The surprise key to winning:
Every organization I’ve led—from TD Ameritrade to football at Coastal Carolina University —succeeded or failed based on the self-awareness of its team and their willingness to take responsibility for successes and failures.
Winning in football and business takes more than strategy and talent. It requires self-awareness too.Every organization succeeds or fails based on the self-awareness of its team and their willingness to take responsibility for successes and failures. When a team wins, it is always because every single person not only understands their position and what they have to do, but they actually do it and take responsibility for it, from the top to the bottom of the organization. When a team loses, it is invariably because it doesn’t have that level of self-awareness. This principle works in every industry.
In college football, you have a team of 125 players and another 25 people on the coaching staff. That’s 150 people who all have to work together to win. Each one of them has their own job, from the quarterback to the locker room attendant. Everyone doesn’t necessarily need to be number one, but they all need to maximize their potential. That’s their job.
What that means is that if you’re capable of being number one—as a coach or a player or anything else—then you need to be number one. If you’re only able to be number five, make sure you’re number five. But it’s not okay to be 10-2 when you had the potential to be 12-0. It’s not okay if all the analysts say you’re going to earn $1.25 per share and you only make $1.15. By the same token, if the world is blowing up and the best you can do is $0.90 per share, make sure you hit that; understand what your potential is and reach it. And if you don’t, take responsibility for it. headtopics.com
You can only maximize your potential if you’re aware of what it is to begin with. Self-awareness is the single biggest factor in football or in business. This isn’t theoretical. Here are two examples from my life that illustrate what I mean.On the field
In 2013, Coastal Carolina University—where I was head coach—was the no. 11, and we were slated to play no. 4 Montana in Washington-Grizzly Stadium in the second round of the NCAA Division I championship. It was freezing there. The game is now considered to be the
coldest NCAA football game everat -5 degrees with a 10 mph wind. No one expected CCU, a school from South Carolina, to compete well under those conditions. A lot of our players had never even seen snow, much less experienced those kinds of temperatures. My coaching staff and players didn’t think they could win either.
The problem was, though, that we were capable of beating Montana. I knew that, the coaches knew that, and the players knew that, but because of the conditions,no onethought we could reach our potential.When the coaching staff gathered to plan for the game, the mood in the room was dire. Everyone expected to lose already! They gave all the reasons why: it would be too cold, the players weren’t used to it, Montana was acclimated already. My coaches and team had the self-awareness to realize that there was a problem, but they weren’t prepared to overcome it despite the conditions. headtopics.com
Rather than rolling over, we tried to solve the problems we could. We made thermoses of chicken soup, we came up with a warming protocol to keep players from losing body heat when they were on the bench, and we made it part of practice. We did it again and again. By the time we hit the field, we were ready. If we didn’t win, it would only be because we didn’t reach our potential. It would be our fault, not the weather’s. Montana came out in short sleeves. They hadn’t practiced a warming protocol.
We won the game 42-35 because of self-awareness (we knew the cold would be a problem) and deciding to reach our potential anyway (by problem-solving, taking responsibility and practicing).On Wall StreetIn 2005, Ameritrade bought TD Waterhouse for $3.3 billion in cash and stock. I was the CEO of Ameritrade at the time and knew that merging the two companies would be a major task. A big merger is not just a change on paper, it means evolving corporate cultures, changing processes, creating new benefits packages. Everyone has to be at their best.
The senior management team thought we were doing a great job and that we could save millions of dollars on synergies and with a new benefits package. This sounded great, of course. Who doesn’t want to save millions? But I asked them, “are people okay with it?” They said of course they were.
Every month, I met with our Advisory Board, people from all levels of the firm—not just management—who could tell me about what was working and what wasn’t. Typically I would talk about the numbers, tell a joke or two, and then we’d have a Q&A. This time, there was anger, and I heard something very different than what my executive team had told me. People were upset about the benefits package. Some employees could lose their parental benefits. Low level employees worried they couldn’t afford the new plan. It was a disaster. My executives hadn’t realized they were only perceiving numbers and not the impact the new package would have on our entire team. Worse still, I hadn’t had the self-awareness to realize there was a problem. It was as much my fault as theirs. We risked losing good employees. headtopics.com
In these situations, 90 percent of the time, executives just say “sorry, but the train has left the station.” But I knew that wouldn’t help us maximize our potential.Instead, I said that what we had done was wrong and took personal responsibility for it. We went back to the drawing board. The next month we had a new plan, and the Advisory Board praised it. It made a difference that we had chosen to take responsibility for what had gone wrong. Only by making the effort to be aware of the problem and by taking personal responsibility for it were we able to reach our full potential.Read more: Forbes »
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