A Publication of WTVP

Corporate America spends billions of dollars training and developing management teams that, with the right “game plan,” will translate into success. Why? Because everybody loves a winner. As leaders, we are inundated with books, tapes, DVDs, seminars and web-based learning that all promise the keys to successful business management.

I will never forget being exposed to my first concept of successful business management. I had just come on board with one of the most successful organizations in the area, and the first question asked of me set the tone for what later became a cornerstone of how I conduct succession planning.

All this took place at a crucial time in my career. I was all of nine years old. The organization? The mighty Stingrays of Santa Cruz County. The question? “Son, what are you good at?” It wasn’t asked by a CEO or a corporate executive. It was my new coach. Not just any coach. He was the coach of the most successful Pop Warner (Pee Wee) football team in the land. He knew what it took to build a winning team…of nine and 10 year-olds! Coach Williams managed a group of lanky, super-sensitive, ultra-hyperactive boys and created a successful team every year.

“It’s not whether you win or lose, it’s how you play the game.”
“Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing.”
“Winners never quit and quitters never win.”

Whether you’re a sports fan or not, these quotes have been engrained and used in our everyday lives, both as children and as adults. I believe there is a fine line between successful sports teams and successful business management. At the helm of every successful company or sports team is a person of great influence, vision and insight. Vince Lombardi, Phil Jackson, Tony Dungy and Tommy Lasorda are just a few household names that are synonymous with winning.

The common thread that unites them is the same chasm that separates them from the mediocre. It’s the separation between first and second place—gold and silver—the difference between the runner-up and the champion. Playing to win involves several key elements possessed by all these coaches and successful business leaders.

1. Define success. What is it really? We all want it. Everyone strives for it. Just as no company begins the day hoping to be mediocre, no sports coach starts the season with the “hope” of winning. My first day on the field, Coach Williams had us huddled around him like chicks around their mother. He said, “Men, we’re winners. We are going to win our division, then go on to the win the Pop Warner Super Bowl!” Guess what? We were foolish enough to believe him! Your team, whether in business or sports, must know where they’re headed, even before they start. It’s been said that a good leader inspires men to have confidence in him; a great leader inspires them to have confidence in themselves. Success begins and is sustained with a group of men and women who believe first in their leader, then to a greater extent in themselves.

2. Assess your talent. “Son, what are you good at?” My knowledge of football was very limited as a nine-year-old. I knew two things—run as fast as you can towards the ball and tackle whoever has it! I moved anything and anyone from my path. Coach put his hand on my shoulder pads, looked me straight in the eyes and said, “Son, you’re a linebacker!” Linebackers locate and tackle the carrier. They eliminate any and all obstacles.

Businesses must know how to assess their talent. When was the last time you asked your people who affect change, “What are you good at?” Assess, place and grow your talent. As managers, we assume we know, or we fill a position based on the competencies of the job rather than on the abilities and talents of the person. “The measure of who we are is what we do with what we have,” said Vince Lombardi.

Former heavyweight champion of the world George Foreman was famous for his hands. He is now even more famous and successful with his voice and image. He went from the boxer with the heavyweight belt to the marketing guru with the Foreman Grill. As a boxer, his lifetime earnings have been estimated at $80 million. Since becoming the “marketing champion of the world,” his estimated earnings have more than tripled. Take the time to assess your players.

3. Inspire individual greatness. The legendary Lou Holtz, former head coach of the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame, said, “Ability is what you’re capable of doing. Motivation determines what you do. Attitude determines how well you do it.” The Dole Pineapple plant in Honolulu, Hawaii, gives guided tours. While living there, I decided to take the tour. As it ended, the guide asked if there were any questions. I popped my hand up and asked, “I noticed that above every doorway we crossed hung a plaque that read ‘IADOY.’ Is that a famous Hawaiian quote?” The guide chuckled. “No. The plaque stood for ‘It all depends on you.’” The owners wanted to impart a message to each individual employee every day, no matter where they went in the plant. Look inside yourself, and figure out what you can do today. Winners inspire others to do great things.

All employees are capable of delivering a superstar performance, and as leaders, our job is to create the conditions that unlock that potential. This is no easy task. It’s accomplished not through reorganization, but relationship management. Now more then ever, companies need leaders who inspire and motivate their staff with their use and control of emotion. At nine years of age, my coach instilled a belief in each of us that we were great enough to win it all! He planted a seed of inspiration, the will to win. Does your company culture embrace the will to win, to succeed, to be champions? “Coaches who can outline plays on a blackboard are a dime a dozen,” said Vince Lombardi. “The ones who win get inside their player and motivate.”

4. Leave a trail.
He has been called the greatest college basketball coach in history, amassing an unfathomable string of NCAA titles in an era of transition prior to the multimillion-dollar coach. John Wooden collected an unprecedented 10 NCAA championships in his last 12 seasons as a coach, but his “trail,” or legacy, goes beyond basketball. In sports, once you’ve tasted the spoils of dominance, nothing else satisfies. It’s been said that no one gets to the top alone. Once greatness is achieved, the next question is: “How do I sustain it?”

Sustainability. I was the manager of a high-profile retail chain store at the tender age of 23 when I was given some advice that changed my life forever. “On your way to the top, take someone with you. It can get lonely up there.” What you leave in part depends more on who you leave. Does your trail leave in its wake casualties or possibilities? Are you setting someone up not to simply take your place, but rather, take it further? When I left this store, my assistant manager more than doubled the volume of sales and eventually landed in the district manager’s position. My trail included weekly, if not daily, vested time with my assistant. John Wooden’s successor, Gene Bartlow said of his coach, “I probably [would have sought] his advice more often than I did…he was there ready to give us his thoughts.”

Humility. It was 1995. The UCLA Bruins had just won the national title. He didn’t follow his team into the locker room. When asked why he wasn’t with them in this moment of glory, he answered, “I don’t want to get in the way.” I wonder how often we “get in the way” of those small but significant moments of glory. It’s about ownership. John Wooden never made one layup, jump shot or free throw en route to his championship runs. He didn’t require any reflected glory. Leave a trail of humility.

Courage. Bill Walton was another of Wooden’s protégés. It’s been reported that Walton informed his coach that he wouldn’t cut his hair or beard and that no coach had the right to make him. Wooden agreed. In fact, he admired his player’s principles. He also informed his highly touted All Star that he had the right not to play him and followed by saying, “We’re going to miss you.” Winners hold their ground.

Who do we cater to? Corporate America tends to cater to the corporate all-stars. George Foreman says, “The bottom line is, you make a decision you’ll be able to sleep with, wake up the next day, look in the mirror and feel good about yourself.” As leaders, the last thing we want is to wake up with a horrible “dang-over.” It’s when we wake up the next morning, come to our senses and think “Dang, I wish I hadn’t done that!” Winners leave a trail of courage that sends the message that the good of the many outweighs the needs of one.

I close with a writing that has hung in my offices over the years and reads: “Destiny: A leader takes people where they want to go. Great leaders take them where they ought to be.” iBi