Championship Teams

The Super Bowl is an amazing spectacle. The two-week lead-up to the big game, media day, anticipation about the commercials, can easily overshadow the actual game itself. But this is the perspective of everyone except the coaches, players and team management. And of course the NFL and the officials, which I talked about last week.

Every player in every sport dreams of playing for the title. How many of you have ever played in a championship game? In any sport, this is an amazing accomplishment.

We see other championship moments in business when a group of potential suppliers competes and one wins a lucrative contract. When you win a big sale the feeling is exhilarating.

And other than an individual sport, where even individuals like golfers or tennis players have a full coaching and training staff, a single player cannot win the game. A single player on a team can make a play that wins the game. On offense you have a TD pass and catch, TD run, or a game winning kick. On defense you have an interception or fumble return for a score, blocking a kick to preserve a win, or even knocking down the Hail Mary pass to ensure the victory.

But that single player is simply doing what they were taught to do, what they trained to do, what they practiced to do, and what they knew they had the confidence to do. As fans we see this as a single great play. We do not necessarily consider the amount of blood, sweat, tears, mistakes and mental toughness that was generated and  developed to allow the performance when the performance was needed.

Football is a game of inches and small improvements that create long-term growth and the ability for breakthroughs or big plays.

Marketing is the same. I mean the overall definition of marketing that is “all activities that help create and keep a customer – profitably.” The marketers’ knowledge, insight, training, love for their job to understand human behaviour, the ability to lead across departments, and the ability to be financially prudent are some key traits required.

Great marketers also know that they are not a one person team. You may have a big idea, but it is the full ability and execution of every member of your marketing team and entire organization that will help ensure success.

And because customers can come and go, an organziation can never stop playing their game. The cycle is continuous and that is also part of the fun.

When you consider pro football dynasties (I am a Steelers fan, particularly the Steel Curtain version in the 70’s) these players and coaches didn’t want to just get to the top for a single experience, they wanted this to become the standard.

I am in no way a Patriots fan, but I marvel at the consistency and level of excellence that Coach Belichick, and his 6th round pick at QB Tom Brady, have achieved. Lots of different players and coaches surrounding them in the past decade+, and yet they are very consistent. And consistently good.

Many organizations are renowned for excellent product quality, Mercedes and BMW; outstanding customer service, Hilton Hotels or Disney; or ongoing combinations of both product and service excellence like SouthWest Airlines under Herb Kelleher (RIP). In all cases there is an obsession with their customers. And in all cases they understand that their employees are the most important factor to ensure the ongoing delivery of great products and service.

Customers and employees. You can’t have one without the other.

T – Together

E – Everyone

A – Achieves

M – More

You do your job and you trust that your teammate will do theirs. This is not just at that moment of truth. It is the confidence and trust that you and your co-workers have in each other that the necessary preparations have you both ready for key moments, and that you know how everyone will act and react to the situation.

It is all the small things on a daily basis. It is also the big things like every employee knowing how their job fits within the organization and how important they are. All the best companies know that success can be fleeting if you do not continue to focus on preparation, review, and improving on execution.

And yes, celebrating the big wins are important to recognize the collective efforts of the entire organization.

Just like when the captains are called up and they get a chance to hold the Lombardi Trophy signifying the championship of the NFL. While they are selected by their teammates and coaches, this does not put them above any other player – it gives them more responsibility as team leaders. It gives them the first chance to hold the trophy, but it is how quickly they ensure that every other person gets to hold that trophy as a thanks for their contribution that makes all the efforts so worthwhile.

Enjoy the game.

And know that the best teams start preparing for the next season a couple of days after the championship – win or lose.

And that is how champions are made. An inch at a time on a regular basis.

Just like championship marketers.

Bad Day at the Office?

If you were one of the referees in the New Orleans Saints/L.A. Rams football game last Sunday I suppose you could call it a rough day. That is, if you did your absolute best in your job responsibilities and still missed an obvious penalty at a key point in the game.

As my dear friend and colleague, Coach Brian said, it wasn’t that the three refs missed one of the two fouls on the play, it was that no one appeared to have the fortitude to make the call.

Let’s back up for a minute.

Particularly in sports with physical play like football and hockey, and sometimes basketball, players and coaches typically like refs to let the players decide the outcome of playoff games. This means not calling penalties strictly according to the rule book.

So now the black and white rules have become gray just because of playoffs. This puts a different onus on the refs and certainly makes their job more challenging.

But lawsuits and extended media coverage on all platforms suggesting a do-over or replaying the last two minutes is ridiculous.

I have yelled at the refs on TV, or while playing and coaching, and it never changed one call. And I understand this is professional sports and a trip to the championship game was on the line.

So what would everyone’s collective view have been if the Saints were winning by 20 points? Missed call, but no worries, we are going to the Super Bowl.

Why did the Saints not prepare better or play better to avoid the game coming down to this? Why didn’t the Saints show resilience and march down the field in OT for a touchdown like New England did?

Does anyone remember a key play in the New England/Kansas City game with less than a minute to play when the Chiefs intercepted Brady but the play was called back because a star KC player was offside thus giving the ball back to the Pats?

Stuff happens. Things are in your control and things are out of your control. It is not what happens to you but what you do when these things happen.


Yes, it is very hard to accept certain things in life. Take serious illness like cancer. No one wants this to happen. In fact, in many cases that I am familiar with the person lead a healthy life and the cancer still came. Are these people supposed to ask for a “redo?” Are they supposed to blame someone else?

Or do they do what the healthcare professionals advise and bring a positive mental attitude to their treatments and soldier on? I know lots of survivors that have chosen this route and are doing well in their adjusted lifestyle.

Things happen at work, too. Key people make mistakes. Sometimes serious mistakes. How are these mistakes dealt with? Is it a teachable moment or grounds for dismissal? Are people able to turn the page and keep moving forward or do they languish in self-pity and woe is me attitudes?

Where do you get your personal confidence, belief and strength from? Some have strong faith that the good Lord will guide them. Others have other platforms that they leverage for building a strong personal base.

No matter where you get this inner strength you need to apply it consistently and with discipline. You may get mad at the ref, but think of the rest of the game. Why did it have to come down to this one play when there were other opportunities to really make this situation irrelevant.

I cannot remember when a ref ever lost a game for a team. That is passing the buck. And yes, full disclosure, I have made this claim from games I have played or coached.

I was wrong. There was always something I could have done personally or as a team that would have overcome poor or inconsistent referees.

And to be clear, I am not absolving the refs of their responsibility. For the integrity of the game going forward this situation must be addressed. The refs in question must be assessed for their ability to make a call when a call is necessary to be made. If they are incapable of doing this then they should not be reffing in the NFL.

We all have bad days at work. The question is, “do you let this bring a cloud of gloom to your life or do you swat the clouds away and bring in some sunshine instead?”

It truly is a great and wonderful day to be alive! Make today’s work be your masterpiece.

The Best a Man Can Get?

Advertising is about selling something. Advertising uncovers a need within people and presents information and rationale for potential customers to purchase. This concept holds for physical products, services, and not-for-profit and charitable organizations that are looking for support including financial, volunteer hours, or other donations.

I have played football and rugby at high levels. I still play hockey, although a lot slower than 20 years ago, and basketball (I was never very good at basketball). Locker rooms are full of testosterone infused men getting ready for intense physical competition.

However, this is not “toxic masculinity” as is often presented about groups of men today. Especially men competing in very physical sports. This was a group of well-prepared, physically and mentally, men getting ready to play a sport to the best of their abilities and support and encourage their teammates, hopefully towards victory.

And after the game we relax, ice the bumps and bruises, and have a cold beverage. Typically, we relive the big plays and exciting moments. This is the spirit of competition and cooperation.

Was John Wooden wrong when he coached players to be ready to perform their best whenever they competed? Coach Wooden was a gentle, caring man who only wanted the best for everyone he came in contact with. The “Wooden on Leadership” training program I have completed, includes many interviews with female coaches who were in debt for what they learned from Coach. He was selfless in sharing and helping people – all people.

Coach Wooden was very competitive, but he was anything but an example of toxic masculinity.

How about following Gene Autry’s cowboy code:

  1. The Cowboy must never shoot first, hit a smaller man, or take unfair advantage.
  2. He must never go back on his word, or a trust confided in him.
  3. He must always tell the truth.
  4. He must be gentle with children, the elderly, and animals.
  5. He must not advocate or possess racially or religiously intolerant ideas.
  6. He must help people in distress.
  7. He must be a good worker.
  8. He must keep himself clean in thought, speech, action, and personal habits.
  9. He must respect women, parents, and his nation’s laws.
  10. The Cowboy is a patriot

This was written in the late 1940’s. After two world wars! War started by madmen is, arguably, the real definition of toxic masculinity. Neither any of my football or rugby friends or me ever wanted to start a real war.

Can we be better? Yes, everyone can be better. We, men and women, can all work to be better. This is the essence of getting a bit better each day and becoming servant leaders and good citizens.

Procter & Gamble made a corporate decision to take a stand on an issue. I can applaud a company on taking a decision that they believe in, regardless if I agree or not. In this case, P&G and their agency did a clever job of linking their “the best a man can get” tagline for their Gillette products to the position they are making.

The challenge when you do this is that you are basically tarring all men with the same concept of toxic masculinity that includes bullying, demeaning women, etc. Not every man acts this way. This decision creates a marketing challenge for Gillette by creating a singular persona and applying to all men.

This Gillette approach can lead to many people agreeing and many disagreeing. Just check the wide range of twitter comments.

When considering what to say, think first of your audience. Will your comments be accepted? Will you put yourself in a tough situation and create a need to apologize?

Here is a good tip that my parents tried to reinforce: Be respectful.

Here is another tip that great coaches taught me when I was playing: Be strong (mentally, physically and spiritually).

Here is a tip from Jesus: Love your neighbour.

As a man, your actions can serve to be the best form of advertising in this ongoing discussion. Coach Wooden’s definition of success describes the how to be the best a man can get:

Success is peace of mind, which is a direct result of self-satisfaction in knowing you made the effort to do your best to become the best that you are capable of becoming.

I was at a funeral for a teammate, coaching colleague and friend, last week. Lots of big football guys. We hugged, we back-slapped and we talked about our love for each other. We joked about hair loss or weight gain or applauded the great shape some guys are still in. We talked about how a person’s decision can impact their life – in a positive or negative way. Unfortunately, Duane’s choices were not as positive as they could have been. But there was nothing toxic about any aspect of the day and its meaning. We were there for family and friends as support at a difficult time.

When we played, we all wanted to be the best we could be. We trained – hard. We laughed. We practiced. We got angry.  We competed. We got over things. And we kept together for each other. Since our playing days, each of us have positively impacted our families, businesses/co-workers, communities, and players we coached.

For me, there is no question that football and rugby helped us be the best a man can get. We did not need an ad to tell us what to do.



How do you hire for values?

There are varying reports about the availability of workers in certain industries and functional areas. From developing homegrown talent to bringing in skilled people, there appears to be a tremendous effort to help hire for the vacancies and growth opportunities.

At the same time we hear that young workers can expect to have over 10 different jobs in their careers. Various 2017 studies by CareerBuilder, Robert Half, and Cornerstone indicate that millennials are now the hiring managers and they expect that people will job hop.

Interesting sidebar, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, Baby Boomers job hopped in their 20’s as well.

Young workers are increasingly looking for companies with the same value mix as they have. My point this week is to look at some different approaches to determining how this values-based assessment can be more synchronized than it typically is. I mean, if companies truly hired for the values they purport to maintain, no one should theoretically be looking to change jobs.

The reality is that most companies talk about how great they are to work for, yet they do not consistently look for triggers to determine if they are actually hiring for a fit into their great environment. Over the years, I have seen people get hired in different organizations, only to leave within a few months. The “square peg in a round hole” scenario.

If you are an organization that claims “ethical behaviour” as a corporate value, how do you test for this?

  • Do you ask the candidate to define ethical behaviour?
  • What type of behavioural-based questions do you ask:
    • “How have you demonstrated ethical behaviour?” This is direct and can tell you how someone thinks about such an important topic.
    • More than just asking for definitions you can be quite specific:
      • “What did you tell your employer about why you needed this time off?” If the person answers with, “I said I had a doctor’s appointment” then I suggest you hire someone else.
      • “Have you ever ran a stop sign or red light?” Most people have at least rolled through once in their driving careers. Especially when no other car was around. However, “that which you do in the dark, comes out in the light.” If you do only small things when no one is around, you are starting habits of cutting corners or selectively applying the rules. Do you want someone who claims they have never done this, and who might not be telling the truth. Or do you want someone who does these small indiscretions to work for you when they might do worse things working for you?

Once you have the right people, are you using everyone to create the type of value-driven organization you need? I was speaking with a business owner who knows his employees can now smoke marijuana. As we talked, I suggested that he really needs to have his work crews self-police their use during off hours. By this I mean that small use would be acceptable during the week because they have a job to do each day and they want to build accountability with each other. When the leaders are clear on the overall objectives, strategies and values, then others know what they are signing up for.

As I understand it, owners must be very careful about how they tell employees about smoking marijuana. Please consult legal expertise for proper guidance.

When you have your employees taking ownership  like this you are well on your way to truly living the right type of values. This becomes employees’ intrinsic motivation and accountability. It is what Dan Pink describes in his book, “Drive.” He states there are the three elements of autonomy, mastery, and purpose that research shows are the true drivers of motivation.

I maintain that it is always easier to steer the rocket, rather than light it, when speaking of directing employees. You cannot consistently motivate someone for a long period of time. People have free will and can make their choices. You need to find those people who will make the best choices for each other, the organization, and especially for all your customers with their internal drive.

Think of the great Pittsburgh Steelers teams of the 1970’s. The leaders in the clubhouse knew exactly what behaviour was required to become and remain champions. The coaches did not have to manage and deal with a lot of the day-to-day locker room issues. The players could do that because they all bought into what was required to be a champion on and off the football field.

When you have this culture, that is when you win. Consistently.

RIP Duane – a good teammate, friend and coach. We miss you.

New Year Resilience

I resolve to not make resolutions.

While January 1 is the start of a new calendar year, and in some cases an organization’s fiscal year, the actual life of a person or organization need not start as such. I am not going to get philosophical about resolutions, life planning, goals and achievements, etc. I want to focus on an important word that each person and organization must accept and resolve to work through on a regular basis.


Defined by Webster as:

  1. the capability of a strained body to recover its size and shape after deformationcaused especially by compressive stress (this is the physics definiton)
  2. an ability to recover from or adjust easily to misfortune or change (this is the personal definition)

While you can coach people to become resilient, there is no way to actually become resilient unless you have experienced some misfortune or change that causes you to recover. It is in your recovery, positive or negative, that will determine your level of resilience.

Events will happen to us individually, at work, in sports, with volunteer activities, etc. It is not what happens to us that is the measure of the type of person or organization we are. It is in how we respond to this challenge that we learn how strong, caring, forceful, focused, and RESILIENT we really are.

We so often see this in sports where a weak goal gets scored and then the goalie must recover quickly, mentally, in order to regain the necessary focus and calmness to continue to compete.

Coaching and playing high level football teaches you the necessity to forget the last play and get ready for the next one. If you are a defensive player and you get beat in your coverage, you best have a short memory if you want to continue to play at a high level. A long time Winnipeg Blue Bomber and friend, Bob T, was talking to our Bisons players a few years back and said that in his experience most pro players cut themselves because they cannot handle the mental aspect of the game. They are not resilient.

Coach Wooden would refer to two elements of his Pyramid of Success, poise and self-control, as important elements of resilience.

This must, necessarily, become an important aspect of a corporate culture. Since you cannot control factors outside your organization you must be prepared to respond to events. You must ensure that your people and processes will allow you to be resilient. Preparation is critical so that you are ready to react to a situation. If you have to think too long and you freeze due to the stress of the situation, you will not likely perform to your top-level and the level needed at that time.

Companies put a business continuity plan in place, but might not hold training sessions so that people will know exactly what to do should the event occur in real life.

We train, or at least we should, our front line staff to deal with difficult situations. Too often these sessions are conducted in safe environments and are actually nothing like actual customers and this leaves your reputation, your brand, at risk. A nice logo (if you think that is what a brand is) is not going to save you.

People and companies are always moving. Some move faster than others. When an event hits you, your course must change. If you simply default back to your original direction and pace you will not really develop resilience. Adaptation from the event will alter your course and your pace and with a strong positive spirit you can be in a better space. If you do not approach your reaction this way then you might be going back to the original state that cannot overcome the event. Then you are trapped in a sort of doom loop. This approach and result can cause great stress on people where specific medical treatments are required.

Corporately, constant vigilance is required to search the horizon for possible events so that you can prepare to address or avoid them and thus stay on a positive course. Reacting to a competitor price cut without all the information and context can result in a catastrophic revenue impact for your organization.

Resilience is a personal trait. You are responsible for you. Only you are responsible for your actions.

In an organization the same concept holds true. An organization is a collection of people. It is how these individuals react, on a collective basis, that determines how the organization will respond. Be at your best when your best is needed. Your best is needed every day.

Albert Einstein said: There is only one road to true human greatness: the road through suffering.

Be strong this year. Take action to help you get to the top of your game. Be a leader – someone others will willingly follow. And use your strength to be resilient as you forge through the road of suffering.

Have an outstanding 2019!!!