Making Yourself Free

One of the tenets of journalism, which I learned while earning a degree in that study from the University of Texas, is truth takes precedent over opinion. As information dissemination evolves from the evening newscast of your childhood, to the 24-hour availability of CNN and cable channels, to today’s instantaneous Internet commentaries, there is great risk that truth becomes distorted.

Unlimited access to free information is a gift, not an inherent right. The ability to have the world at your fingertips endangers the long-term viability of news gathering operations. As more and more newspapers – and perhaps someday broadcast entities – go out of business, it begs the question, “What happens when there’s no money to fund investigative reporting?” So, as you rejoice in the speed at which news travels the globe and the power at your fingertips to quickly post thought pieces on your blog, remember somewhere down the road there could come a time when the journalists who identify the seeds of stories become extinct due to a lack of resources.

On the Main Building at UT, there is this engraving from the Gospel of John: “You shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free.” Walter Cronkite saw those words when he matriculated there years before becoming “the most trusted man in America” as the longtime anchor of the CBS Evening News. If media outlets struggle to survive in the coming years, those left to provide information to the great unwashed need to step up their journalistic integrity while eliminating bias and opinion from their vocabularies. Otherwise, you’ll have no idea what the truth is and who you should trust.

Rah Rah Sis Boom Bah!

The college football season kicks off tonight, which means it’s only two days until my beloved Texas Longhorns – yes, I bleed Burnt Orange – take the field against Louisiana-Monroe. Now before you laugh at the Warhawks chances against the preseason #2 team in the nation, remember it was just two years ago they upset Alabama, and the Crimson Tide’s head coach is the highest paid in the game.

One trait Mack Brown, Nick Saban and other mega-millionaire coaches share is the ability to observe players, determine what each does best, and place them in positions to succeed. When Mack had Ricky Williams running to the Heisman, Texas was a power-I team. A few years later, they instituted the zone read to take advantage of Vince Young’s speed at quarterback. Last year, Colt McCoy set an all-time record for percentage completion. Three different superstars; three different approaches. Lots of wins.

Business leaders would do well to take a lesson from college football coaches. Instead of struggling to fit your team members into your preconceived views/job descriptoins of what they need to be doing, look at their talents and figure out what they would be best at doing. Then go and recruit others to fill in the gaps.

At Texas, the best athletes also perform on special teams. Thus, Sergio Kindle, a preseason All-America lineman, is on the punt block unit, and Jordan Shipley, who has 132 career pass receptions, returns punts and kickoffs. When you have talented people, find a way to keep them on the field doing what they do better than anyone else.

Just Say Thanks

Some say how you act as an adult is determined when you are a child. If that’s the case, I’m amazed many leaders have forgotten one of the best lessons they learned at a young age. It’s something one of my business mentors convinced me to adopt as a habit long ago: send a hand-written thank you note whenever you have the opportunity.

Of course, in this instantaneous world, it’s easier to type an e-mail, leave a voice mail or key in a text. Do you even remember the last time someone sent you a hand-written thank you note? Do you have any idea the last time you sent one to an acquaintance? I receive them so rarely that I keep them in a shoebox.

Rick Baker is the president of the AT&T Cotton Bowl. Following every meeting with him during my previous career more than a decade ago – whether for a casual lunch or a formal business session – I received a personalized thank you note in the mail. One time I asked about the process. He carries the notes in his car, he told me, and as soon as the meeting ends he writes them. When he returns to the office, his assistant hands him the address, which he writes on the envelope. She adds a stamp and sticks them in the outgoing mail. Three minutes of his time made great impressions on me…and likely everyone else he meets.

Not So Fast

Fed Chairman Ben Bernake said last week, “the prospects for a return to growth in the near term appear good.” Before making big investments in the stock market or big plans for your sales to take off, a little historical perspective might be good to consider. Here are comments from leaders the last time the U.S. faced such challenging economic turmoil (courtesy of Lance Roberts – www.streettalklive.com):

“I see nothing in the present situation that is either menacing or warrants pessimism… I have every confidence that there will be a revival of activity in the spring, and that during this coming year the country will make steady progress.” – Andrew W. Mellon, U.S. Secretary of the Treasury, December 1929

“I am convinced that through these measures we have reestablished confidence.” – Herbert Hoover, December 1929

“[1930 will be] a splendid employment year.” – U.S. Dept. of Labor, New Year’s Forecast, December 1929

“For the immediate future, at least, the outlook (stocks) is bright.” – Irving Fisher, Ph.D. in Economics, in early 1930

“…there are indications that the severest phase of the recession is over…” – Harvard Economic Society,  January 1930

“There is nothing in the situation to be disturbed about.” – Secretary of the Treasury Andrew Mellon, February 1930

“The spring of 1930 marks the end of a period of grave concern…American business is steadily coming back to a normal level of prosperity.” – Julius Barnes, head of Hoover’s National Business Survey Conference, March 1930

“While the crash only took place six months ago, I am convinced we have now passed through the worst — and with continued unity of effort we shall rapidly recover. There has been no significant bank or industrial failure. That danger, too, is safely behind us.” – President Herbert Hoover, May 1930

“Gentleman, you have come sixty days too late. The depression is over.” – President Hoover, responding to a delegation requesting a public works program to help speed the recovery, June 1930

“… the present depression has about spent its force…” – Harvard Economic Society, August 1930

Step Right Up

I played youth baseball for five seasons…and our record always seemed to be 8-8. My team lost the league finals in eighth grade basketball. Through all my years of competitive sports as a kid the only trophies I ever won were in Putt-Putt tournaments, where I had an adept skill of hitting the ball exactly where needed on the orange metal sideboards.

One of my awakenings as a parent was learning this is an ‘Every child gets a trophy’ and “Everybody’s a winner’ world. There is a box in our attic of more than 40 trophies ‘earned’ by our kids. The fact is not one is for winning a championship. Instead, they are for participation – acknowledgment that attending practices and showing up for games is somehow worthy of recognition.

There is a new law on the books here in Texas that a school district “may not require a classroom teacher to assign a minimum grade for an assignment.” Why was it necessary for our leaders to enact this legislation? Seems many districts had policies that set 50 as the lowest grade a student could receive, even if they failed to turn in an assignment or made 30 on an exam. Perhaps those in charge of education are recognizing that the by-product of No Child Left Behind Without A Trophy could be a generation without accountability. One that assumes everything always works out in the end, because they always reward me for just showing up.

I coached my son’s basketball team for six seasons, and the last two we lost the championship game. Some kids cried afterwards, saddened by coming up short for the second straight year. I didn’t know what to say. If I had it to do all over, here’s what I would tell them: “I’m proud of you for growing as a team each week. You listened, practiced hard and are a lot better than you were three months ago. You aren’t always going to win. That’s not how life is. Learn from this, and make changes that make you better.” That lesson would serve them better than some trophy that eventually ends up stored in the attic.