Leadership is what leadership does

I’ve been thinking a lot about leadership recently with national and world events being what they are. Politics, business, agriculture, science, education, sports, etc. all rely on effective leadership to thrive.

This latest obsession started this summer watching the leadership void we had in the 2016 national election and trying to figure out how we got ourselves so whopper-jawed and off track. It spread to observing coaches like Bill Snyder, Joe Madden, and Bill Belichick and players who are considered team leaders, like LeBron James.

A leader should be judged on what they do, not what they say. Watch the walk, sift through the talk.

Over the years, I’ve tried to study effective leaders (and ineffective leaders) and try to deconstruct how they do what they do and get the results they get. I think it can be distilled down to three things. Knowledge. Quality people. Long-term vision.

Know your organization

This sounds so simple. Yet…

It is often overlooked. A leader should know the goal of the organization. A leader needs to know how the organization is set up and how it operates. The leader needs to understand the structure and dynamics of the entire organization as well as the smaller entities it contains. The leader has to understand the parts of the whole and how they fit the whole part.

Surround yourself with good people who are as smart, or smarter, than you.

It is vital to swallow your ego and bring in people to do the required jobs. Micromanaging is akin to stroking your own ego. Micromanaging and stroking your own ego smother organizations and teams. Bring it quality people and trust them to do the work. If anything, wrap your arms around your team by giving them goals and challenges and watch them grow. If your people grow, your organization grows. If your people grow, you are doing your job.

Make decisions and develop solutions with the long-term wellness or the organization as the top priority. 

It’s often hard to take the long view when most of the attention is on the immediate set of problems. Long-term organizational strength and development are what makes great organizations great. Decisions should be made with the future in mind. A good leader maintains the ability to solve the problems of today with one eye on the future. Respect the rules of the game because they were more than likely put there for a reason. Modify or eliminate the rule parameters which undermine the long-term wellness. Every day, strive to leave the team or organization a little bit better off.

Three simple things.

Three things you must fight through the noise and distractions to stay focused upon.

Three things.

Take care of them and the rest will all fall into place.

As I imagine Forrest Gump sitting on a bench at a bus stop saying,

“Leadership is what leadership does.”

 

V0048366 King George III standing Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images images@wellcome.ac.uk http://wellcomeimages.org King George III standing, in military uniform; horse in the background. 1804 By: William Beecheyafter: Benjamin SmithPublished: 1 December 1804. Copyrighted work available under Creative Commons Attribution only licence CC BY 4.0 http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/

Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images
Copyrighted work available under Creative Commons Attribution only licence CC BY 4.0 http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/

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#MeReadBook: JASPER AND THE RIDDLE OF RILEY’S MINE

I was a slow reader and struggled as a kid. In 6th grade, I went down to the reading help session in one of the school’s storerooms. A parent volunteer gave me a mimeographed copy of “To Build a Fire” by Jack London to read. I sat down at a folding table placed between walls of textbooks boxes and ran my finger over the first line “Day had broken cold and grey, exceedingly cold and grey…”. Everything in the room disappeared. I found myself in the Yukon looking over the shoulder of the “new-comer” in his struggle for survival. I was transformed. The locked door to the world of books was kicked open and snapped off its hinges. Life would never be the same again.

JASPER AND THE RIDDLE OF THE RILEY’S MINE by Caroline Starr Rose has the power to be that type of a transformative book for middle-grade readers, particularly among young readers who might struggle to find their bookish “sweet spot”. Plenty of action and adventure are woven into the history of the Klondike Gold Rush. I enjoyed the ride with Jasper and his older brother, Mel, through the trials and tribulations as they escape from their abusive father with dreams of gold driving them forward. Rose draws the reader in and sends them up treacherous mountain passes, down the icy water of a raging river, and into the gold fields, where danger and deceit lurk at each turn. Jasper’s fantastic story is enough to give each reader their own case of gold fever.

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I received an advanced reader copy from the author for the purpose of an honest review and, honestly, I highly recommend this book!

Check out more about #MeReadBook.

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Too Young

Two Sunday mornings the past six months and two times the news of a shocking death of a promising, young baseball player. On September 25, 2016, young pitching phenom Jose Fernandez of the Miami Marlins died in a high-speed boat accident. Today, the news of Kansas City pitcher Yordana Ventura’s death in a car accident in the Dominican Republic.

It’s tough when these young and talented athletes die before their time. It’s especially rough when one of the deceased in from your team. Ventura was a Kansas City Royal. He was an extremely talented young pitcher who was just beginning to mature and settle in as a top-notch major league pitcher. He will be truly missed by all of us in the Royals Nation.

These deaths always bring back a wave of my memories of the other young athletes whose early and untimely deaths still weigh heavily on me. Thurmon Munson, captain and catcher of the hated New York Yankees.  Young Oscar Taveras of the St. Louis Cardinals. Roberto Clemente who died in a plane crash delivering humanitarian aid to Puerto Rico. Derrick Thomas of the Kansas City Chiefs, Pat Tillman of the Arizona Cardinals, Len Bias of Boston Celtics. The list of those we lost early is long and heartbreaking.

Every untimely athlete’s death leads me one particular death that still makes me sad today. The death of Joe Delaney on June 29, 1983. Joe Delaney was a running back who, in his first two seasons with the Kansas City Chiefs, looked like he was the long-awaited savior to a fan base who had waited a decade for a spark of hope. He was personable, he seemed to be a great kid and a great teammate, and he was an incredible talent at running back.

The news of his death that summer day was like a shot to the chest. I was just out of high school and I broke into tears. It was more than just hearing that one of your sports heroes had passed away, though. It was hearing your sports hero died while attempting a rescue of three boys drowning in a pond—even if he didn’t know how to swim himself.  Vahe Gregorian of the Kansas City Star wrote a great remembrance of Joe Delaney a couple of years ago. It is worth a few minutes to read and remember.

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My condolences and prayers go out to the family of Yordana Ventura and to his Royals family.  We will remember him for his smile and his enthusiasm for the game. He will always return to our thoughts when we think about the 2015 World Series Title.

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New Year’s Eve Flashback Post: Being Stupid in 2010

This is one of my all-time favorite stupid-funny posts. One of my former players from 2008 still laughs about this when he sees me. Six New Year’s Eves later and I still am 100% sure of one thing in my life:

Coach Hays is still NOT a  Kenyan marathon runner.

For those who know me, my fits of stupidity will not be anything new to you.  But, I need to relate one final (I hope) Coach Hays stupid moment for 2010. Yesterday, I was running a mile on the treadmill as the weather was kind of nasty outdoors.  I was around the half mile mark when this Achilles’ tendon inflammation problem I have been fighting flares up.  It ticks me off because I hate my “old man” afflictions.

Out of blind, stupid pride, I stop the treadmill, kick off my socks and shoes, and then hit start. No more shoe rubbing against my inflamed Achilles.  I AM GOING TO FINISH THIS RUN. Besides, it’s only a half a mile to go.  It’s not so bad to run barefoot. It’s a little loud on the treadmill, but nobody else is home so it won’t bother anyone.  And you know those Kenyans run barefoot all the time, so it can’t be THAT bad.

With about a quarter mile left, there is a strange feeling beginning in the balls of my feet,  but I keep going.  Only a few more minutes to go.  I can finish this.  I need to finish this.  So I tread forward one step at a time.   Finally, I am done and hit stop with a great sense of accomplishment.

Then it starts, a burning pain in the balls of my feet that increases exponentially.  I can feel the blisters forming on my feet.  Oh, crap!  I’ve done it this time.

Long story short, I am now a little smarter.

I’ve learned some hard lessons with every painful step as my blisters subside.  I have learned the following:

  • Fat, old guys should not run barefoot.  Anywhere.  Anytime.
  • I need to be smarter about working out. Two days off of my feet was not worth the 1/4 mile I ran barefoot.
  • Finally, I am not a Kenyan marathoner

Have a safe and happy New Year’s Eve!

Treadmill

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COACH LANE’S OVERALL PHILOSOPHIES (circa 2000)

Every year about this time, I go to my space in the basement, pull out the tubs and boxes of old football coaching materials, and make an attempt to cull things that no longer justify the space they take up in the house.  

It’s a painful journey at times, like Dante descending into a deeper circle of Hell, but it’s mostly a joyous experience. Almost every piece of paper, from notebooks to scouting reports to journal articles to coaching books, comes with a memory. Some good, some bad.

Yesterday, I sent three full trash bags to their final resting place at the landfill. There is plenty more for another year, but those remaining things have earned a reprieve. Someday it will be condensed to one shelf of books and one Rubbermaid tub, but today is not that day.

There are also things I will never part with. Yesterday, I ran across one of those pieces. It was Page 3 from Coach Paul Lane’s Tiger Football Player Handbook in his first year as Head Football Coach at Clay Center Community High School.

The year was 2000. The kids were ready for a change. The football community was ready f0r a change. Everyone was looking to have fun and enjoy high school football again.

I was lucky enough to be a part of it. And you know what?

It was more than just fun and a return to enjoying the game. IT WAS A BLAST!

Here is Page 3 from that Coach Lane’s first CCCHS Tiger Football Handbook. It had a profound effect on hundreds of young men and one fish-out-of-football-water assistant coach in the year 2000 who was struggling to learn “channeled intensity”.

ENJOY!

COACH LANE’S OVERALL PHILOSOPHIES

There is a fine line between being an “average” football team or being League Champions. To become one of the best, we must be a team of passion, toughness, and togetherness.

THE THREE PILLARS OF A PLAYOFF TEAM ARE:

100% COMMITMENT
FROM 100% OF THE TEAM
100% OF THE TIME

ALWAYS KEEP IN MIND

  • School is a prerequisite to your participation in this sport.
  • Strive to excel in all classes.
  • Good habits are developed by repetition and a desire to get better.
  • The is NO SUBSTITUTE FOR HARD WORK.
  • A solid work ethic is of the utmost importance — on and off the football field.
  • You play on Friday night like you practice during the week.
  • You are expected to give 100% at all times.
  • You EARN THE RIGHT to represent your team under the lights on Friday nights.
  • DISCIPLINE WILL GUIDE YOU THROUGH ADVERSITY.
  • We must do the little things well by focusing on fundamentals.
  • We must be the most physical team on the field.
  • We must stay focused with “channeled intensity”.
  • We must give maximum effort on every down.
  • We must be in great physical condition to ward off mental mistakes when tired.
  • WE MUST BE A FOURTH QUARTER TEAM.
  • When a teammate makes a mistake, be the first one to help him get over it.
  • WORRY ONLY ABOUT THAT WHICH YOU CAN CONTROL.
  • Win the turnover battle and respond aggressively to ANY turnover.
  • Be unselfish in your play.
  • Accentuate the positive — don’t be negative.
  • Don’t get too high over any victory, and don’t get too low over any loss.
  • REPRESENT YOUR SCHOOL WITH PRIDE AT ALL TIMES.
  • BE DIGNIFIED IN EVERYTHING YOU DO.
  • GIVE CREDIT WHERE CREDIT IS DUE.
  • ACKNOWLEDGE ALL THOSE WHO HELP YOU SUCCEED.
  • NEVER LET THE TEAM OR TEAMMATE DOWN.
  • NEVER WALK AWAY FROM A JOB UNDONE!
  • IT DOESN’T TAKE TALENT TO HUSTLE.

 

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Civil Disobedience

The power of Google tells me today is the anniversary of Louisa May Alcott’s birth 184 years ago on November 29, 1832.

Fantastic.

Really?

No, not really.

I can’t say I’m a fan of Louisa May’s work. I know her work is beloved by generation upon generation of readers and is a staple of the American educational literature canon.

Not for me.

In the 8th-grade, I ventured a few pages into the assigned LITTLE WOMEN and dove headfirst off the LMA train traveling on a steep, narrow mountain pass inhabited by rabid grizzly bears.

LITTLE WOMEN was directly responsible for my first, but not my only, academic career emergency. Well, let me back up. LITTLE WOMEN + Ms. Teacher-Who-Did-Not-Care-For-Me-For-Some-Reason almost resulted in this stubborn, young man flunking 8th-grade English class.

I was a struggling reader growing up. I still read pretty slow. If fact, I probably would have completely taken the life path of non-reader if not been fortunate to have adults who helped me trudge along the reading path or have found Jack London’s short story, To Build A Fire, in 6th-grade. I would have given up.

In 8th-grade, said Teacher assigned the entire class LITTLE WOMEN. I read a little bit. I decided it was stupid. I refused to read any more of it. Too many girls, not enough struggle against the elements on the Yukon.

Our school split a grade into the classic 1970’s leveled system. I was the dumbest kid in the smart group. I ain’t lying. Every day, I was scratching and clawing while the others floated casually down the academic river of knowledge sipping fruity drinks and eating exotic cheeses. Frustrating. Character building. I’m sure this contributed to my stubborn streak.

Said Teacher told me to read. I replied in the negative.

Said Teacher called my parents. Said Teacher met with my parents and said I would flunk. I did not care.

Said Teacher compromised with my parents. She would LET me read LITTLE MEN. Mom was happy. Dad was happy. I took one look at the cover illustration, flipped quickly through the pages and gave it back to Said Teacher. I wasn’t falling for that one. The old bait and switch. Listen, I had two ornery older brothers, I knew a con game when I saw one. LITTLE MEN was just LITTLE WOMEN in different clothes. Nice try, LMA. But, nope.

So I didn’t read either of the books. I failed the section. I scrambled the rest of the year to keep my head afloat. And I survived.

Civil disobedience. An important skill to have.

I often wonder if Said Teacher ever looked at me and dreamed I would be both an avid reader and writer of books.

I highly doubt it. She saw a shy, stocky, sports-crazed boy and that is all she allowed herself to see.

But I am a writer and a reader.

And I am damn proud of it.

Sorry, Louisa May and Louisa May fans. Have a great birthday anniversary celebration. Eat, drink, and be merry.

Just don’t expect me to read LITTLE WOMEN.

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A Circle

We once vehemently thought the world was flat. Wrong.

We thought the world revolved around us. Wrong.

We shift as we discover we are wrong. We rewrite the history of our mistakes and move on. Yet, we keep using the same tools to make new mistakes.

As The Who most succinctly wrote in 1971’s We Won’t Get Fooled Again,  “Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.”.

We have our mistakes playing on repeat.

  • Manifest Destiny.
  • Our current United States polarized political climate.
  • Climate change (yes, it is a real, scientific thing.)
  • Cultural disrespect.

We continue to think of ourselves as masters instead of as members. In our psyche, we are the whole part, not part of the whole.

Maybe it’s time to flip our approach. Maybe it’s time to go team first. We all win when we all win. THIS is the way we “Make America Great Again”.

Either way, we need to make a long overdue switch from the flat-world philosophy to a philosophy of the circle.  Social, political, economical, educational, institutional. You name it, we can make it better. And make it better for generations to come. 

Oglala Lakota spiritual leader, Black Elk spoke to Joseph Epes Brown about the peace and fulfillment within the sacred philosophy of the circle.

“You have noticed that everything an Indian does is in a circle, and that is because the Power of the World always works in circles, and everything tries to be round. In the old days when we were a strong and happy people, all our power came to us from the sacred hoop of the nation, and so long as the hoop was unbroken, the people flourished. The flowering tree was the living center of the hoop, and the circle of the four quarters nourished it. The east gave peace and light, the south gave warmth, the west gave rain, and the north with its cold and mighty wind gave strength and endurance. This knowledge came to us from the outer world with our religion. Every-thing the Power of the World does is done in a circle. The sky is round, and I have heard that the earth is round like a ball, and so are all the stars. The wind, in its greatest power, whirls. Birds make their nests in circles, for theirs is the same religion as ours. The sun comes forth and goes down again in a circle. The moon does the same, and both are round. Even the seasons form a great circle in their changing, and always come back again to where they were. The life of a man is a circle from childhood to childhood, and so it is in everything where power moves. Our teepees were round like the nests of birds, and these were always set in a circle, the nation’s hoop, a nest of many nests, where the Great Spirit meant for us to hatch our children.”

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