Leaders Learn Lessons

August 15, 2008

I’m a big college football fan.  I regularly listen to the ESPN College Football podcast though I am way behind, so I’m getting ready for the season by catching up from May through today.  I just listened to Ivan Maisel talking about a trip he took to visit the troops in the Middle East with big time football coaches Tommy Tubberville from Auburn, Mark Richt from Georgia, Randy Shannon from Miami, Charlie Weiss from Notre Dame and Jack Siedlecki of Yale.

Many of the soldiers are big fans and will get up early to watch the live broadcasts.  The coaches brought tons of souvenirs and according to Maisel one soldier commented, “I can’t believe you’re spending so much time talking to us.”

It sounded like a great trip, and one lesson really jumped out for me.  Maisel was talking about a Q and A session the coaches held with a group of soldiers.  Instead of asking about the upcoming season the vast majority of the questions were about leadership and specifics about leading young people in a stressful environment.

Obviously these coaches are world class leaders.  Just as obvious is that the soldiers they spoke to are world class acheivers.  When given the opportunity to interact with significant leaders, high achievers will pick their brains.  They know that they can learn something from every person they meet, and when they have a chance to talk to high acheivers it’s a special opportunity to learn as much as they can.

The key is to be prepared.  Know what you want to know, think about your areas of difficulty, and formulate questions before you have an opportunity to ask them.  And, if you know ahead of time you’re going to have some one-on-one time with a high achiever do some research so you can best take advantage of your opportunity.

One of the differences between high achievers and the average guy is preparation and making the most out of opportunities.


Pineapple Express

August 13, 2008

Seth Rogan wrote his stoner, adventure-comedy Pineapple Express years ago.  No one was interested.  Since then he’s had breakout hits with The 40-Year Old Virgin, Knocked Up and Superbad.  So, when he shopped the script again, with very few changes, studios were ready and willing to pay an estimated $25 million.

Very often success breeds success.  The failure to find support for an idea or a project doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a bad one, and pursuing success in something, even if it isn’t your ultimate goal, is often worth it because of the doors that open.

So far Pineapple Express has grossed just over $40 million.

Expert v Novice

August 13, 2008

One thing that distinguishes the high achiever from the average guy is the ability to anticipate and overcome obstacles.  In his blog Between the Stations Victor Lombardi explores the distinction between those who are experts and over-comers and those who are novices and get stuck in the field of design.  It’s an interesting concept that I believe can be applied to problem solving in other areas as well.

Are you approaching problems and problem solving as an expert or a novice?  How about design?

Click here to see Victor’s post.

Necessity is the Mother of Invention

August 6, 2008

Here’s a great example of the difference between average and great.  Most of us have great ideas and I bet lots of people even had this idea.  The difference is that this guy made the effort to take his idea to reality.

And what an idea!!

X Games

August 3, 2008

I completely love the X games and prefer to watch them over the Olympics any day.  I’m so bummed they are over.

Danny Way is a man!


July 29, 2008

Another of the things that distinguish the mediocre from the high achiever is consistency.  High achievers consistently perform well and perform well consistently.  They frequently reach their goals with positive results and they are regularly pursuing goals that are important to them.

The average person has a long list of projects or goals that they haven’t completed, met or attempted.

It’s been a dream of mine for most of my life to be a writer; not necessarily as a profession but as an accomplishment.  I’ve read a lot about being a writer, I’ve talked to writers, and I’ve read a ton of different kinds of writing.  The main lesson that high achieving writers have for people like me: writers write.

Preparation is important, but it doesn’t make a writer.  Learning the skills of the trade are important but they don’t make a writer.  Knowing the market is important but that doesn’t make a writer.  Writing does.  Nothing else.

So, why haven’t I written?  The short answer is because I didn’t want to enough.  It is hard work to learn to do something new, and if there isn’t any outside motivation prodding me forward I never made it a priority.  I’ll never be a writer unless I consistently risk the fear, the sweat and possible failure that comes with a blank page.

That’s one example.  For the average person there can be many others, usually begun with the words, “I always wanted to…”:

What is it for you?  Lose weight?  Learn to play a musical instrument?  Learn a language?  Start a business?  Acheive a high job performance rating?  Make money?

There may be lots of circumstances keeping you from your dreams.  High achievers find ways to overcome circumstances.  Average people don’t.  One fundamental reason I haven’t met my goals is because I haven’t wanted to bad enough.  That’s a circumstance I can overcome.

I started a blog as a first step.  What is your first step going to be?

Does Steve Jobs Think I’m a Bozo?

July 28, 2008

I just finished the book Inside Steve’s Brain by Leander Kahney.  It’s a bit of a fluff job that dismisses a lot of the long held criticisms of Apple CEO Steve Jobs as intentional and strategic ploys, but the point of the book isn’t to psychoanalyze him but to understand his thinking process and how it affects business.  It’s a terrific read and makes a lot of good points, and of course Jobs is one of the great leaders and success stories who has transformed society.  It’s worth checking out.

At the end of each chapter Kahney sums up the strategy of Jobs as a take away for any leader or business person.  It got me thinking about the average guy.  In the chapter titled Elitism he describes efforts to find the best and brightest for Apple.  Of course, this isn’t a new strategy invented by Jobs but he’s done a particularly good job (so to speak) and it’s greatly impacted Apple.  However two particular items stuck out.

First, one of his biggest moves was in 1983 when he brought in John Scully to run Apple alongside Jobs.  At the time Scully was the president of PepsiCo and he had engineered the campaign that unseated Coke as number one for the first time ever.  He was 30 when he was named Vice President at Pepsi and 38 when he was named President.  Yes, he attended very prestigious schools and yes he had some great connections.  But, what kind of guy can go from graduating college to VP at a company like Pepsi in five or six years?  Certainly not the average guy!  That’s someone who is exceptional.

The other point was one of Jobs strategic points: Partner only with A players and fire the bozos.  When you read something like that you tend to think of yourself as the hirer and firer.  I’m only going to hire the best!  Or you might think of yourself as the A player.  In reality most of us are the bozos.  Would it have been fantastic to be a part of the early days of Apple?  Absolutely!  Would I have been able to cut it?  I have my doubts.

I am in the middle of leaving my current job and a part of it is that I was the bozo.  That’s really not a fair representation; I wasn’t really a bozo, just perceived as one.  The circumstances weren’t my fault and my response was very appropriate.  But, if I were really an A player would I be in a position that anyone wants me to leave.  No.

The question I am wrestling with is not how do I become Steve Jobs or John Scully.  Ain’t gonna happen.  I just don’t have the tools.  But, can I move from being a bozo to an A player?  That’s the question.


July 17, 2008

A couple of events over the last week got me thinking about legacy and made me pretty angry at my dad.  Let me explain.

The first event was a trip to South Carolina.  My daughter has a friend (he’s really her boyfriend, but I don’t admit to that) who graduated from boot camp last week at Fort Jackson.  It was really important to her to go and she worked very hard, unsuccessfully as it turned out, to find a friend who would travel with her.  It was definitely an overnight trip and I wouldn’t let her go by herself, so the compromise was for me to go with her and for her to pay all the expenses.

The graduation was terrific and very moving.  Lot’s of hooting and hollering from very proud family members and a standing ovation for three Iraqi’s who were joining the US Army.  Afterward I was able to talk the new private’s sergeant into letting us take him off post for a couple of hours (normally only immediate family is allowed to do that).  He had been earning a paycheck for the last nine weeks with nothing to spend it on, so he probably spent $500 in an hour on new toys and I’m convinced he would have spent another $1500 if I hadn’t been there.  So, that was fun.

But, other than some wonderful one-on-one time with my daughter, my biggest take away from the trip was a feeling of loss and regret.  My biggest regret in life is never having served my country.  I think the military would have done me a ton of good when I was the right age.  It may have made the difference between an average life and a life of a high achiever.

That brings me to the second event.  Over the weekend we had some relatives staying at our house and my dad over for dinner.  It was a great visit, but one short conversation sticks out.  The topic of my dad’s past came around and he started talking about his stint in the late 50’s in the Air Force.  He went on and on about how he hated it.  He talked about the idiots he had to deal with who were constantly yelling at him.

I’ve heard those stories my whole life and they shaped my feelings about the military.  I can see now that it was my father’s pride that brought about his awful experience.  He needs two things in life: attention and praise.  If he doesn’t get those, whether earned or not, he is miserable.  The Air Force wasn’t going to give him those things unless he earned them, and then only after a ton of hard work.  So, he distorted my views of the military from the time I was a little kid, and his views were more about him than the military.  So, when I was the appropriate age it never occurred to me to want to join and I was never mature enough or smart enough to question the assumptions I made.

Of course, I am responsible for my own life.  I can’t pin it on my dad.  But the combination of seeing young people doing what I should have done and my dad bringing up his negativity made for an uncomfortable time.

Ultimately I came out of this with two lessons:

1. I’m not going to do that with my kids.  I want to be an encouragement to explore life and the world.  I don’t want to put unnecessary burdens on them.  And, I want to encourage them to question the choices and assumptions I’ve imposed on them.

2. While regret can be useful, but only if it helps shape your future.  I don’t want to look back twenty years from now with regret about the choices I make today.  So, I will be intentional about the decisions that continue to shape my life.

Not every circumstance is of our making, but our response almost always is.  Don’t float through life letting the current carry you where it chooses.  Pick up a paddle and pick a direction.

Passion v Success

July 16, 2008

Two thoughts that I heard others express have been rolling around in my head and heart over the last couple of days.  The first was something I heard Adam Carolla say.  He was talking about The Two Coreys, a reality show about a couple of child stars from the 80’s who are struggling to recapture the work they had when they were young, sometimes turning to drugs to overcome the despair of lost opportunities.

I’ll try to express Carolla’s thoughts as best as I can remember.  The appearance of the clips he played was that the drugs had ended the careers of one or both of these men and that if they could get off drugs they’d have a shot at returning to their earlier success.  Carolla didn’t think that was it.  He talked about the often expressed view of former child stars that they have been type cast based on past performances.  He didn’t think that was it.  Instead, it was a lack of talent that kept them from succeeding.

A child star often wins “the cosmic lottery” and is the right person for the time and place of their success.  But when that time and place is over it’s up to them whether they can maintain it.  Carolla talked about Johnny Depp and George Clooney, both successes early in life but neither stuck in a typecast because they both had great talent.

And, if you have great talent the other key is hard work.  He pointed to Jay Leno and Jimmy Kimmel who both created something that was uniquely theirs and worked really hard to get it.

But, if you don’t have great talent and you don’t work really hard at it, you may have one time success but it isn’t going to last and you shouldn’t expect it to.

My thought was what about the average guy who doesn’t win the cosmic lottery?  Does that mean he’ll never have success?  Does everyone have great talent at something?

The other comment that I heard was from Erwin MacManus at Mosaic.  He was doing a Q & A with people at the gathering as part of a series on wisdom.  One young lady asked about finding your passion, living a fully engaged life and success.  She asked, “What if you’re working really hard, for years, at what you love but things never go the way you thought they would?  Do you just keep going?”

Erwin explored the difference between passion and an end result we want.  He gave the example of a world class violinist.  Someone may have a passion to be a world class violinist but hates to practice.  They’re never going to reach their goal.  “The way you know you’re living out the right passion is that you love the discipline that brings greatness.  If you don’t love the discipline that brings greatness in that field you are pursuing the wrong passion.”

“What if you love the discipline?” the girl asked.

“If you love the discipline then even if you don’t get the ultimate end you will not have wasted your life because you will have fulfilled your passions.”

And I think that’s the answer for the average guy.  If you are an average guy who has a passion for acting then you will find opportunities to act whether or not you achieve fame, fortune or recognition.  Carolla is right.  It is talent and hard work that bring success (in a place where there is real opportunity anyway).  But MacManus is also right.  If you define success as external, the end dream, then it may be unrealistic and pursuit will bring despair.  But, if success to you means the act of pursuing your dream then trying is succeeding even if you are only average.

Release your potential

July 7, 2008

I just finished listening to a great sermon by Erwin McManus at Mosaic Church in Los Angeles.  He’s doing a series on being all you are supposed to be and this one was about releasing your potential.  God has a plan for each of us; even the most average of people can do spectacular things by following His lead.  Erwin says you must do these four things to live up to your full potential:

1.  Work hard – There is no getting around it, and this is what distinguishes most high achievers from the average guy.

2.  Work hard at what is easy – Find your gifts.  I can work as hard as I want at being a singer and I’ll never have great success.  If I find the things I’ve been wired for, those things that I am intended to pursue, then it will be easy for me to work hard at it.

3. Work hard until it is easy – We all have gifts but we still need to hone our skills.  We must work each day to get better and better.

4. Work hard at what is important – Pursuing the trivial even to the highest level is still trivial.