Thinking Young

So I guess this is the way it’s going to be from here on out. Having turned 50 in June, I have received at least three direct mail offers in the last few months from AARP about joining their organization. Really? I have 10 more consecutive years of kids’ college tuition to pay – having only completed the first two. Plus, after the ‘lost decade’ of investment earnings, any thoughts of retirement aren’t circling around my head.

The good news is I can still run five miles in under 43 minutes – and my endurance continues to increase in the swimming class I began 10 weeks ago. I had a heart CT scan two weeks ago that came back perfectly fine, and later this month there’s that wonderful procedure us older folks get to enjoy called a colonoscopy. Ah, the fun that comes with the changing of the calendar.

At the recent Pro Football Hall of Fame ceremony, the first speaker was former Detroit Lions defensive back Dick LeBeau, who started his playing career the year before I was born and retired form the NFL in 1972. He’s spent the past 38 seasons as a coach and earned two Super Bowl rings this decade as defensive coordinator of the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Dick LeBeau will be 73 years old in a few weeks. He looks 20 years younger, and so far this year has shot his age on the golf course 18 times. The final minutes of his induction speech really impacted me… and I repeat them here in hopes they’ll touch you too:

“Life is for living, folks. Don’t let a number be anything other than a number. Don’t let somebody tell you that you’re too old to do this or too old to do that. Stay in life. Life is a gift. It’s a joy. Don’t drop out of it. Don’t let somebody else tell you and don’t let your mind tell you.

If I would have gotten out of my life’s work at 65 or 67, when they say is the age of retirement, here is what I would have missed, folks. I would have missed not one but two World Championship football teams that I got to be a part of…. I got to be a part of a number one defense that statistically had the lowest numbers in the last 35 or 40 years. I had my number retired from my high school. Had a building named after me in my hometown. I made the Detroit Lions all 75-year team. I was accepted into the Ohio State University Athletic Hall of Fame. Now tonight I guess when I sit down, get off this speaking, which I’m gonna do, I’ll be in the NFL Hall of Fame.

My mother always said, ‘Onward and upward, age is just a number.’ God love y’all. Thank you.”

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Revised Planning

Last week I facilitated the executive leadership team retreat of a client for the second year in a row. As the CEO concluded his opening remarks, he turned to me and said, “David, you should feel really proud we invited you back, since we accomplished very little coming off of last year’s meeting. That may be a first in the history of facilitating.”

Obviously, this created an immediate opportunity to discuss what didn’t happen… and to identify how the team – which has several new members – will change its approach this time around. Through this opening discussion the team identified 26 ‘traps’ that had them end up hitting a nice ground rule double instead of a home run. Listed among these disruptions were: too many things to focus on at once; operating in silos instead of joining together; allowing ‘fires’ to displace working the plan; and, poor communication across the organization.

This was a wonderful dialogue that moved us through what didn’t happen and got everyone’s cards on the table right off the bat. In fact, when we broke for lunch that first morning, I asked them to come back prepared to answer that they had ‘left the past behind’ and are ‘all-in’ going forward.

Ultimately, we ended day two with a clear path for what the new plan is, what steps they will each take to complete their part and how they intend to hold each other accountable. We put in place ‘check-in’ dates where they will meet regularly to provide updates on progress, so they don’t wait until the last minute to do things. Most importantly, I met individually with the CEO and coached him on how to stay ‘on top of the pyramid’ thinking big picture while engaging his leaders at the ‘ground level’ to keep them focused on achieving desired outcomes.

This time I think we got it right, and they’re going to soar. Perhaps they might invite me back again next year.

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Setting Priorities

The legendary French skier Jean Claude Killy once said he starts every morning with a cold shower; that way whatever happens the rest of the day can’t be all that bad. My approach to the day’s first activity is the same philosophy, so I begin weekdays with 15 minutes of stretching and 15 minutes of sit-ups and push-ups. Most of the time this requires a mental struggle to finish – as I continually remind myself, “Everything is going to be a lot better in just a few minutes.”

Whenever clients ask how to better organize their workday I recommend a similar strategy: “Focus on your most challenging project for at least 30 minutes when you first sit down at your desk; then whatever fires come up later seem a lot less daunting.” After a few weeks of adjusting your mindset, of course, this becomes habit and your productivity soars.

One of the key adjustments of this technique is to avoid checking e-mail. While this high-tech world is great, a major drawback is iPhones, Blackberrys and desktops can take over you life. So it’s important to take back some control. My recommendation is to utilize the “Dr Pepper Approach” and check e-mail three times a day. (That’s a reference to their commercials when I was a kid that suggested drinking Dr Pepper at 10, 2 and 4 provided a pick-me-up.)

Simple changes can lead you to big results. Getting more organized and putting first things first doesn’t take a complete overall… just a little tweaking. It’s a lot easier than taking cold showers. Trust me, I’m a doctor.

(Disclaimer: I’m not really a doctor, but that last line – taken from Dr Pepper’s current commercials – was too good to pass up.)

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Master Stroke

Since age 24, I have always maintained an exercise program. For several years I lifted weights, before deciding push-ups and sit-ups get the job done in a lot less time. I jogged until I was 30, then put 10,000 miles on a Schwinn AirDyne bike. In 2001, I went back to running. As age 50 crept ever closer the past few months, my body complained often about recurring aches and pains. I sensed Father Time was telling me to find another way to stay in shape.

So I decided to take up swimming and, given my desire to do it right, enrolled in a 10-week training class at the YMCA. Upon arriving at the first session five days before my birthday, I discovered the other 12 participants all have been participating in this program for at least a year; several are former competitive swimmers. I also learned the sport of swimming is a lot harder than Michael Phelps makes it look. After 20 minutes – having ingested, I’m certain, more than a safe amount of chlorine and feeling I was close to hyperventilating – I told the instructor, “I don’t think I can do this. Running is so much easier.” She politely said: “Yes, you can. Give me three weeks and you’ll be swimming laps with everyone.”

Tomorrow is that three-week mark, and while I’m still not good – that’s me bringing up the rear in the beginner’s lane, struggling to figure out how to take a breath during freestyle and sitting out about every third rotation – I’m starting to get the rhythm of swimming. Looking down the road to August 18th when this session ends, I have a clear vision of signing up for the next one and spending many more days in the pool.

The lesson here is this: Implementing something new and important – whether it’s business strategy or personal development – doesn’t come without a large dose of learning, a big serving of frustration and a giant piece of humble pie. The key is to put one arm in front of the other, keep kicking and breathe calmly. Looking in the mirror each morning and channeling your inner Stuart Smalley helps too: “I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and doggone it, people like me!”

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It’s A Thriller

Butler’s run to the Championship game of the NCAA Basketball tournament – a reel-life “Hoosiers” sequel – captured the nation’s hearts. Although Gordon Heyward’s last-second launch from half-court bounced out and the Duke Blue Devils escaped with the title, the Bulldogs proved little guys can compete with the big boys.

Yes, America still loves an underdog… and that’s good to know during these times of fledgling economic recovery. While bailouts and government programs seem to be helping Wall Street and other giants, Main Street and small entrepreneurs continue to struggle. That makes it tough to get up in the morning and keep a positive attitude… tough to continue believing a new day is around the corner.

In the locker room minutes before the opening tip last night, Butler’s youthful coach Brad Stevens, calmly said these words to his would-be giant killers: “It’s about being a great teammate and being accountable. If you do tough things, if you stay together, you’ll not only attract that what you want, you’ll attract that what you are.”

As an advocate of the Law of Attraction, I’m convinced great results arise from great attitude. Regardless of how difficult things appear right now, your positive vision of believing you will be the David that overcomes Goliath is essential.

Thank you, Butler and Duke, for a great game. Thank you for reminding us great things happen when you believe.

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