Nothing’s Impossible – Think Big, Dream Big

By the time I reached the Chesapeake Bay Bridge tunnel on my way to Norfolk, Virginia and old Dominion University, I have driven over 800 miles and over 15 hours . All along the way I kept telling my self to dream big; act big; this can be done; and don’t quit on this. Every day I recited the one goal I had in my head: National Champions. I pictured how it would lay out and how I would celebrate over and over again. Never mind that I didn’t know the players; I was simply going by my gut feeling I had about the head coach who hired me. Every day I reminded myself over and over who I would become: a National Champion.

Everyone I knew wanted to know why I would uproot myself and leave everything behind. Why I would move into a tiny furnished apartment in the roughest part of Norfolk. Inevitably every conversation came down to a few questions: Where the heck is ODU? What is ODU? Tell me again why you want to go there after all the hours spent studying, practicing, and building a nice world for yourself as a respected teacher and winning high school basketball coach.

Furthermore, why wouldn’t I want to follow everyone else and get a job working for the State of New York. After all, great benefits, pension, and a good salary. Why move to a place where no one knows you and no one knows who the heck is “ODwho” (as we affectionately called the school)?

It dawned on me one day when I was on a bus trip to Yankee Stadium to see my idol Mickey Mantle play. We were sitting in the nosebleed section of the stadium out in right field and a friend said to me, “Isn’t it amazing that all these guys are doing what they love? They are living their childhood dreams of playing ball.” It hit me at that moment that up until then I was watching life form the nosebleed section of the stadium. Even though I had a good life, it was comfortable and I was watching life from the sidelines. I made a promise to myself to get in the game, dream big, and make every moment count. I wanted to be in the game…the BIG game.

Are you in the game? Are you watching life from the top of the stadium or are you on the field? Are you making most moments count in your life? Do you have a big dream that weighs on your “what if”?

I mean let’s be real here. Life is short. The average life expectancy is between 78-81 years. That’s short…so short. And corporate life? According to a study done by INNOSIGHT/Richard N. Foster/Standard & Poor’s the average corporate job lasts seven years. Seven years! So why wouldn’t you take charge and make every moment count.

Life is about playing full out, all the time with passion, compassion, and enthusiasm. It’s doing what you love and finding the love in what you do. We have to get in game and make this week count.

People will tell you it’s impossible. There will be naysayers in whatever you try to do “full out.” I had my naysayers. When I came back from basketball camp and told everyone what I wanted to do and why I wanted to do it, they all thought I was joking at first. Then insane. “You’re not going to go to an unknown school and win a National Championship,” they said. Well I better because that’s how I got my job. They all said I was crazy, that I was throwing my life away, and that it was impossible.

Possible is just a word people use to justify what they have in life…this is possible my life. Why? Because it’s a whole lot easier to accept what you have in life than to go out, disrupt your balance, and make a difference. It’s just the way we all justify what’s handed to us…our job, our family, our territory, our quota.

Now I’m not telling you to go out and disrupt your territory or quota. I am telling you to get outside what you have right now and dream big. I am telling you to go out and make your life, your way, your design.

Do this for me right now. Hold your hands in front of you about a foot apart. That’s how far you are from doing the impossible. I’ll prove it to you. Now put your hands on either side of your head. How far you are from making impossible possible is between your hands. It’s in your head.

Impossible is only impossible until someone does it for the first time. The light bulb. Flying people up in the air all over the world in a few hours. Landing on the moon and coming back safely. Having 1000 songs and photos in your pocket. Selling a million dollars. All impossible until the first person did it then others followed.

The ODU team I mentioned earlier went 36-4 in their first 40 games. They went on to go to three Final Fours winning two of them. They went to an NIT and won that, and they came within one basket of going to four Final Fours. They set attendance records and were the first team nationally televised. Impossible? Never, but don’t ask the naysayers.

I’ve made a living by taking on tough assignments—as a coach, sales leader, and leadership development executive. Over and over I’ve seen that with the right influence and gratitude, nothing is impossible. What is your dream?

Question: What do you do when people tell you something is impossible? Leave your comment below.

Are You Naughty or Nice? How to Wrap Up Good Leadership All Year Long

There was a high-producing sales leader who shot out of bed every day, performed at a high level, and always achieved all of his goals. This leader was a model of passion, compassion, and enthusiasm. He worked effortlessly, seamlessly, and received high praise as an example for what people should aspire to in their role.

The field loved this leader and associates from other teams reached out frequently for advice. Then one day someone noticed that the leader wasn’t as present as before. He took more time off than normal and passion waned for his role and team. This was odd and everyone tried to diagnose what went wrong. They couldn’t come up with a solution. A short while later this high producer who loved his job left the role and went to do something else.

What do you think happened? How could this organization let this person out of a role that was perfect for him and in which he was thriving?

Well, this person caught a dose of bad leadership— he got a new leader.

Where this person’s former leaders matched their leadership style to this leader’s talent, the new leader only managed one way—directive…treated everyone like they were new to their role with little recognition.

The new leader focused on the negative and the team soon saw this—even calling their boss dumb behind the boss’s back in front of their team.

This new leader put his peers down and was hung up on his title. He treated those “below him”—like admins and wait staff—poorly. It’s no wonder the team’s productivity slowed down.

It is surprising how much the relationship between a manager and a worker affects the worker’s job performance. Bad management practices deflate employee morale, cause stress that sometimes results in serious health issues, and costs the company more than just the cost of high turnover.

Disgruntled and mishandled employees stop caring about how well they perform in their jobs. Studies show bad leaders create confusion, stress, high turn over, and ultimately cost the organization money.

So this holiday season, are you naughty or nice? Are acting like a good leader or bad?

Check in with your people, thank them for the job they do, and lead them differently. One size doesn’t fit all. Coach them that way. People wake up every day with the intent to be successful. Don’t kick that backwards with your leadership.

The fantastic article “Impact of Positive Leadership,” by Tom Rath in the Gallop Business Journal discusses a study that showed that teams with a positive-to-negative ratio greater than three to one were significantly more productive than workgroups that did not reach this ratio. In other words, people need to have at least three positive interactions for every interaction that has negative emotions attached to it.

Tom Rath states in this article,

Positive leaders deliberately increase the flow of positive emotions within their organization. They choose to do this not just because it is a “nice” thing to do for the sake of improving morale, but because it leads to a measurable increase in performance.

Take Rath’s advice this holiday season and “search for opportunities to invest in everyone who works for [you and] … view each interaction with another person as an opportunity to increase his or her positive emotions.”

This is the kind of cheer that your employees need and appreciate all year long.

Question: What do you do as a leader to increase positive emotions around you? Leave your comment below.

Your First Teams Shape You and Remember You … So Treat Them Right

First teams shape the you who you are today. My first team was a young, mostly first-job group of professionals that defined talent and had no fear. They wrote the rulebook for how you sell in an area that no one had very much success.

It’s your first team that allows you to make all the rookie mistakes, and if you hired right, they cover your back and allow you to learn from them. My first sales team went on a mission to prove a point. They took an us-and-the-world mindset and mowed everyone down. They also remember a lot about how you treated them, what you said, and all of your nuances.

My first sales team taught me how to be transformational and less transactional as a former coach now a sales leader. They all have stories to tell. One of the finest people I ever managed said:

You were my first sales coach! I was on that first team you managed. You were the one who taught me that I’m not only selling externally but internally. You were the one who told me that I am living in California, but selling like New York. You really helped hoan my skills for bigger and better things. —Carolyn Vineyard Shneider.

Carolyn had the toughest assignment and loved feedback and coaching. We spent many hours in the field. I give her all the credit. She had perseverance, was determined, and never took no for an answer. She’s a top salesperson today and her will to succeed made me a better leader.

It’s much like my first ODU (Old Dominion University) team. When everyone called us “OD Who” this team never had any doubts they would beat he odds and win it all. Coach Marianne Stanley developed a culture and high bar of success of capturing the gold. The team was talented too…we just assembled and gave the players a strong buffet of skills and drills that they would eat from. They then took it to championship levels.

This was the group that took extra shots after practice, came to practice early asking for coaching. We only lost six games in my first three years with this group. I joke today that if we had more experience as coaches, we might have won those six. We made mistakes, learned, coached, and developed talent to better levels than they dreamed possible. That was our style. The team’s culture.

Years later when you talk to people you led or coached, they don’t remember the awards or scores, but what you said at a point in time, how you treated them, your actions and nuances. Be very intentional about the you…the you you want to give to others.

First teams are special. All of your teams are special, so treat them right and they will make you better at what you do.

Question: What is your favorite memory or lesson from your first team? Leave your comment below.

When the Team Wins, Everyone Wins

Leaders so often underestimate the overall value of a tight team. When you look at winning teams, there is a bond between the members. Simply said, they all got along, accepted their role, execute flawlessly, and never lose sight of the overall goal.

When the team wins everyone wins.

Every team I’ve led had a closeness and the goals were clear. The ODU championship teams, while being intensely competitive, all knew that the goal was one thing: the National Championship. When you consider that the best player on those teams, Nancy Lieberman, changed her role—score less, pass more—for the benefit of the team, you get the picture of why that group was so successful.

As a mater of fact, every person on that team made some sort of sacrifice as we had fifteen players of which most could have played full time for other teams. Coaches Marianne Stanley, Wendy Larry, and I did as good job of keeping all that talent in check. We complimented each other. It was Marianne’s relentless pursuit of the success that fueled the fire for the group.

As I look at all the sales teams that succeed for me, it was a similar team makeup: clear goals, bold confidence, and relentless pursuit of success. My first sales team—of which eight of nine members were brand new—all had one thing in common: they bonded early and often as a team and drove each other to success.

Too many business leaders neglect to look at the makeup of their team, manage and develop its members, and drive the whole as opposed to riding one or two superstars.

Team: the guiding factor that is the catalyst to each group’s success.

Question: What element characterizes the best team you’ve been a part of? Leave your comment below.

How to Prepare for Hard Days

On Sunday, February 17, 2013, the Lady Monarchs of Old Dominion University won their women’s basketball game in the final seconds.

The Lady Monarchs’ character, poise, and cadence were remarkable—especially since two days earlier, their assistant coach, Sara Jones, lost her battle with cancer. The conditions for play were not perfect and this team could have folded. Instead they went out, executed in tough conditions, and played  through the pain they felt.

This event makes me think of how many times in Corporate America do sales teams face tough days, tough odds, and have to overcome tough conditions. Hopefully not involving the death of a friend or colleague, yet still every day there is someone on your team who is facing a tough challenge.

Are you as the leader ready to rally those people?

I’ve come to know there is no such thing as perfect conditions, and just when you think it’s perfect, someone brings you back to earth with tough feedback.The keys to sustaining performance are many and I’ll say my vital few are simply the following:

  • Know your people.
  • Show you care.
  • Give your best self to everyone every day.

I have been around Coach Barefoot and her team several times and my takeaway is always how she and her staff interact with the players. The players trust and respect the coaches. So when the hard days come—and they do—this team is prepared to overcome tough odds.

The same is true for you and your team. You never know when that tough day is coming. So your actions every day and when everything is OK matter because that is what will guide your team through hard days.

Prepare for tough conditions by your actions today.

Question: What do you feel prepares a person or a team best for hard days? Leave your comment below.