Thursday, January 13, 2011

Lessons in leadership and success

The BCS college championship bowlgame between the Oregon Ducks and Auburn Tigers was a classic battle between two very different teams. As the ebb and tide flowed back and forth for 60 minutes of play, I found myself observing the two coaches and making many mental notes on leadership from observations of this exciting game which came down to a last second field goal that gave this years championship to Auburn.

Life lessons to be gained from some of these observations:

Plan ahead but be ready to make adjustments...

Oregon and Auburn had very different strengths and weaknesses. Auburn had size and a very strong defense...especially their defensive line. Both defenses were strong...and the game was unexpectedly low scoring. Both teams obviously knew where each other was most vulnerable having had more time than usual to prepare for this battle between two much heralded teams. The first quarter was amazingly scoreless with both teams averaging 42 and 49 points per game throughout the season. Yet, by planning...and probably with cases of nerves...the first quarter saw each teams offense abnormally scoreless.

In the second quarter, with Oregon not being able to run against Auburn, they started passing more and doing their hurry up offense and a number of  "trick plays". They ended up leading until near the end of the first half when Auburn scored a touchdown. After the first half, the Duck's trick plays were stifled and it seemed obvious to me that Auburn had made solid adjustments at halftime and effectively put out the fire of Oregons offense...which is to me what won the game. They stopped two touchdown drives in the red zone that should have been duck touchdowns.

It's good to have a game plan...but most games are won in the second half...after adjustments. Life is a lot like that.

If you get hurt, suck it up and stay in the game...

There were many injuries during this hard hitting game...and in most cases the players came back into the game later on. Both quarterbacks were limping here and there during the game...but I think both played every offensive play for their side.

Obviously adrenaline and the hugeness of a championship game helps overcome pain and adversity...but overall I think it takes heart and "mind over matter" to overcome pain and injury. The same applies to most of us in everyday life. Whether at work or within our relationships...we often times get our feelings "hurt" or things don't go as smoothly as we had hoped. The key to success in our careers , business or relationships is often tied to our ability to overlook pain and "injury" to focus on our goals and objectives instead. We can't control other people easily, but we have a better chance at controlling ourselves and our reactions to life's adversities. Don't give up easily to pain or disappointment. Stay focused on your objective instead.

Control your emotions, don't let them control you...

A game like this gets very emotional easily. The stakes and expectations are huge...each player of himself and  the masses of spectators who are observing every play and decision. I very rarely saw emotion expressed by either coach. They both seemed TOTALLY focused on what they had just observed and what they had to do next. The play calling on each side was very creative I thought, and even the players seemed to reflect the determination, focus and lack of emotion on the part of their coaches.

I think the biggest hurdle for many of us in life is controlling our emotions. Many of us never express emotions that still under the surface control our actions and our destinies. Many of us struggle with emotional "fear"...fear of rejection, fear of risk and failure, fear of being in the limelight and therefore wilting into the backdrop of life. These fears may not be evident to others...but I think is the significant reason many of us are super UNDER achievers to our true potential.

We often times are our own worst enemies by letting our emotional reactions to things we cannot control get the best of us. I for one am guilty of letting certain things in my past fester or remain within my psyche without fully addressing and filing them away for good. I have allowed people who let me down or circumstances that caused pain and failure that were out of my control to keep me in check over long periods of time or to fear opening up to new people or ideas.  I now try to own my emotions more quickly...whether anger, joy or sadness...and move on more quickly rather than linger too long over emotions from past experiences. I strive now to live in the present and future...though not always successfully.  Without conscious effort it will never happen though.

Its never over til its over...

There were various times in the second half when I thought Auburn was going to start rolling all over Oregon. The stats were heavily favoring Auburn and Oregon was scoreless in the 2nd half until they tied up the game with 2:31 left with a TD and 2 pt conversion.  Auburn should have had two touchdowns in the second half that instead were a series of catch-able dropped passes. Basically Oregon's defense kept them in the game while their offense sputtered. Even on the final drive by Auburn and the relatively short field goal that won the game, I observed the Oregon coach without emotion and looking expectantly for a miss and continuation of the game.

I believe in being optimistic. There is no other way to play the game of life. The only way we can impact fate is to have a will, tied to action, that can bring about change. When we are down, we have to redouble our efforts and emotions in a positive direction to get back to where WE want to be. Even when the odds are hugely stacked against us, the only way to react is putting in even more effort and resolve than we thought we ever had. It is never too late to turn things around in life...but if we think and feel defeated...we will probably live up to our own expectations.

Winning is all about the "grind"...

The key to Auburn's win statistically was in the "rushing yards" category. Auburn had 279 Net rushing yards to Oregon's 75...and Oregon had averaged over 286 per game during the season. Auburn's rushing edge also kept their offense on the field and kept the offensive strength of Oregon off the field of play.  This is the unheralded part of team football...where those hefty linemen battle it out every play blocking and tackling. These players don't often make the highlight reels on TV sports...but this is where most games are won or lost.

I belief life is much the same way. It is a marvelous experience to hear a virtuoso musician perform or observe an artist's masterpiece. It is fabulous to observe or experience success in business, reach marketing goals or have a high flying investment portfolio. Yet, very few people "win the lottery".  Most riches or accomplishments come with great discipline and sacrifice. Most great musicians spend hours per day playing scales and arpeggios and repetitive practicing...not very glamorous. For every great work, an artist probably throws out a hundred sketches or dissatisfying ideas. Making marketing goals or correct investments usually entails the "numbers game" of contacting prospects...or looking at hundreds of industry statistics before deciding what company or industry to invest in.

Success can be glamorous...but the road to get there usually isn't.

Win or lose, hold your head high if you gave it your best...

At the end of the game, I was happy to observe the Oregon coach...and most of his players...with their heads still held high and congratulating their opponents on their win. Each key player had made some spectacular plays and kept alive their chances of winning until the final seconds even against the stats and an arguably stronger opponent. I had the sense they had given it their all and were proud of their accomplishments even at #2 in the country.

While false pride or haughtiness is never attractive in a person...I think it is important to maintain a certain level of self pride. Without a certain amount of produces very little. The thrill of victory or the agony of defeat can often be based on one bounce of a ball or a fractional adjustment in any action or direction in life. If we haven't attempted our goals and dreams, then yes, we should hang our heads in shame and will probably live out our lives in regret and quiet desperation. But if we have pursued our dreams and passions with every ounce of our ability and energy...when the game is over we should be able to hold our heads high knowing we have given our all, even if we aren't perfect.

With full tilt, passionate "living", there are never losers. Just winners with varying degrees of joy and fulfillment.

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