn is at risk. Marketing campaigns, political agendas, two-faced acquaintances or outright enemies will poach you without a second thought. You have something of value and someone else wants it. It might be your money. It might be your voice. It might be your silence.  It might be your indifference. It might be your support.

THE CHALLENGE: Identify your personal rhino horns.  For the sake of this exercise there should be two; a primary and a secondary, just like the animal. What will you do to protect your horns?

For example, if your primary horn is your family, what specific systems can you set in motion to improve how to mentor your children or how to make your spouse’s heart skip a beat? Do your children have free reign on the internet? What information do they access? Is your home protected? Do you have insurance and health benefits? Do you have savings? What about family traditions? Do you keep a journal to leave for your posterity? What about your ancestors? Do you keep in touch with mom and dad, grandparents or great grandparents? Do you reflect on their teachings? Do you protect any heirlooms left behind? The ways that you can safeguard this “horn” are infinite…but only you can decide what is best for your own circumstance and belief system. Maybe this is something worth pondering next time you earn couch time. Give it a try!

Photo by Jin Kei

Plump Popcorn Payoff

Try this… ask the next person you see to slap you in the face. That’s how it feels to pay for a bucket of popcorn at the movie theater. You’ll spend a small fortune! This is one example where I wouldn’t recommend paying for the date.

I’m going to go out on a limb here and assume that you’ve popped some corn. Too easy, right? But what if the goal was to pop 100% of the kernels. Now it becomes an entirely different challenge. There is always a collection of headstrong kernels that adamantly camp at the foot of the bag. If you attempt to pop these, you run a most assured risk of burning the rest of your tasty snack.

It’s easy to stop here. Your carton or bag appears to be topped off. Why not just eat what you have and get full?  Nobody gives those stubborn kernels an afterthought, so why should you? Just toss them!

But what if we are talking about people? Doesn’t each corn kernel pop at a different time?  Each piece responds to a predetermined level of moisture within the shell. Most people “pop” together – give or take. Just think about grade school. Some students were kept back a grade, but most progressed. Each culture has a set of benchmarks that most folks satisfy such as marriage or moving out of mom and dad’s house.

THE CHALLENGE: Let’s say you are a leader, a manager, a supervisor, a parent, a friend or a coworker to a stubborn “kernel”. Don’t toss it in the trash, it does have the potential to pop. Your task is to create the right conditions. The groundwork is there. We all have the “moisture” inside. Find a way to make more heat. Remember not to burn the rest of your stash. Too much training on the same topic will burn the initial crop of plump poppers. The remainder however, these stubborn kernels…demand one-on-one leadership. Go mentor! Go lead! Make heat! Get the payoff!

Photo by clindstedt

Two Lessons From a Six Year Old

The boy turned 6 this week.  He challenges me, tests my patience and marches to the cadence of his own drum.  He also loves me, reminds me what it’s like to be a kid, and (unknowingly) teaches me. Here are two lessons I learned this week.

LESSON 1: GET OFF THE COUCH

He wanted to break in his new football so we played catch on the couch for a few minutes.  His focus was less ball and more obstacle. He built a wall of blankets to throw over and gaps of pillows to throw between. Sounds fun right? It was, although every few throws were well out of my reach and landed on the floor behind me. The first several times this occurred I would reach out my arm and say, “I’m too short, I can’t reach.” He jumped up and grabbed the ball, no questions asked.  Finally, he caught on and said, “Dad, there is something called get off the couch!

I rarely sat on the couch growing up, it was usually occupied by my own dad. I used to long for him to get up and take action. To this day I rarely park my tail on a cushion. I am better off for it. I would be perfectly satisfied to not own a couch. I am more productive on the move. Life is lived in motion. Too much time on couches will make you soft like the cushions they showcase.

Many of you might have a different experience. You might love the couch. You might spend most of your day glued to it.  Fine.  Just remember… “there is something called get off the couch.”  

THE CHALLENGE: Move! Are you sitting down right now? For how long? What else could you be doing to better your surroundings? Who can you serve? Did you break a sweat today? If not, put your body in motion. Maybe your couch can be viewed as a metaphor for your house, neighborhood, state or country. Are those “cushions” you’ve been sitting on for too long? Maybe it’s time to set yourself in motion. Travel transforms!

 

LESSON 2: LISTEN TO YOURSELF

My son was playing with his sisters when all of a sudden he said, “You two play quietly so I can listen to what I’m saying in my own head!” I was floored because of the brilliance of his statement and the fact that he was able to recognize outside distraction.

We all have a dialogue running through our head. What are you saying? Can you really hear it? If not, what do you do about it? We are bombarded with noise. Distractions are countless. Our electronics put us in a state of hyper drive. If that’s not enough, we chug coffee and energy drinks to keep up with it all. It’s like increasing the distance a rabbit can hear by 10x. But will that boost the rabbit’s chances for survival or will it will likely become paralyzed by paranoia?

THE CHALLENGE: Tell the world to play quietly! Presuming you’ve earned some couch time. Turn off the TV.  Put your phone aside. We’ve all had too many days where we felt we “didn’t have a minute to ourselves” but we let our minutes flee as if being robbed at gunpoint. Be stingy! Need some extra time, go steal some from Facebook, YouTube, Netflix or any other time filler of choice. Now LISTEN, I mean really listen. What is happening on the inside? You cannot travel within and stand still without. What is your body trying to tell you? Do you need more sleep, less food, more exercise, less/more time in the sun? What is your heart telling you? Do you feel passionate about someone or something?  Are you numb, depressed or indifferent?What were you supposed to get done today or this week? What is coming up tomorrow? The dialogue that arises from the inside will not steer you amiss. Take note then take action. 

 

Quadrilateral Leadership 

“If you are curious, you’ll find the puzzles around you. If you are determined, you will solve them. ”

Erno Rubik, noted for the quote above, created the Rubik’s Cube.  I bet you’ve played one. Perhaps you even own one. Did you know that there are 43,252,003,274,489,856,000 (43 quintillion) ways to scramble a Rubik’s Cube?

Humans are like cubes.  At birth, we start off as a “clean slate”, all squares are in perfect order (even if your mom told you that you soiled too many diapers and wouldn’t stop crying).

Over time our squares become scrambled. This goes back to my middle gray concept. Look at the person to your left and right, they are all knotted, twisted, snarled and jumbled….so are you…so am I.  We are all scrambled in a different order and to a different degree.

No scrambled cube can be solved with a single twist. Mankind’s impatience naturally bleeds over into our leadership philosophy. I have observed countless leaders, managers, couples, parents and coaches who expect to *solve the cube* without spending *time with the cube*. Worse still, sometimes they yell at the cube as if to say, “go solve yourself“. Some will try to take the forbidden shortcut by removing and replacing all the stickers, not knowing that replacing a corner sticker will make the cube entirely unsolvable. This means there is no room for verbal, mental or physical abuse! This is a pathetic short term solution and a failed long term resolution.

THE CHALLENGE: Stop pretending that everyone’s cube should look like yours.  Stop pretending that anyone else’s cube can be solved overnight.  Stop pretending that your own cube won’t get worse before it gets better. Be patient with yourself and with others! My goal as a leader, my goal with this blog, is to turn the cube of anyone I can influence just a turn or two in the right direction.  That’s it.  Simple as that.  One turn and I’m satisfied.  Two turns and I’m thrilled.  You have a whole life to live and a whole bunch of people to meet who will help get you “squared” away.  Thank you for allowing me the chance to put a couple of matching squares back together.  Many of you have done the same for me!

The Long Haul

I previously illustrated the need to stick to our goals for an extended period of time.  But at what point should we call it quits?

Marriage vows are typically until death.  That’s a huge commitment!  What if the marriage starts out bad?  What if “for better, for worse” seems to be all “worse”?  Do you hold out hoping things will get better?  What if your spouse gets a mental illness and can no longer remember you?

Children are also a long term commitment.  While they eventually fly the coop, you can’t divorce your children during the “terrible twos” or “turbulent teens”.  They are yours regardless of personality type, stature, learning ability, disabilities etc.

Most people accept the long term nature of these relationships without question.  Careers are a bit more fuzzy.  We no longer live in a world where the norm is to work a single job for most of your life and collect a gold watch at the end.  These jobs are disappearing fast, although not extinct.  The military is a prime example.  Twenty years of honorable service will earn a pension with benefits.

A friend recently noted that getting out of the military after 18 years is stupidity, not fear. But what about 15 years?  How about 10?  Is it smart to leave after 8?  Where do you draw the line?

If you have been driving for any length of time in a major city, chances are you have unintentionally traveled along a toll road.  These roads tend to produce a sense of imprisonment, a feeling of one way in and one way out.

Toll roads do have an evident advantage, they get the traveler to an alternate destination in a fraction of the time.  But there is a cost.  It won’t necessarily pay for itself by traveling only an exit or two, after all “both the hasty and the slow meet at the ferry.”

In life, sometimes we get on proverbial toll roads.  It could be a career, it could be a relationship.  Perhaps it’s getting out of debt or even parole or jail time.  Some things in life are better to commute via toll.  They are intended to be a long grind.  Since cutting corners will only add time, just pay the price.  Spring always follows winter, even if the winter seems long.  Too often we quit. We treat the long game as if it wasn’t nature’s way. We walk out of a marriage as if it was a boring movie.  We quit a job as if we were changing channels during a commercial break.  Someone is always selling you a dream that the grass is greener elsewhere…and let’s be honest, sometimes it is.  But let’s stay honest, usually it’s not.  Why pay for that dream when you can just pay the toll for the road you are already so far along?

The Challenge: Consider your long term goals and needs. Identify how these can be achieved.  You only have one life to live so don’t take too long.  Now, pull the trigger.  Let the bullet fly.  Let it do its thing.  Get on that toll road and don’t look back.  Be patient, you won’t find any rest stops.  It won’t be very scenic. The weather might be hazardous and the air polluted.  You might nod off at the wheel. Your butt will get tired, your legs cramped.  Food will not be gourmet. The radio will have static. You will feel bored and sometimes lonely.  Most important, there are people driving next to you.  They will cause frustration and sometimes fender benders.  You will have to lay on your horn.  You might get a flat tire and squish some bunnies along the way. When you unbuckle that seat belt it will have all been worth it.  You will wonder why so many others choose to sit in traffic.

Goal Punching

“Moving Petty Officer” is a phrase that all Navy recruits learn immediately upon arrival to Boot Camp.  It is used throughout a Sailor’s career.

This is one of my favorite phrases in the military. It shows not only a willingness to carry out orders, but demonstrates closed loop communication and immediate action.

Recently, my daughter slugged me in the arm and said “punch buggy white, no punch backs!”

I found it fascinating that she learned this game (and not from me). This is one that children have passed on for generations now.

I wonder why it catches on. I wonder why children adopt it. For some, maybe the initial appeal is to avoid pain.  For others, to inflict pain. I must admit, it was always fun to hit my older brother as hard as I could knowing that I wouldn’t get hit back.  That is of course until he spotted the next Volkswagen, and I would have to pay a huge price in the currency of bruises.

Reminiscing aside, this little game teaches a critical principal. It teaches immediate action in response to stimuli, much like a new recruit responding to a senior Petty Officer.  Conscious thought is dismissed while instinct and/or habit take over.

The challenge: think of an area of your life where procrastination deters your achievement of a specific goal.

The action: set up a visual cue in which the moment you see it, you can take immediate action without any additional thought.  In other words, set up your own “punch buggy“. You can use anything.  For example what if each time you sat a traffic light you tried to memorize something, repeated a positive affirmation, or called a loved one?  The visual queue can be anything.  A basketball, wheelchair, beard, school bus, emergency vehicle or yes…even… road kill!

The follow-through:  now don’t think about it!  Just act! When you see your queue, take immediate action. Make the goal small enough so that there are no excuses. Get in and out just like a a game of punch buggy. Be stealthy!  It needs to be just enough to get you started.  You just need to get a taste of what it is you’re trying to achieve. The small habits will grow and the fire will spread.  Good luck!

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!