October 12, 2020

The Unity of a Team (with SOUL)

Filed under: Leadership,Sports,Teamwork — Nathan @ 12:25 pm

I love baseball. I grew up playing it, had many “Field of Dreams” moments with my dad through the years (he coached at two colleges), and still continue to watch even after my own inauspicious career at Duke. I confess, I fell asleep in the middle of the deciding fifth game between the Tampa Bay Rays and the Yankees the other night and missed the drama of the well-played game with high stakes and drama, including an incredible eighth-inning at bat by Mike Brosseau that launched the Rays to the clinching win.

Ji-Man Choi, removed for Mike Brosseau, celebrates Brosseau's home run

Ji-Man Choi celebrates Mike Brosseau’s home run

In a professional career that had me building and studying teams up close (including watching our Buccaneers teams go from 9-7 to a Super Bowl then to 7-9 in consecutive seasons), I’ve been fascinated by the subject. That has taken even more of my attention ever since Tony Dungy and I first began working on “The Soul of a Team” (Tyndale House, 2019), including research, interviews with corporate and coaching leaders, and speaking and consulting on the topic.

With that backdrop, I was particularly drawn to several moments of the broadcast of Brosseau’s dramatic at bat against Aroldis Chapman…none of which directly involved Brosseau or Chapman. Instead, they can be glimpsed at the 2:06, 5:35, and 5:56 marks of this clip, when you see Ji-Man Choi first cheering, then later jumping the dugout fence and celebrating with Brosseau.

Why the big deal? Well, Choi was no longer in the game. More specifically, he started the game and was removed for Brosseau two innings earlier. That is, Choi could’ve been the one at bat, but wasn’t. It was Brosseau. And yet, Choi was one of the main cheerleaders. The moment wasn’t his, and he was okay with that. It was Brosseau’s. And the team’s.

The elements of “SOUL,” a critical foundation of a high-performance team, are challenging. But the level of unity shown by Choi is so impressive and runs so counter to our nature (or at least mine!) – to actually be so committed to the team that you are pulling for your replacement’s success.

Thanks to what appears to be a selfless, unified roster of players like Choi, the Rays have already gone far beyond what their salaries and name recognition would make you expect. For them, the whole is truly greater than the parts, exactly what you’re hoping for with a team.

I may start taking afternoon naps to make sure I don’t miss any repeat performances.

February 27, 2020

Growth Requires Adversity

In the Spring of 1988, I was a freshman at Duke and immersed in the throes of a baseball campaign that saw us lose nineteen straight games on our way to a 10-37 record. (You know, if you take out the 19 then we were only 10-18, which really isn’t too bad…)

In the meantime, the Duke basketball team was having more success on the court than we were on the field. At least, until a dreadful late-season stretch of three straight losses that saw them drop from first place in the ACC to third and looking fourth square in the face with a final game against regular season champ North Carolina. The first two, losses to NC State and Georgia Tech, weren’t all that surprising, as both were solid teams. But those two were followed by a loss that allowed a dreadful Clemson team to climb out of the cellar.

Along with plenty of others, I wrote off the basketball team after those three losses, only to see them crush Carolina, win the ACC Tournament, then make a run to the Final Four before finally losing to eventual champion Kansas.

Eight straight wins at the most important time of the year after the three-loss swoon.

I was reminded of that long-ago reversal upon reading about Coach K’s recent comments following Duke’s loss to NC State the other day. Those comments, as captured by Ed Hardin in the Greensboro News & Record, contain a great deal of wisdom for sports and life.

“The game’s not over until you get feedback,” Coach K said. He went on to discuss the point of that feedback – learning and improving, and his strategy for doing so, starting with speaking to his team about attitude.

“Whenever there’s adversity, the single biggest gift that God has given you is attitude. You are in control of attitude. No one else. It’s on you.” Then, he said that there’s belief that springs from your attitude, and finally your belief leads to preparation and execution, which complete the cycle of improvement. 

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How we approach things mentally then allows us to put the sufficient effort and time into tackling what’s in front of us. And improving.

“You turn adversity of something that was bad into an opportunity that makes you better….Sometimes you need to get punched and knocked out. But then we get up, figure out why you got knocked out.”

Good stuff. Sometimes you need to get knocked out. Notice he didn’t say, “that stinks, but it’ll make us better.” No, an attitude that these challenges are good for our growth.

What do you know? Duke lost the next week to Wake Forest after these comments, a possibility Coach K entertained when he said that it was a cycle to be repeated as necessary. Knowing him, there’s a part of him that was pleased by the loss to Wake – another chance to grow.

Adversity leading to progress. Not in spite of adversity. Because of.

File that away for the next time life throws a punch. 

I will.

November 18, 2018

Reflections from the Iowa Speedway

I recently had the chance to speak in Iowa for Keltek, Incorporated. In addition to speaking on leadership concepts from The Mentor Leader, their Director of Sales & Marketing, Jesse Peters, asked me to speak on the unique platform we each enjoy, which is one of my favorite topics. The basic concept of “platform” is that each of us has a unique sphere of influence that no one else can fill in the way we can.

No one.

Iowa SpeedwayAmong those in attendance that day at the Iowa Speedway – what a unique place to speak! – included everyone first responders from Iowa State Highway Patrol officers, EMS technicians, a couple of fire chiefs, several sheriffs, and numerous deputies, as well as the installers that outfit first responders’ vehicles in the workshop, receptionists and other administrative assistants.

The beauty of platform is that everyone from Tim Tebow to Tony Dungy, Oprah, the Governor of Iowa, and my retired next door neighbor all have one. My platform may not be as significant as theirs from a numbers standpoint, but there are particular individuals on whom I can have a greater influence than any of those.

That’s true for all of us. There are people we interact with, sometimes under our own roof, sometimes outside, who we can impact – for better or worse – in a unique way. As I spoke on this topic, I looked out into that crowd of first responders and others, and was again reminded that while I may have been onstage, they were going to go out and impact the world around them in a way that I never will.

And they got it. From Kelly and Jamie Milligan of Keltek to the other attendees there from all parts of Iowa (and some beyond), they got it.

Keep that in mind as you move through your week. You may wish your platform was bigger, or be frustrated or unfulfilled with your current situation. But don’t lose heart! Like it or not, there are people watching, people in need of a friendly word or a hand up, that Oprah, my neighbor or I can’t reach.

But you can.Iowa Capitol

July 12, 2018

Belgium’s Red Devils

It’s true – I’ve been watching this year’s World Cup. Watching a lot of it. Of course, other than now knowing the term “set piece” and appreciating the cleanliness of the Japanese and Senegalese fans, I must confess to still not grasping the intricacies of the game.

But one thing is clear; teamwork is critical.

I was fascinated to see the comments of Roberto Martinez, the coach of Belgium’s team (the “Red Devils”), on the necessity of his squad to work as a unit. “Individual skills and talent are important, but in these tournaments, it’s absolutely necessary to play as a team,” he said. “The last thing you want at international football is to see a group of individuals hoping to get a result.”

So true, not only in international football, but also in other sports, as well as corporations and any team settings. A team is completely different than a group of individuals.

Three points jumped out at me from the comments of Martinez, who led Belgium to the Cup semifinals:

  1. They needed the right roster configuration. As the late (American) football coach Denny Green said, “I want the right players on the roster, not necessarily the best players.” Martinez, likewise, spoke of needing the right mix of attackers, defenders and others, even if that meant some of the players who “grab the headlines” didn’t make the team.
  2. That roster configuration included diversity for the benefits it brings. Youth and young blood bring “bravery and naivety,” but Martinez also sought the benefits that veterans who had played in high stakes international competitions brought. Tony Dungy tackled this with his first Buccaneers coaching staff, hiring the blunt, fiery Herm Edwards as his Assistant Head Coach to complement Tony’s soft-spoken approach. Neither needed to become something they weren’t, but both needed to appreciate the other.
  3. Belgium had to become a team that could handle adversity. And the only way to learn to handle it is to experience it. “We must become a team that can suffer when it’s needed to be a winning team….” Martinez explained.  It’s certainly no fun when it’s happening, but it’s a part of growth. For the Red Devils, or your team. As my friend Jon Gordon notes, maintaining a spirit of positivity helps us press on through bad times.

So as you work within your team – and teams are all around us, in our families, businesses, churches, sports teams, and organizations (including my wife’s Junior League!) – remember Martinez’ words of wisdom. At the end of the day, teams can accomplish more, but only if they are a team – not merely a collection of individuals.

NW