My rights are more important than yours

As a 60 year old white man, I have come to several conclusions living in America. Where we are supposed to have equal rights, what that really means is “my rights are more important than yours.” The examples are many and seem to be more at the forefront in a spin-doctored to disinformation news cycle. The other thing I have learned is democracy is hard work – you have to work at it to keep it flourishing. That is why it so easy to harm it.

One of the best examples can be gleaned from the letters to the editors in the newspapers or the comments on various blogs. The comments/ letters I am speaking of occur when a celebrity, athlete or entity espouses a political opinion that differs from yours. The comment ranges from they should stick to their art or sport and not use their popularity as a platform to espouse political views. Or, it might read, I want to watch a ball game and not be told what I must do politically.

It is OK for these people to wear eight corporate sponsor logos to sell you things, but they should not tell you what they believe. Yet, what is not being said, is it is OK for me to use my platforms or read that of others because they agree with my belief construct. In other words, my right to espouse an opinion supersedes yours. So, how dare Colin Kaepernick kneel during the national anthem or Megan Rapinoe say what she thinks. That is unpatriotic. Call me crazy, but siding with a Russian president’s opinions over that of your own intelligence people sounds pretty unpatriotic to me.

Another good example is the Religious rights activity. These laws grant the right to discriminate because it violates a religious belief. The subtlety of this being different from protecting one’s rights against discrimination is not heeded. But, it also causes a very slippery slope of the same folks being discriminated against by other religions or groups. This could be a LGBT owner not selling to someone with hate speech on their T-shirt, a Muslim owner not selling to an evangelical as they do not like their extremist views, a Jewish owner not selling to non-Kosher buyers.

Back in the late 1960s, three black athletes – Jim Brown, the star NFL running back and actor, Bill Russell, the star NBA basketball player and Muhammad Ali all spoke out against poverty and oppression of opportunity of black Americans. They did so knowingly and convincingly. What disappoints many is that Michael Jordan and Tiger Woods do not use their popularity to speak out against similar issues that still fester.To their credit, Lebron James and Stephen Curry are speaking out. Kaepernick actually hurt his career in so doing.

It is more than OK for people to speak out. That is the way it works. I recall when the US invaded Iraq, the country singing group The Dixie Chicks were vilified for speaking out against this. They were hailed unpatriotic by people supporting the Bush administration. Yet, history proved them right to question such a move. What is more unpatriotic – invading a country under false pretenses where over 4,000 American and additional numbers of allied soldiers die or speaking out against such an invasion?

Call me crazy, but if we are going to send Americans and our allies to die, we better have done our homework and exhausted all other options. It should be informational that a UK report found Prime Minister Tony Blair and President George W. Bush at fault for not being forthcoming to the British people. As Forrest Gump would say, “That is all I am going to say about that.”

 

Great leaders make everyone around them better

Thomas Friedman, the award winning author (“The World is Flat” and “That Used to be Us”), made an important observation in an interview with Charlie Rose. A great leader makes everyone around them better – think Michael Jordan, Tom Brady, Wayne Gretzky or, if you are older, Bill Russell. Donald Trump makes everyone around him worse.

This is a powerful observation. Defending this immoral man requires his people to go to a bad place in their nature. They must lower themselves and lie like he does. General Kelly harmed his reputation by lying about a Congresswoman. Sarah Huckabee-Sanders is not worth listening to as she defends the indefensible with inconsistent and nonsensical statements.

Trump values loyalty over competence, so the tendency to become a sycophant is rewarded. While he does have some competent people, they are fewer in number and the depth of talent is not as much as needed. Many experienced people could have helped him, but they either did not pass the loyalty test or chose not to work with such a narcissistic man. His team is not deep and they are very distracted trying to keep Trump between the white lines, so they cannot focus on global trends, issues and strategy.

On the flip side, I think of great leaders like Paul O’Neill, who turned around Alcoa by opening communication channels which improved productivity and safety. I think about my former boss whose mantra was hire good people and have them go see our clients. He kept senior leadership off your back and empowered you to work with others to serve.

Let me close with a story about Bill Russell, the NBA Hall of Famer with the Boston Celtics. He did all the heavy lifting (rebounding, defense, passing, blocked shots) letting his teammates do most of the scoring. His Celtics won eleven championships, his college team won two NCAA championships and he was on a Gold Medal Olympic team.

Great leaders make everyone around them better.

The Best Teammate Ever

With the NCAA basketball tourney in high gear and the NBA playoffs nearing, I wanted to take the opportunity to highlight the best team player of any sport. With all due respect to my hockey friends, he is not Henri Richard of the famous Montreal Canadiens, who some would argue could lay such claim. The best teammate ever happens to have been quite successful as a college and pro basketball player, so it is apropos to mention him here and now.

His college team won two national championships, his pro team won eleven NBA championships and his Olympic team won the Gold Medal, as well. Who is he? He is not Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar or Larry Bird, although he is appearing in two commercials during the NCAA tournament with the latter three around the kids pre-school desk and the guy who usually does this funny banter with kids. His name is Bill Russell and he is remembered as the legendary center for the Boston Celtics and University of San Francisco.

Bill’s teams were good for two primary reasons. First and foremost, he was on the team. He had personal achievements winning the Most Valuable Player award five times and was a twelve time all-star. He is in the Hall of Fame and was voted one of the 50 Best NBA Players of all time. Yet, by his own admission, Wilt Chamberlain was a better basketball player. Wilt, though, did not win that many championships or have near the same amount of team success.

Second, his team won because Russell understood the concept of team play better than anyone. You see Russell’s forte was not scoring, although he did do some of that averaging 15 points a game as a pro. His forte was doing those things on the court which involved effort and intellect as much as skill. He was a voracious rebounder averaging an unheard of today 22.5 rebound per game. Rebounding requires calculation of where the shot was taken and where a missed shot might carom or bounce. Most basketball shots taken from one side of the basketball court, when missed, will carom to the other side. Then, it requires a huge amount of effort to get to the best position where the missed shot might go and use your body to block out an opponent, another lost art in the US.

By rebounding well, the opponent gets fewer shots and your team gets more shots. An explanation of basketball success doesn’t get any easier than that. Yet, he also was one of the best shot blockers the game has ever known. Shotblocking is timing as well as skill, but he made it a craft. But, the one thing he did that is rarely done when you watch the tournament games today, is Russell blocked the shot to a teammate. This normally started a fast break which has a higher chance of scoring than a set play. He was known to have said, “If I block it out-of-bounds, it may look more theatrical, but we still don’t have the ball.” When you watch the Final Four and the NBA playoffs, see how many times the blocker just blocks it out-of-bounds.

The third thing he did well in addition to the shot blocking was play good defense. Offense is more fun to play. Defense requires an effort. Offense is what the fans want to see, but defense wins championships. The shot blocking was his signature trait, but he also did other things to make his team defend the goal  better. He worked hard to disrupt the other teams’ offense through disrupting passes and shots.

The final thing he did well is his passing. He knew his teammates could shoot better than he did, so he would get them the ball passing out of the post position. Plus, by having his teammates involved, he knew they would pick up their defense. Syracuse Coach Jim Boeheim said this the other day, “I know I am not supposed to say this, but when a player is scoring and involved in the offense, he usually plays better defense as a result.” Having been around basketball for years, I have never heard a coach utter those words, yet I think Russell knew this intuitively.

Russell actually was a player coach his last three seasons as a Boston Celtics and his team won each year. But, when he kept coaching after he retired, his teams did not win like before. The key reason was Bill Russell was not playing. He brought all of the above to the court – intellect, effort, skill and energy. But he brought one other thing. His desire to win. Before almost every big game, Russell could be heard in the locker restroom throwing up. His teammates knew that if Russell was throwing up because he was nervous, they were going to win. And, they did.

One final thought about Bill Russell, which I also admire him for, is his activism. He was very intelligent and he knew that African-Americans were continuing to be maltreated in the 1960s. He joined together with Jim Brown, the superb NFL football star, and others to make a statement because their athletic prowess and notoriety gave them a platform to be heard. They did what people like Tiger Woods and Michael Jordan have not done because of fear of lost endorsements. They stood up for African-Americans who were being disenfranchised and said this is not right.They convinced Muhammad Ali to take part as well. This needs to be done today, but the players and stars of the same ilk will not stand up for causes like these men did.

I think his activism shows what kind of man and teammate Bill Russell is and was. In today’s me first world where statistics mean more than they should with fantasy leagues and big contracts, winning year-in, year-out with energy and effort, seems to be a lost art. And, with fourteen championships to his teams’ credit, win they did. Maybe that is why we may never see another Bill Russell. The team has to be bigger than the player.

I succeed because I’ve failed

A key lesson for all of us is we will fail at some point in our lives and we may fail more than once. The key to success is what do you do when you fail. I was struck by this quote from Michael Jordan’s whose basketball prowess and effort should be admired – “I’ve missed more than 9,000 shots…I’ve lost almost 300 games…I’ve failed over and over again in my life. And, that is why I succeed.”

With all of his talent, Jordan worked harder than anyone to succeed. He also encouraged others to do the same, so he helped his teammates become better. People that know him say he was one of the more driven people they have ever met. Like many athletes, they are driven to avoid failure, to avoid losing. Jordan also worked at the less popular parts of the game – his defense. As my basketball coach said often, you can have an off night on offense, but you can never have an off night on defense. Defense wins games in almost any team sport.

In my senior year of high school, I was demoted from the first team to the second team. That hurt as there is pride involved with starting. So, I remembered my brother being a terrific sixth man. For those who do not follow basketball, the sixth man is usually the first person off the bench to spell the starters and gets about as much playing time as a starter. So, what did I do about it? I worked my fanny off in practice to be that one person the coach would call upon. I was a good defender, but I worked hard at being a better one covering our best big player in practice every day. I told myself I am going to prevent him from scoring in our team drills today. And, I would go do it.

Two things happened. We were better because he got better as I made him work harder for the ball. Bill Walton, one of the greatest college (and a great pro) players ever to play the game, used to say the best player he played against was his teammate, Swen Nater who made Walton better every day. Nater also became a pretty good pro player. The point to both Nater and my story is we both failed to start, but we did not let that bother us. We worked hard, got playing time and helped our teams win the best way we could. Although it is a different sport, I recall the great golfer Gary Player’s quote when answering a question about a “lucky shot.” Player said “I find the more I practice, the luckier I get.”

One of my sons did not do his best recently and he failed to achieve the success he wanted. He has since righted the ship and is doing what he is capable of doing, but when we were having a conversation about next steps, I told him a story from Coach K, the legendary Duke University coach. I shared with him when I had failed, but added this quote as it is pertinent. Early in Coach K’s tenure at Duke, their season ended with a drubbing from Virginia in the ACC tournament, something like 109-66. At the team party, a booster toasted “Here is to forgetting about this game.” Coach K quickly corrected him, “Here is to NEVER forgetting about this game.” I told my son never to forget this feeling as you need to do your best to avoid feeling this way in the future.

Failure is the best teacher. We should learn from it as it not fun. Life will knock you down, so dust yourself and get back up. But, remember why you got knocked down. The only thing you can control is you. So, make yourself better. There are two key lessons here. Winston Churchill is the greatest leader of the 20th century and the world owes him and his fellow Britains a great thank you for standing up against Hitler. His message was very clear – “Never, ever give up.” If he had, the US would be a very different place today. So, first and foremost, do not give up.

The other lesson is to learn from your mistakes. I have written a blog about my favorite business book – “Built to Last” – which looks at the common traits of highly successful companies. One of the traits is “good enough never is.” Many of these companies actually failed in their first efforts, but did not let that stop them. But, even when they had success, they never stopped improving. There is an old business change line that it is easier to change a company with a burning platform. It is harder to change one that has success. So, when you fail at something, learn from why you failed. Did you not study enough? Were you not prepared enough? But, also after you have success, do not forget to look for ways to improve. Do what it takes to not fail.

Let me close with one final piece of advice – don’t be afraid to fail. Jim Furyk, the great golfer with the unusual swing is noted to be as tough as nails as a competitor. One reason is he is not afraid to fail. He described a story as a very good basketball player on a good team. He wanted to take the last shot even when the other team knew he would. He told the coach the reason is he could handle the failure of missing better than his teammates. Jordan was like that as well.  So, don’t give up, learn from your mistakes and don’t be afraid to fail.

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PS – I have added a postscript to this as I want to reference a marvelous piece written this morning by Hugh Curtler at www.hughcurtler.wordpress.com on “Contrasting Heroes.” Please read the post and the wonderful comments. I admire Jordan and Tiger Woods greatly for their athletic achievements. They are very similar in talent, temperament and work ethic. Yet, they are also similar in another way as is pointed out in Hugh’s post and comments. Both have failed to use their notoriety to speak out for those who are disenfranchised in this world. I would love for them to remedy this failure and mirror their athletic achievements.

There are three people I mention in my comments to Hugh’s post who did not shirk their responsibilities. Jim Brown, the football great, and Bill Russell, the basketball great, both spoke out against racial inequity and abetted the Civil Rights movement in the 1960’s. But, a real hero is Harry Belafonte, the singer/ actor who used his notoriety to make a huge difference in the US, South Africa and around the world on helping those in need. There is an excellent documentary on HBO that shares the heroic life of Belafonte.