Posts Tagged ‘sports leadership’

Breaking Down Coach Popovich’s Perfect Pep Talk May 31 2012 2 responses

It’s NBA playoff time and, as I write this, the San Antonio Spurs haven’t lost a game since April 11. That streak was almost broken a few nights ago when the Spurs were down big to the Oklahoma City Thunder in game one of the Western Conference championship series. The Spurs turned it around, though, and went on to win after NBA Coach of the Year Gregg Popovich unleashed one of the greatest pep talks I’ve heard in a long time.

The punch line of the talk, “I want some nasty!” is now emblazoned on T-shirts throughout San Antonio. Popovich has won four NBA championships with the Spurs over the years and when you watch the pep talk you can see why. It’s a 27 second model of how to coach and motivate a team.


Popovich’s pep talk contains only 45 words. It’s like a pep talk haiku.

Let’s break it down line by line to see what leaders can learn from Coach Pop about motivating their teams. (Popovich’s words are bolded.)

The Tao of Bubba Watson April 10 2012 12 responses

With a seemingly impossible shot off the pine straw, Bubba Watson set himself up to win the Masters on Sunday. After he sank the winning putt in a playoff, he stood on the green, hugged his caddy, hugged his mom and wept and wept. As has been widely reported, Watson and his wife just adopted a baby boy a few weeks before the Masters started. He’s had quite a run in 2012. As The Washington Post noted, he even bought a copy of the General Lee from his favorite TV show, “The Dukes of Hazzard,” back in January. It was the culmination of a deal he had made with his wife after winning his first tournament.

Bubba seems like a guy who enjoys and savors life. He’s a stark contrast with Tiger Woods,  who as he berates himself and is kicking clubs around the course, doesn’t appear to be having much fun. What accounts for the difference in these two guys? I think an answer can be found in Watson’s post-victory press conference. It offers food for thought for leaders or anyone else who think the answer to life’s challenges is to keep grinding and grinding.

Kentucky’s Coach Cal: A Leadership Role Model? April 4 2012 2 responses

So, I got an e-mail yesterday from my brother, Steve. He’s a University of Kentucky grad and was the student manager for the basketball team during the Joe B. Hall era. These days, he’s the newly promoted CEO of a hospital in North Carolina.

Being a rabid Wildcat fan, he was miffed that on the morning after UK won the national men’s championship, my blog post was not about Coach John Calipari and his team. First, I pleaded a lack of time to write the post on such short notice and later I wrote back that there are a lot of folks out there who, in the era of one-and-done college hoops players, may not hold Coach Cal up as a leadership role model.

Steve begged to differ and offered what I think is a strong case for the coach. So, with his permission and in his own words, here’s why my brother thinks Coach Cal is a leader worth emulating:

John Elway for Manager of the Year? March 21 2012 7 responses

While fans of Tim Tebow will likely vehemently disagree, I’d have to put John Elway, executive vice president of football operations for the Denver Broncos, in the running for manager of the year. And not just NFL manager of the year; anybody’s manager of the year. Let me be the first to acknowledge that I enjoyed Tebowmania and Tebow Time as much as anyone. As I wrote here during football season, I thought Tebow and his coach Jon Fox did a masterful job of figuring out how to use his skillset to maximum advantage. For most of their run together, Elway came across as the wet blanket at the party. He was polite but sparing in his praise for Tebow because he couldn’t see a long-term plan for winning with the guy. Elway may have been right or wrong on that call. We won’t know how it plays out for the Broncos on that front because Elway went out and got himself Peyton Manning this week.

In moving Tebow aside for Manning, Elway did what a lot of managers have to do or at least should do. In his assessment, he had a good guy working for him that he didn’t think was going to work out over the long run. Especially with the pressure from Tebow fans in Denver and across the country, it would have been easy for Elway to keep Tim, let it ride and see what happened. After all, things could get better. (How many times have you heard that in performance management discussions?) Instead, Elway decided to make the move and go out and get the best quarterback available for his team.

Here are three lessons from Elway that I think managers should keep in mind for the next time they face a talent management dilemma:

Leaders, Throw Your Lines in the Water December 16 2011 4 responses

Today, I want to share a quick story with you that is a different way to think about the challenges, conundrums and problems you bump up against as a leader. It comes from Tim Hurlebaus, who’s a vice president with CGI, a leading IT services provider in the U.S. and around the world. Tim has been with CGI in the U.S. and Europe in lots of different leadership roles in different parts of the business over the past twenty years.  He’s a problem solver and knows how to lead a team to accomplish things.

He shared some of his lessons learned yesterday as a guest speaker in a Next Level Leadership® session I was conducting for some of CGI’s high potential leaders.  One that stood out for me was an analogy he drew from his days as a competitive sailor racing boats in the Chesapeake Bay.

Tim told us that when you’re sailing the lines (that would be ropes for us landlubbers) of the boat can get tangled on the deck. Stopping to untangle the lines can take vital minutes that could be spent on more important tasks. The quickest way to deal with tangled lines, Tim told us, is to throw them into the water. Nine times out of ten, the forward momentum of the boat in combination with the resistance of the water will untangle the lines. When you pull them back in, the problem is solved.

Tim has found that the same approach often works with tangled up problems in business. In a complex, multi-variant project,  little knots of problems come up all the time. Tim has taught his teams to not get hung up on every problem that arises. Instead they throw the lines in the water and keep moving forward. They’re not ignoring problems, they’re just giving themselves time to do more and learn more so that they gather the information and insights needed to circle back and solve the problems when they’re easier to solve.

What’s your experience with leading teams in solving knotty problems? Do you tackle all of them head on? Do you defer for awhile by throwing the lines in the water? How do you sort out which approach to take in a given situation?

Tim Tebow: A Leader Who Inspires, Puzzles and Scares People December 12 2011 7 responses

It’s not often that I write about the same subject twice in less than a month on this blog. Even though I wrote How to Set Your Tebow’s Up For Success just three weeks ago, I’m making a brief exception this afternoon. After the Denver Broncos made yet another comeback yesterday in the last two minutes of regulation and then overtime against the Chicago Bears, Tim Tebow has moved from a national sports story to just a flat out national news story.

For as many people who are inspired by Tebow’s leadership, story and faith, there may be as many who are puzzled by him or are scared of him. I say that for two reasons.

First, from a pure football standpoint, there are a lot of professional commentators who are having their faith in their conventional wisdom challenged. As I noted in the November post on Tebow, to set a guy like him up for success, you have to challenge the conventional wisdom. In any field, not just sports broadcasting, the people who have a lot invested in the conventional wisdom will get angry and scared when it’s challenged. It takes a lot of leadership to go up against that successfully. Kudos to Denver coach Jon Fox and Tebow for doing so.

Second, there aren’t many people who are more upfront about their religious faith than Tebow. When the announcers on yesterday’s game were saying things after the Broncos win like “if you weren’t a believer before this game, you almost have to be now,” I kind of wondered if they were talking about football or faith. The inexplicable can certainly puzzle people. From a pure football standpoint, what Tebow and the Broncos have done the past couple of months is rather inexplicable. It does feel bigger than football. What is it exactly? I thought Frank Bruni gave as good an answer as anyone in the New York Times yesterday when he wrote:

“For Tebow that state of mind comes from his particular relationship with his chosen God and is a matter of religion. For someone else it might be understood and experienced as the power of positive thinking, and is a matter of psychology. Either way it boils down to stubborn optimism and bequeaths a spark.”

Whether you love him, hate him or are scared of him, it’s almost impossible to deny that Tim Tebow is a leader who gets results. What’s your take on how he does it?

How to Set Your Tebows Up for Success November 18 2011 one response

He did it again. On Thursday night, down 13 to 10 against the NY Jets, Tim Tebow quarterbacked the Denver Broncos to a win in the last five minutes of the game.  He’s done that so often this season that fans have named the closing minutes of the game Tebow Time. The highlight of the most recent episode came when, on third and four with about a minute left in the game, Tebow picked up on a Jets blitz and ran the ball around the left side and into the end zone for the game winning touchdown.

He’s having a pretty good season for a guy who many thought might be put on waivers a few months ago. Tebow was so far down the Broncos depth chart that for awhile he wasn’t even their third strong quarterback.  While he had led Florida to national championships when he was in college and won the Hesiman trophy, most of the experts thought that Tebow’s playing style was not cut out for the NFL.  Those experts included the new Denver head coach, Jon Fox, and their legendary head of football operations, John Elway. Both of them had a lot of the “he’s a fine young man” sort of praise for Tebow but didn’t express a lot of confidence in his abilities.  Tebow kept working in practice, riding the bench in games and the Broncos started 1 and 4.  With no better options, Fox decided to play Tebow five weeks ago and now the team is 5 and 5 on the season.

Week by week, Fox and his staff have made adjustments in the game plan to take advantage of Tebow’s strengths. You have to give them credit for that because a lot of coaches wouldn’t. There are a few things that executives and managers can learn from the Denver coaches about how to leverage the strengths of talented players who don’t fit the mold. Here are three ways to set your own Tebows up for success.

Lessons in Winning Gracefully from Coach K November 16 2011 10 responses

In what ended up being a pretty close game, Duke beat Michigan State at Madison Square Garden on Tuesday night.  In the process, Coach Mike Krzyzewski set a record by winning his 903rd Division I basketball game.  With the win, he passed his former coach, boss and mentor Bob Knight who was sitting court side calling the game for ESPN.  It was a pretty compelling moment made more so by the way Coach K conducted himself in the minutes after the game.

As you can see in this interview with ESPN’s Andy Katz, the coach showed grace, gratitude and perspective after setting the record.

If you’re fortunate as a leader, there will be times when you can see a big win coming up before it happens.  In Coach K’s case, it was a lock that he was going to break the record this season, it was just a question of when.  By thinking in advance how he wanted to handle himself if he won at MSG in front of his old coach, he created an opportunity to show leaders how to win gracefully.

Here are three lessons from the coach that stood out for me.

What Did He Know and When Did He Know It? November 9 2011 2 responses

In the days of the Watergate hearings, Senator Howard Baker became famous for asking the question, “What did the President know and when did he know it?”  Today, the same question is being asked about Penn State football coach Joe Paterno and administrative officers at the University.  It’s easy enough to find the details about the horrific sexual abuse allegations and indictment against a former top assistant to Paterno so there’s no need to recap them here.

It is stunning, however, to consider the damage that was done after top officials including Paterno were made aware of eye witness accounts and decided to not turn the case over to law enforcement. One can only assume that the decision to keep the information in-house was to protect the institution and the program. The conventional wisdom is that the cover up is worse than the crime.  If the allegations against the assistant coach are accurate, the conventional wisdom is wrong in this case. The crime is worse, but the cover up is both sickening and instructive.

Paterno has been the head coach at Penn State for almost 50 years. If you’re in a prominent leadership role for that long, the odds are you’re going to be confronted with some tough and ugly issues along the way. Keeping that question from Senator Baker in the back of your mind seems like a good guidepost for tough times. If the question, “What did he know and when did he know it?” puts a knot in your stomach, that’s your signal to get everything out on the table as quickly as possible. You owe it to yourself, your institution and, most importantly, the people who are being hurt to do so.

How to Steer Clear of a Workplace Smackdown — Even If You’re Not an NFL Coach) October 17 2011 one response

The most talked about moment from week six of the NFL season was the near-miss post-game smackdown between San Francisco 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh and Detroit Lions coach Jim Schwartz. As you can see in this video, when the 49ers eked out a win over the previously undefeated Lions, Harbaugh literally started jumping for joy. By the time he got to Schwartz for the post game handshake, he was really jacked up, grabbed Schwartz’s extended hand and slapped him on the back – hard. As the video was endlessly replayed on TV last night, you didn’t have to have a masters’ degree in lip reading to see that Schwartz was not too happy about the exchange. He was so unhappy, in fact, that he chased Harbaugh 30 or 40 yards down the field to the end zone to, umm, continue the discussion.

I read some of the sports columnists from the San Francisco Chronicle and the Detroit Free Press this morning to get the local angles. While both papers agree that Harbaugh got carried away in his celebration, Schwartz is taking more of the heat for losing his composure.

You don’t have to be an NFL coach to lose your temper at work. It’s even possible that you could get so ticked, you feel like running after someone and throttling them. Not a good idea. That sudden rush of anger is the “fight” part of the fight or flight response that comes from a little part of your brain called the amygdala. When you have a sudden urge to throttle someone, you’re experiencing what emotional intelligence pioneer Daniel Goleman calls an amygdala hijack. The fight or flight response was actually pretty useful when our Flintstones era ancestors never knew if a saber tooth tiger was the next thing coming around the corner. It’s not so useful in a professional setting (even the post-game sidelines of an NFL stadium).

So, with Coach Schwartz as inspiration, here are three things you can do to avoid a smackdown situation the next time you lose your cool.