Leadership Lessons From Kirk Ferentz

It was the cold, blustery winter of 2014.

We just got handled by Tennessee in our bowl game and the University of Iowa football season came skidding to a disappointing 7-6 finish. It felt like every big game we needed to win, we didn’t. The future was bleak. Our mindset as a Hawkeye community was poor (my version of speaking for every Hawkeye fan).

Words I’d use to label our 2014 play were: boring, slow, close to the vest, predictable, tight and unimaginative. Not fun words when describing your football team (or anything in life for that matter).

Coming into this year, I looked at our schedule and said, we’re maybe…8-4. Even the national pundits would tell you this isn’t a GREAT year for Iowa football looking at our schedule (no matter how you want to argue it now).

I thought this was it for Captain Kirk. Goodbye Kirk Ferentz…we’ve had fun.

I loved this guy, but we’d gotten stale. My support was wearing thin. This past August, in my mind, it was likely time for a last straw…or resort to a change in leadership. Little did I know, it wouldn’t be a new face in Iowa City. Instead, it would be a rebirth of a terrific career.

Some will argue the change came from desperation. Others will say it is the result of wise leadership. I could argue both, but does it really matter? Action happened. That’s the key. It is ALWAYS the key. Take action. History is marked and defined with leadership and victory being molded in times of desperation.

Below is a list of life lessons I’ve learned from Kirk’s experience and the 2015 season that I’ll never forget.

  1. Ruthless Self Audit: After the underwhelming 2014 season, the Captain sat down with his staff in January 2015 and got brutally honest.  They spent time specifically outlining what they were, what they were not, and where they needed to go. All facets of their team (insert business for correlation) were evaluated for any angle for improvements. Looking in the mirror isn’t easy. No one says it will be. However, looking in the mirror and being honest is 100% necessary.
  2. See What’s in Front of You: In January, the staff named C.J. Beathard the starting QB for the upcoming 2015 season. Bouncing the two-year starter Jake Rudock. One of the first words you could use to describe coach Ferentz is “loyal”, but this move had to be made and he knew it. The offense is more explosive. C.J. can drive the ball down the field and the team needed a jolt of energy. He got it.
  3. Never Forget What Got You There: I’ve had friends argue nothing changed. To an extent they’re right. We still run the ball first. We play sound defense. We’re a team first, not “me” first unit. It’s who we’ve always been including trips to two Orange Bowls, wins against: LSU, Florida, South Carolina, Missouri, and Georgia Tech. But I think this is really key. We didn’t change everything. We made minor adjustments and tweaks to “better” the process.
  4. Don’t be Afraid to Dream Big: Coming off a 7-6 season the thought wasn’t simply to “get better”, although that is a common theme of the program and my blog. They wanted more. They were wiling to earn more as a unit and did so by thinking big. (Side note – I would’ve never guessed they would be sitting at 10-0, but who the hell did?)
  5. Common Thread: The entire team read and took ownership of the principles in the book, The Slight Edge: Turning Simple Disciplines into Massive Success and Happiness I encourage you to read it. Two things stand out to me between this year and last. Mind you, I’m not an analyst, but play along. Number one: explosive plays. Last year, we were last or near the bottom of the B1G Conference. This year, we’re at the top. Number two: turnovers. Always turnovers. This year, we’re taking the ball away. While last year, we were giving it away like candy on Halloween.
  6. Listen to the Troops: The kids (I call 20-year-old, 250 lb. ripped athletes) wanted to try an alternative uniform. Something sexy.  Something bold. Two things you wouldn’t find in the list of “top 20 words to describe Kirk Ferentz”. But the staff spoke up. They asked the coach to get out of his comfort zone. Last weekend, we experienced the new “Blackout” uniforms. P.S. – I thought they were average at best, and if I would’ve been invited to the design meeting we would’ve really crushed it with the good folks at Nike. Maybe next time. No charge!

If these things don’t speak to change, I don’t know what does.

I once read a story about one of the best facial plastic surgeons in the world.

What do you think of when you think of facial plastics? Peeling someone’s face off? Me too! Yikes. However, this doctor would do no more than 6-8 “minor” adjustments and would only move facial tissue mere millimeters to “unlock the beauty” the patient was seeking. The result from all of his patients post-surgery is a resounding “turn back the clock” feeling of 10+ years. How is this possible? Shouldn’t my face be frozen?

The key to this surgeon’s success isn’t radical reconstruction. He won’t do that and has never believed in it. The key is making minor tweaks, but making them flawlessly.

I’m sorry for thinking it was the end coach, or for feeling like you were on your way out. Thank you for being willing to accept and implement change (even if it’s been minor). I know I won’t want to change when I’m a 60-year-old man. It will serve as a lesson to me, and I hope to all reading this. I’m also aware we won’t win forever.  But right now we’re 10-0.

Even in the toughest of times, when victory seems unattainable, positive changes can be made.

~ON IOWA

Pick-up this shirt at RAYGUN shirts.

RayGun

 

Three Words Magnetic Teams Know

Three Words

I was having a conversation a week or two ago with a couple of friends about growing business, teams, and the challenges each presents.  We got to talking about how to specifically challenge team members to be great and having each member feeling fulfilled in their career path.  Two big challenges for everyone.  The goal is a team of magnets, pulling each closer together and growing in strength while working with one another.

A question was posed, “How can one person make this happen for 5, 10, 20+ people?  That’s a huge undertaking!”

My answer was three simple and short words.

“Give a shit!”

If a person truly wants to build a lasting team, they’ll give first.  If a person wants to complain about what they’re not getting from their team or team members, I will always challenge to look internally first.  Own up to what isn’t happening and start caring more.

If you’re thinking the answer is too blunt, it probably is.

The great owners, entrepreneurs, leaders, teammates, and coaches, who make great progress with their units, CARE unconditionally for their team.  They invest and don’t always worry about what they can get in return.  There is enough shared confidence in the unit to pay it forward.

Over the years I’ve seen many teams grow, and many die slow deaths with selfish leaders.  The teams who experienced tremendous success and growth looked after one another.  In one powerful instance, I saw a very close team pray together.  If you’ve ever seen this and stood admiring, it is quite a site!  Good work Tim & Corey!

In other successful instances, I’ve witnessed teams push one another toward a shared vision by pulling each other closer to the mission.  In each instance, the team had tremendous vitality and magnetism.  This vitality and magnetism crushes every challenge, competitor, and opportunity in its path.  To push through a challenge, pull the unit together.

In every instance, the successful gave a shit and limited selfish thoughts.

What does this look like in the business world working with cynical consumers everywhere? There is a story circulating the internet about Southwest Airlines.  Maybe you’ve seen it.  If not, it’s worth the read.  Plane has Already Left the Gate, Receives THIS News, Turns Back Immediately.  Someone at Southwest with a heart made the really simple choice to care.

I frequently listen to the audio book, Hyper Sales Growth by Jack Daly.  Jack tells a wonderful story about a time when he was much younger working in a supermarket.  He had an elderly woman shopping for a specific vegetable, and the supermarket was out of stock.  She asked young Jack, “Can you please help me find the fresh spinach?”  Jack’s response (knowing they were out of the leafy vegetable), “Of course, can you give me about 10 minutes and I’ll meet you at the checkout with the spinach?”

What did Jack do next?

He immediately took off to a competing supermarket.  Took money out of his own pocket, bought the spinach (2 bags just in case), and quickly made his way back to the supermarket to meet his patron at the checkout.  “Here is your fresh spinach Mrs.,” said Jack.  This one is on us.  Thank you for the continued support and patronage,” smiled young Jack ear to ear.  He knew he’d done the right thing.  His manager had taught him well.

Is there an ugly side to caring too much?

Of course there is.  Not everyone will care.  You will get your feelings hurt.  Move away from these people quickly and get them the hell away from your unified team.

Have you ever seen a good sports team go out and buy the newest high-dollar free agent on the market, hoping to be great with the addition?  What happens next?  The superstar wants to do it their way, and the culture suffers.  The team is actually worse off.  I’ve seen it too many times.  I’ve tried it.  It doesn’t work.

ACTION ITEM:  You can choose to be the asshole and get what you want…(for a while).  I hope you’re prepared to be hopelessly lonely.  Why not choose caring instead and build something that lasts?

31 Days of Challenging Questions: Day 27

DAY 27: Do the people I associate with believe in me?

Day 27

ACTION ITEM: I think this is an absolutely wonderful question.  Most every one of us works as part of a team.  Successful teams must believe in one another if they’re going to survive the challenging times (which we all know exist).  If you think you don’t know the answer to this question how would you find out?

Ask this question of someone on your team.  “I really need your help on a special project, can you help?”  Watch their body language…there is your answer.

None of Us is as Dumb as All of Us

It was a Sunday morning 2013.  I was in Orlando, FL for the National Automobile Dealer’s Association conference.  It is customary every year to have a Sunday service during the convention and each year there was an inspirational message delivered to a pretty sizable audience.

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I was in that audience the day Mark Kelly NASA Astronaut and husband to Arizona congresswoman Gabby Giffords delivered his inspirational message.  The speech was incredibly moving and filled with incredible amounts of insight.   Gabby’s perseverance toward recovery alone is an incredible story.  Oddly enough, want to know the one thing I remember from his speech?

“None of Us is as Dumb as All of Us”

Yes, a NASA Astronaut shared this simple quote as an axiom to live by.  Why?  Because in a room of arguably the smartest people on the planet NASA team members could all agree to make a horrible decision.   Here is a little more context of the quote,

“A well-meaning team of people can sometimes make horrible decisions that no single individual would make. Groupthink, and an unwillingness to disagree with the bosses, was too often a problem at NASA… None of us is as dumb as all of us.”

What can we learn from this as leaders of teams and companies?

I had a wonderful client a few years ago in Eastern Pennsylvania.  I’ll leave his name to be anonymous, but I can tell you he was a Georgetown grad and a very sharp business man.  I learned early on about his unique management style and engagement with his team and myself.  I admire him and will never forget what he taught me about leadership.

“Challenge my thinking,” he used to say in our meetings.

“Help me poke holes in my ideas so that we may come to a better solution.”

I loved it.  Notice the careful wording he would use.  Challenge my thinking, instead of, I don’t agree with you.  Help me poke holes in my idea..

I’ve met many leaders.  Very few have the confidence in their teams to openly warrant disagreement and discussion.  Many talk about it as the “right thing to do” but few deliver because their teams are either afraid or leader won’t listen to them either way.  These are not strong team.s

The Difference Between Disagreement and Alignment

Disagreement can be healthy so long as the team remains focused on the goal at hand and nothing gets personal.  It is healthy to disagree.  But don’t just stop at disagreement.  The next step, or bookend to the conversation is alignment.

Michael Hyatt said in a great blog post to disagree but always align.  What terrific advice.  Make your argument, state your case, but there comes to a point where decisions need to be made and teams need to align again when the leader does make a decision.  This will send all team members in a positive direction with one single focus (goal) in mind of achieving.

Never forget, “None of Us, is as Dumb, as All of Us!”

ACTION ITEM: This action item is two-fold based on who you may be as a reader.  If you are a leader, ask for those around you to challenge what you’re doing.  Challenge the “same old same old” way of doing things.  Beg your team to push back but remain solutions focused in your pursuit of getting better.

If you’re the team member, offer up suggestions to your boss.  Deliver them in box wrapped in positive outcomes and solutions to make the team or business better.  If your boss won’t allow it.  Update your resume and run like hell.

Earthquakes, Magnitude and Success

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Earthquakes, Magnitude and Success

 

Do you know how much more violent a 4.0 earthquake is compared to a 5.0 earthquake?  What about a 7.0?

It may seem, simply by looking at the numbers, that a 4.0 quake would produce a similar but slightly less devastating result than a 5.0 quake.  However, this isn’t anywhere near the truth.

As measured with a seismometer, an earthquake that registers 5.0 on the Richter Scale has a shaking amplitude 10 times that of an earthquake that registered 4.0, and thus corresponds to a release of energy 31.6 times that released by the lesser earthquake.

The number of earthquakes registering 2.5 – 5.4 is estimated to be 30,000 annually.  Conversely, the number of 5.5 – 6.0 quakes drops to just 500 per year.  That’s less than 2% of the lesser magnitude in scale.

Why is this important to my readers?

Because I see a powerful relationship between mediocrity and 30,000 quakes per year.  No one really ever feels the efforts of these actions (or earthquakes), because the magnitude of the efforts are weakly measurable at best.  Check out the image below to associate a visual to what I’m discussing.

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I ask myself, “How many daily activities would I label as: Not felt, Minor, Small, or even Moderate in magnitude?”

Even better follow up, what are my expectations for the outcomes of these activities?  I’m guessing they don’t match.  Maybe the image and corresponding labels below will help better paint the picture.  I love pictures and colors so this one really hits home.

magnitude

The reason I chose to write about this topic and how it collides with success is because I was listening to Crush It!: Why NOW Is the Time to Cash In on Your Passion by Gary Vaynerchuk.  He talks passionately about cashing in on your talents and passions by getting all-in on a topic and executing fearlessly.  His well-pronounced goal is to own the NY Jets.  Not a small goal, and definitely one where massive action and focused energy will need to be invested over a long period of time to achieve it.

The magnitude of our outcomes (and success) is closely related to the investment we’re willing to make.

If I’m not willing to invest a great deal of effort and energy into a project, business or idea, then my results WILL BE (100%) limited to the bottom end of the magnitude scale.  Many goals, multiplied by little effort, eat up massive amounts of your time and energy for minimal outcomes.

However, lets consider the highest magnitude.  Who are those individuals experiencing massive success?  They are labeled in the chart above as “Outstanding” or “Extraordinary.”  What do they have in common and how do they spend their time?  Also, notice there are substantially fewer of these super successful people in volume when compared to the mediocre many.  Probably less than 1% of the population.

I don’t think this can be understated.  Little goals, limited effort, and the minor impact outcome are related.  No one feels a minor quake, and 30,000+ happen every year!

ACTION ITEM: I’m personally doing an audit and taking a look at the aspects of my life in which I feel like I’m creating a very minimal impact.  The next choice I must make is to either eliminate the activity or refocus and rededicate my efforts.  Not all efforts deserve the same attention and energy.  I hope this audit will also serve you well.

Would You Rather Be A Guru Or A Proven Learner?

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The word guru carries less weight in my mind than ever before.  When I hear someone labeled as a guru my spine shivers and I immediately put my guard up.  Maybe this is because the word is one of the most overused words in our vocabulary.

So what worries me so much about the word guru?

I believe many using this word use it to either: describe themselves in a higher being, or describe someone on their team (sort of inside baseball) to make them seem smarter than they really are.

The word “guru” also states to me the person has already figured something out with their jedi-like mind tricks.  Guru is supposed to reflect a teacher, and today I feel like the term is often misused as “already figured it out intelligence.”

Here is the challenge I see with this.

The world we live in is moving and evolving so fast.  I don’t need a guru, I need more learners who can adapt quickly.  I need to surround myself with people who can evolve, and reverse engineer plans and strategies for success.  The really talented people of the next 10 years will adapt and evolve to be successful in multiple endeavors because of their learning style.

I don’t need people who’ve already figured it out with their labels and you don’t either.  They can stay stuck in the rut of what they already know and their “guru-ism” of a topic. This leads to death of teams, brands, and businesses.

I need people willing and not afraid to tackle new challenges, new strategies, and create new problems.  I need a learning mindset flexible to the challenges of the future.  These people will continue to grow their minds, experiences, and new opportunities will continue to present themselves to these individuals.

I NEED LEARNERS

ACTION ITEM: You have to commit to a life of learning.  If you want to be a guru, please be a guru of 19th century history because it will never change.

The Soundtrack for a Great Career

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This post was spurred buy the recent release of Gatorade’s wonderful tribute ad to Derek Jeter.  If you haven’t seen it, please watch it below.

The ad stood out to me immediately because the soundtrack of the execution is one of my favorite songs of all time, “My Way,” and easily my favorite Sinatra song.  More, much more than this, it reminded me of what I like to refer to as, the soundtrack of my career.  I pulled a couple key lines from every verse to truly emphasize the deep impact of this song.

 Verse 1 – Set the Stage

I’ll state my case, of which I’m certain
I’ve lived a life that’s full”

Verse 2 – Looking Back

“Regrets, I’ve had a few,
But then again, too few to mention”

Verse 3 – Facing Adversity

“But through it all, when there was doubt,
I ate it up and spit it out”

Verse 4 – No Regrets

“I’ve loved, I’ve laughed and cried,
I’ve had my fill, my share of losing”

 Verse 5 – My Way (entire verse)

“For what is a man, what has he got?
If not himself, then he has naught,
To say the things he truly feels and not the words of one who kneels,
The record shows I took the blows and did it my way!”

Here is a link to the complete “My Way” Lyrics

The reason I listen to this song often is to make sure I’m staying true to myself and my own personal soundtrack.  I believe many people spend far too much time living the life others set out for us.  I really don’t care what you do or what your pursuit is, just make sure you don’t lose yourself in the process.

Let this song be a reminder to be respectful, but also true to yourself and what you believe

 

ACTION ITEM: There is a famous quote I’ll share with you as I believe it relates to what Frank is saying to us all.

“If you don’t build your dreams, someone else will hire you to build theirs”

 

Unexplored Leader vs. Manager Comparisons

Are you a leader or a manager? Below are five unexplored comparisons I see between leaders and managers.

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  1. Toes vs. Heels: Leaders deliver a well thought out action plan complete with feedback from the team. This plan is derived from forward thinking and understanding of opportunity.  Leaders are on their toes.  Managers react.  They react to challenges, react to opportunities, and react to being constantly on their heels.
  2. Open Door vs. Closed Door: Doors are opportunities.  Leaders will open doors for others, and in turn doors will open for them.  Managers will keep the door closed for their talent and likely will have the door slammed in their face when the talent leaves the manager left wondering what happened when he or she departs for someone who will.
  3. Inspirational vs. Non-Inspirational: This one is pretty simple.  If you can’t inspire others to: believe, take action, take on risk, and challenge failure in the face, you are a manager.  This also applies to using fear.  Using fear is the least motivational tactic available and one widely used by managers.
  4. Why vs. What: Leaders will deliver the WHY behind what everyone is doing.  The manager only focuses on what everyone is doing.
  5. Explosive vs. Incremental: Great leaders will inspire explosive growth because the magnitude of their efforts is multiplied through the efforts of the believers.  Managers will manage the incremental.  Small amounts of growth are possible, through massive amounts of management.

The journey to become a better leader is a long one and it must be embraced.  It’s HARD because external factors are always at play.  There are times when I find myself being a manager and remind myself of the greater purpose for my life and my goals.  My talents are wasted if I’m spending time “managing” the activities of others.  I need to be leading from the front.

ACTION ITEM:  Actions speak louder than words.  To change your style to that of a leader, you have to live it and lead from the front.  No one is perfect.  Focus your efforts on constant improvement.(Kaizen)

 

You Wouldn’t Believe What Happened To Me

You Wouldn't Believe

I don’t know about the rest of you but I’m 100% sure I’m tired of hearing this.  “You wouldn’t believe what happened to me!”

I’m not entirely sure when it happened, but I feel like one of our biggest challenges societally is victim thinking.  It’s a borderline epidemic in our country and continues to spread.  Like any horrible plauge, “this one is airborne,” so watch out! keep-calm-and-avoid-the-plague-5

If you’re unsure or may have a tough time putting your finger on what I mean exactly I’ve listed a few of my personal victim thought favorites below:

  • It must be nice to have <insert anything you deem of monetary value>
  • My boss just doesn’t get it.  She doesn’t want me to succeed
  • Nothing ever seems to fall in my lap like it does for <insert friend>
  • We never have any money to do what we want
  • I can’t do that.  They’ll never let me!
  • Zac is sooooo lucky.  I wish I was that lucky
  • Woe is me…

Do you know any of these people?  I know I sure do and there is one common thread in all victim thinkers.  Everything happens to them, nothing happens because of them.

EVERYTHING HAPPENS TO THEM, NOTHING HAPPENS BECAUSE OF THEM (Caps = Me YELLING!)

If you’ve read previous posts on this blog you’ll know I despise “Keeping Up With the Joneses” or living someone else’s life.  I liken victim thinking challenge as equal to the challenges noted in the last sentence facing us today.

It’s easy to live wanting, hoping, wishing, and EMPTY lives.  It’s easier to explain to those around you that it’s entirely someone else’s fault for: where you are, who you are, and what you may become.  You’re a punching bag and everyone seems to get two turns throwing haymakers.

Stop.  Good news alert!

There are three holes in our head we can focus on to impact massive change to victim thinking.  They are:

  1. Your mouth
  2. Your left ear
  3. Your right ear

The simple control of what comes out of #1 and into the latter two holes is life changing.  The beauty and simplicity of this is each of us controls this choice.  No one makes it for us.

If you have 12 minutes (and I know you do) you must meet Sam Berns.  He makes every word written on this post come to life!  Sam could easily be a victim, but he made the difficult choice not to be.

 ACTION ITEM:  Control victim thinking with your ears by being able to spot it quickly and decisively.  The next choice is up to you.  My common response is “run like hell” when you hear it.   The second control should be predictable.  Speak less often about what happens to you, and find opportunities to reflect on things that happen because of you.

Lastly, if you find value in this message and have implemented any of the above or even have a comment for the readers of this blog I’d really love it if you would share.  It would mean a great deal to me personally!!