If you are a subscriber to my blogs, you know that my dad is a legendary high school football coach in the state of Pennsylvania. As such, I grew up around sports and immersed in competition from an early age. Heck, I knew the most intimate inner workings of the game of football before the age of five.
As all great leaders do, my dad instilled the will to win in everyone who wore the team uniform. In fact, he instilled it in the entire community. Talk about passion! As an athlete on his team, we knew that the expectation was to win every Friday night. And working toward that goal was a constant process, day in and day out, both on and off the field.
To this day, one of the greatest challenges of my life was playing for my father. Not only because he demanded a lot or because I was the starting quarterback – a position that garnered expectations and attention in its own right. I think the reason why it was arguably the most challenging thing I have ever done was that my father pushed me farther than I ever thought possible.
I can recall an important lesson my father bequeathed to me – something that he is still known to do. He said, “Son, the minute you think you have everything figured out, you should quit. Because the minute you stop working to get better and to perfect your craft, someone else will pass you by.”
I realized at that moment that the climb to the top wasn’t enough. In order to be great, my work ethic needed to match my expectations of greatness. If they didn’t match up, one of two things needed to happen: I needed to lower my expectations or raise my work ethic. To stay at the top, I had to keep moving. Keep working. Keep progressing.
Talk about a personal road to Damascus.
Fast forward to about 15 years later. I had completed my college career as a quarterback for the University of Pittsburgh and was preparing to hang up my cleats as an NFL quarterback. As for my father – he had won more WPIAL titles than any coach.
During a conversation over a cigar during one of my visits home, the topic of leadership and generational differences ensued. It started off as many of our conversations do: discussing strategy and finding ways to tweak little things to get better. My father explained how challenging it was to navigate this new generation of players. Everything from parents to technology to the evolution of the game, those were factors that needed to be addressed.
We had the traditional back and forth of old school vs. new school but the conversation boiled down to a simple reality. Football or business, the common denominator is people.
I said to him, “You are right, Dad. The way you used to do things led you to own a resume that warrants immediate credibility. But that is not enough anymore. It is a different time. And it requires different approaches to yield the results you are after.”
I could tell his wheels were turning simply because of his facial expression. An expression that in 34 years I’ve seen a time or two. And while he fought it at first, he realized he had to take his own advice. Just this once, the student had become the professor.
The advice my dad had given me many years prior was in effect. He realized that in order to continue to find success, he would be required to do something that was counter intuitive. Believe me. It’s not an easy pill to swallow, even when you’re the one witnessing the light bulb go off.
Following our conversation, my father went on to win more championships. But more importantly, he instilled a strategy to reengage his players in a way that they had never been engaged before. He didn’t rely solely on his past accomplishments. He shifted his mindset and adapted his approach.
Times are changing. There are different strategies that we need to adopt in order to achieve the success we want. As a leader in your organization, are you giving lip service or are you really open to the evolving workforce?
At Solutions 21, we believe that growth is the ultimate goal of any organization. In order to grow, the common denominator in the equation is people. The ability to attract, retain, and develop the next generation of leaders is going to be paramount to your ability to succeed.
Are you able to swallow that pill? The great ones are!