The Year in Review

Counting down the Top 10 Things I learned this year:

#10

First Things First – During a coaching session one of my clients was describing the challenges he faces in his start-up company. Like many, he struggles balancing all the stuff on his plate. My response: “That’s why I’m eliminating things getting in the way of my success.” There will always be more to do, and most of us focus on what we enjoy, not necessarily what we need to be doing. I recently gave up my position as a columnist for an industry magazine, mutually agreed to end a long-term coaching relationship and decided not to renew a consulting contract. What will you let go of in 2010 to free up extra hours in your schedule?

Living ‘The Dance’

Garth Brooks just signed a five-year contract to perform on weekends at the Wynn Encore in Las Vegas. Having retired in 2000 to spend more time with his three daughters, the top-selling solo artist of all-time is ready to return to the stage. “He’s been happy being at home attending every soccer game and knowing what his kids like to eat for breakfast,” said Trisha Yearwood, whom he married four years ago. Of course, it helps that Steve Wynn tossed in millions and an 11-seat jet to convince him to perform live again.

While that set-up is likely only available to the rich and wildly famous, the rest of us have a blank whiteboard of opportunities we could pursue with our lives…yet stand in our own way of making them come true, out of fear for what we have to leave behind.

Recently, my wife and I were playing TableTopics, a game of “What If…?” with two couples who are close friends. Among the questions that came up were: “If you got a tattoo, what would it look like and where on your body would it be?” and “If you could belong to any culture, which one would you choose?” Those types of thought-provoking introspections always make for interesting conversations.

Another question we opined on was: “If money were no object, what would you do?” My buddy answered, “I’d get rid of the big house, fancy cars and pressure, and go live quietly somewhere on a beach in Mexico.” His wife said, “I’m right there with him.” When I asked what’s holding them back, he said, “The kids, my parents, responsibilities…the usual ties that bind.” Going into coaching mode, I said, “Why let that stop you?” He turned his head askew and said, “I’m not sure.”

I hope he thinks about that, because they are crystal clear on what would be a wonderful life for them – just unable to take the leap of faith required to make their dream come true. There is no guarantee it would work out, but they won’t find out if they never t try.

And now I’m glad I didn’t know
The way it all would end / The way it all would go
Our lives are better left to chance
I could have missed the pain / But I’d have had to miss the dance
~ Garth Brooks, 1990

Bigger Isn’t Always Better

Many smaller communities – even those in the suburbs of a big city like Houston – have weekly newspapers that cover the local scene…from new business openings, to city council updates, to high school sports. As major dailies across the country struggle for survival, local weeklies continue to arrive in mailboxes with pictures of the latest Rotary luncheon speakers or features on the latest resident to turn 100.

One reason the local angle resonates with readers is there’s something special about seeing a story on a restaurant you frequent or recognizing the photo of your fifth grader’s friend who finished as runner-up in the spelling bee. That’s much more personable than traveling on business and picking up the Omaha World-Herald or Memphis Commercial Appeal – or even reading about the politics of your nearest metropolitan area.

Residents of a community share a bond – a oneness – that’s somewhat like supporting a high school football team. All week long kids separate into smaller social groups and pursue individual interests, but starting with the Friday afternoon pep rally, they join together in a unified front aimed squarely at defeating their archrivals on the other side of the field.

There is an opportunity in your business to capitalize on that same camaraderie. Becoming the local expert positions you in a unique way to stand out from competitors. Identifying the bullet points of your unique knowledge base and communicating it in written pieces and speaking platforms positions you for success. When people think, “Wow, she really knows her stuff,” you’re building a relationship of trust that exceeds even a glowing front page article. (If your company is global, you would do well to think of situations where you can act local!)

Premature Evaluation

Early this morning the announcement came down that President Obama is the winner of the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize. He becomes the fourth U.S. president to be honored with this coveted award. The first two – Theodore Roosevelt in 1906 and Woodrow Wilson in 1919 – were well into their two terms in the Oval Office prior to receiving such esteemed recognition. Carter, meanwhile, was removed from the White House more than a quarter of a century before being bestowed for a lifetime of achievement in 2002.

The 2009 prize is for accomplishments prior to February 1st, which means Mr. Obama was inaugurated just 11 days beforehand. Thus, the Norwegian Nobel Committee is honoring what he did prior to becoming Commander-in-Chief. “Only very rarely has a person to the same extent as Obama captured the world’s attention and given its people hope for a better future,” said committee chairman Thorbjoern Jagland.

It is clear that our dynamic president is a powerful speaker who has the ability to engage a global audience. That’s why stadiums filled to capacity wherever he appeared during the campaign – and why the inauguration events were so must-see-TV. It is my hope his decision-making, policy setting and leadership in the next three years live up to the lofty expectations and suddenly glowing recognition.

As someone who spent 15 years working in and around college and professional sports, I’ve seen up close and personal that games aren’t won in the first half or early innings. Being president is a marathon, not a sprint. There are many miles ahead for Mr. Obama, and he needs to start making moves and executing actual initiatives to help our struggling citizens. Only then will he be worthy of all the overwhelming praise.

Keep Churning

A coaching axiom in sports is to always play through the whistle. You see this all the time in football: a running back is thwarted at the line of scrimmage, yet keep his legs churning as the linemen gain traction and forward motion plunges him into the end zone. Meanwhile, frustrated defenders plead with the officials…having ‘Why didn’t you blow the play dead?’ looks on their faces.

The last many months have drained your emotional (and perhaps financial) resources. Your team is dragging, having picked up the workload of departed peers. The grind and frustrations of ‘Just when will this recession end and things pick up?’ are probably starting to wear on everyone.

Winston Churchill said it best some 68 years ago this month as England struggled to survive: “Never give in. Never give in. Never, never, never, never – in nothing, great or small, large of petty – never give in…” Your role as leader is to keep everyone believing that tomorrow will be better. Perhaps it’s time for a pep talk?

If you need a story to share, consider the Minnesota Twins.

In September, they trailed the Tigers by seven games. A week ago, they were three back with four to play. Yet by winning 16 of their last 20, these never-say-never believers forced a one-game showdown for the division title. Yesterday, down three runs early, by two in the middle and a run late, they – fittingly – took the game to extra innings. They tied it for the third time after the Tigers scored a run in the top of the 10th, before finally winning on a base hit in the bottom of the 12th.

Whether the Twins have enough comebacks left to beat the New York Yankees in the first round of the postseason playoffs is to be determined; however, it’s clear Ron Gardenhire’s squad lives and breathes Churchill’s mantra. Your team would benefit by doing the same.