Bridging Leadership Lessons from the Workplace and Those Experiences Shaping Today's Youth and Tomorrow's Leaders
I was the oops child. The youngest of five kids who came along a little later than the others, so the gap was such that from 6th grade on, it was just me and my folks. As an avid sports family, I grew up watching my older siblings play on State championship teams and we watched countless games in person and on television as well as driving across the country listening to games on A.M. Radio. (Kids, you are going to have to google this!)
Being the youngest, my siblings would try to come to games when they were back in town visiting. We didn’t have streaming services, YouTube, or the internet back then so unless you were local, you were not going to be able to see or hear the game. But my dad would record the games on his VHS camera and when the games were being broadcast on the radio, he would sync them together and so I would have a video tape with real audio broadcast of the game.
My oldest brother would come back over the Christmas holiday with his family, and he would stay up in the early hours watching my games from that season. We would spend the time he was here talking and reviewing how I played.
My Mom, who was a basketball scoring machine in the 50’s, was extremely competitive. She rode with us to a football game where my oldest son Zach threw for the 2nd most passing yards in a game in school history, but their team went down in defeat. He came out, gave her a hug, and said, “Nan, I’m sorry you had to come all this way to watch us lose. I know how much you hate losing.” She simply responded, “Yes, I do hate losing.”
My Dad, who would spend countless hours with me watching games and studying the art of the game, never got to watch my kids play when they entered high school. He only got to watch a few of his grandchildren play when they were younger due to declining health and loss of sight. He was a proud man, who didn’t want to be seen with an oxygen tank and being assisted with a walker. But man, would he have enjoyed watching my kids play.
Unfortunately, my mom never got to witness my younger two sons play in high school before she passed, but she enjoyed watching them as young kids and knew that they would be really good when they got into high school.
Now, with my youngest having finished his first year of high school ball and now traveling on the Under Armor circuit, his network of supporters has grown beyond his siblings. While at times it seems their sole purpose in life is to make sure he stays humble, they rarely miss watching him play, either in person or through live streams. They are quick to send him texts of encouragement and critique with the focus on helping him get better.
But beyond his siblings, are my siblings who also try to watch him play. Surprise visits from my brother who lives in Wyoming and my sister from Texas to watch Ethan play in a tournament. They all watch the live streams of the games and make comments during the game or afterwards if they watch the next day. But having a family take an interest as if he was one of their own kids is simply amazing. This connection was built by our parents when we were growing up, using sports as an outlet and a development tool for life.
While all my sons played “the right way”, which is the way my dad coached us and how I have coached my kids and various teams to play. My youngest, Ethan, also has more to his game. He has put in much more time and by watching his older brothers play, he has changed his game and strives to surpass them to make them proud. He is a team-first player that constantly moves the ball and minimizes the amount of time dribbling the basketball which is rare in today’s game, but when needed he can go make a play. He plays with such a high I.Q. that the most common statement I hear about his play is that he never takes a bad shot but manages to put up big numbers.
My siblings and I have talked about how much my parents would enjoy watching Ethan play today. He enters the court before every game with a smile on his face, happy to play the game he loves. Even though Ethan doesn’t remember my dad and has a few memories of spending time with my mom when he was little, he doesn’t realize how much they have impacted where he is today.
After a recent tournament he played in Phoenix, I sent him a text upon reflecting on his weekend. As I was typing it out, I had to wipe the tears away from eyes, just like I am having to do now as I am writing this blog:
“I know you won’t really understand this until you have your own kids, but you can’t comprehend how much I wish my mom and dad could watch you play. I’m proud of you and whether you realize it or not, you are representing what my mom and dad were as parents and people.”
Sports can be such a bond for families as it goes beyond them playing a game, to connecting generations. It’s wearing a number worn by other family members. It's arguing about who is the better shooter, playing one-on-one, talking trash, and sharing laughs. It’s gathering on the court after games and taking pictures, sharing memories, and looking at scrap books. It’s sharing a childhood dream and watching someone you love pursue that same dream. Sports have the ability to bring families closer and create memories that will live long Beyond Today.
The other day I received a link to a YouTube video from a friend. He explained that he listened to the video weekly for grounding and personal reflection, and he felt moved to share it with me. This wasn’t your bloopers video; this was a powerful message of how an individual has the power to change the world. My youngest son and I listened to the video when we were in the car. My teenage son was not on his phone while it played. He wasn’t distracted by the surroundings but looked straight ahead, soaking in the words.
The video he shared had 17 million views with another link to the same video having over 34 million views! It was a video of a graduation speech where a former Navy Seal said that by making your bed, you can change the world. Admiral William McRaven is YouTube famous.
Admiral McRaven, a University of Texas graduate, had a distinguished career in the Navy. Starting as a Navy Seal, he rose to the rank of Commander and his leadership qualities led him down a path of increasingly impressive administrative leadership roles. He was invited back to the University of Texas to provide the 2014 commencement speech.
From the start, Admiral McRaven was able to build a connection with the audience which is one of the reasons his speech was so powerful. He connected first with them as a former student who could relate and then he acknowledged that as young graduates they share a desire and a fear of trying to change the world.
McRaven built upon the University of Texas slogan, What Starts Here Changes the World. He eloquently, but vividly shared experiences of how actions taken to change the lives of only 10 people in your lifetime can impact the entire planet. He shared examples of life and death decisions made by people he served with in the military. Lives were saved. It wasn’t just that person’s life, but it also impacted their children and their children’s children.
He was addressing a group of college students who are in their safe environment of school with very few knowing what the real world actually holds for them. But the lessons he shared captivated the audience. He was able to show that struggles are independent of demographics and that these lessons he was to share could be applied to all.
Below is the list of the 10 lessons that Admiral McRaven identified as key to changing the world. Yes, they are cryptic, so you will need to watch the video following them to hear in his own words what it really means.
If you want to change the world…
Connecting these 10 lessons to change the world back to his Navy Seal training drove home that leaders show up in the face of constant stress, struggle, and hardships. One of the takeaways I had after watching the video is how captivated the audience was to what he had to say. He spoke from a position that hardly any of those students could relate, let alone comprehend, but he was able to connect with them and share lessons in a manner that held their attention.
The wisdom to “start each day with a task completed” establishes a foundation of success on which to build. Admiral McRaven is truly a Person of Impact and follows the 3 Pillars of Impact: Courage to Challenge, Expect Excellence and Empower Others. He finished his speech by saying “If you do these things, the next generation and the generations that follow will live in a world far better than the one we have today.” Admiral McRaven was able to challenge 8000 University of Texas students in 2014 with his speech and that number through the power of social media has reached tens of millions of people today. That is how you can change the world Beyond Today.
I have written before about the distractions that can be associated with chasing a metric versus refining your process. Pursuing a goal that does not provide the foundational impact for success may give you a fleeting accomplishment but is not sustainable or repeatable.
In Operations, we had an initiative to become a World Class Manufacturer. Under that approach, we began a journey pursuing Operational Excellence that we called Tsungani (sun-gah-nee) which is a Cherokee word for “excellence” or “above others”. We established a weekly meeting that was focused on alignment and awareness of the pursuit of excellence that was occurring in our company. It reinforced ownership in the process and active engagement instead of waiting for someone else to do something. This effort culminated in recognition by our customers that we had achieved world-class manufacturing status.
With my recent move to the business side of the company, we decided to change up the Tsungani meetings in order to revitalize and refocus our efforts on the new opportunities that were in front of us, so we revamped these meetings and initiated WIN the Day. The purpose was to reinforce a culture of winning that encourages people to celebrate the little things that move us closer to winning and highlights the role that everyone plays in the game of business.
Winning is something that most people can easily get behind. Besides being fun, people enjoy the recognition and feeling of collaborating that comes with being part of something special. Being part of a team. But the difference between good teams and great teams is the level of trust on which their relationship is founded and the commitment to the successful execution of the process. Whether sports, families, or work, it is the same. But what happens when winning is taken for granted?
During a service award ceremony, a coworker, Dongshun Bai, reflected on his 15 years with our company. Dongshun had made the move from a Sr. Research Chemist in R&D developing products to the role of business development. He spoke to the packed conference room and looked into the camera for those who were attending virtually and said, “If you don’t take a chance, you won’t make a mistake. But if you never take a chance, you never make progress. “It was a pointed challenge to people who may be hanging out in a comfort zone that seems safe but will not help their team win. Eventually, their lack of contribution and engagement to a win, will limit their ability to be happy and impactful.
Theodore Roosevelt said, “Happiness lies in the joy of achievement and the thrill of creative effort.” Knowing that you are part of the winning process. In my last blog, Are You Even in The Game? I talked about how many people think they are in the game, but they are simply watching it on TV. They’re experiencing the game, the thrills, the struggles, but only from a distance, not from experiencing the real battles and challenges.
Having a desire to win has been a hot topic over the last few years as the sports world has been critical with the Participation Trophy mindset of eliminating competition in order to maintain a certain level of self-esteem. When you apply this to the workplace, there have been many articles about new employees hitting the workforce with expectations of immediate promotion and payoffs which has been viewed as a sense of entitlement. From my perspective, the only victory, the only WIN of value, is when you have the opportunity to compete and earn that win. A forfeit is a hollow victory and one that will not be remembered except in disappointment.
When you consider the challenge that Dongshun raised during his recognition, about “if you never take a chance, you will never make progress” it makes you consider whether people are willing to be part of the game, willing to compete. If you are a new employee with little to no experience, are you willing to put the time and effort in to compete? To enjoy the success and the rewards of a job well done or an accomplishment earned. How many new employees understand that they need to compete? That they are actually in a game. When you step onto a basketball court or into an office, success depends on what you do AND how you make your team better.
But what about the experienced employees? Are they still taking a chance? Are they still making progress? Do they understand what it takes to WIN today versus what it took yesterday? Are they still willing to put in the time necessary to WIN in today’s challenging economic times or do they feel they’ve already made their investment and no longer have to participate or compete? Do they recognize that they are in a game or are they on the sidelines simply observing?
The act of winning doesn’t only show up on the scoreboard, but in the improvements made by individuals and teams. By winning the day, you are not saying it is over, that you have reached the end, but instead that you have worked hard to improve and have helped move your team forward. That your pursuit of excellence was fruitful and that you are better today than you were yesterday. That you are in the game. That you are competing to win. The desire to improve, to have an impact on others and to leave a legacy is what helps you WIN the day and Beyond Today.
Tom Brown - a husband and a father who is simply trying to make a difference. Using my experience as a Manufacturing Executive to connect leadership from the boardroom to the hardwood to help teams grow and develop to make a difference in the lives of others.