It's the NFL playoffs! And this is the time of year that I often have friends, colleagues and sometimes strangers at a dinner party, ask me “What do you think about the playoffs? Who do you think is going to win?”
No, I’m not a sports analyst. I wasn't even a big sports fan growing up in a small town in New Mexico. In fact, in 2001, when I began working in professional football, I knew very little about the game. My first week on the job at the Tennessee Titans I asked, “So they’ve got four chances to make it 10 yards?”
The chuckle came as they replied, “It's not called a chance, it's called a down.”
I remember my friend Jenny asking me, “You're going to be doing what? You don't even like football. How are you going to work for an NFL team?”
My reply to that was, “They didn't hire me to coach the team, they hired me to care about them.” And that is exactly what I did for over a decade. And yes, I learned the rules of the game.
Many may not realize that it is as difficult, if not more so, to work for an NFL team as it is to play for one. It’s an elite club of athletes, coaches and administrators that make up a franchise. I was honored to have a roster of 52 of the most talented athletes in the country as my co-workers for eleven years.
The last time the Titans were in the AFC Championship game was in 2002, my second season with the team. I remember it like it was yesterday. There I was, in my early 30’s, now screaming at the TV screen because every play mattered. This was our chance. These were my co-workers. My guys. My team. I was all in.
Years later, as the president of my company, I often reflect with my own team about my time working in professional sports. Many have asked me what the biggest takeaway from that time in my career was. Having a sports-minded philosophy has definitely been the best asset as an entrepreneur and business owner. What is a sports-minded philosophy? It’s the ability to think like a champion whether you’re on the football field, in a cubicle or in the boardroom. It’s the desire to be your best through pure determination, grit and tenacity.
Professional athletes are willing to work harder than anyone else in order to win, period. They have an incredible work ethic. They don't slack off. They don’t make the comfortable, easy choices. They don’t settle for status quo or accept a mediocre performance. The daily pursuit for excellence is their foundation. After all, they don’t distribute “Participation Awards” on Sundays. The best team, who believe in themselves, trust their teammates and have the right game plan, can win on any given Sunday. At the beginning of each season, any of the 32 teams can become champions. That’s what the game is all about… the pursuit of excellence. It was contagious.
Early on, I remember being very impressed that these young men were on time, prepared and ready for their early morning meetings at 7:00am, regardless of the crazy Nashville traffic or weather. I was impressed. What I later found out was that the reason they were on time was because they were financially penalized for every minute they were late. Well that nips that in the bud, doesn’t it? As you might imagine, professional sports is a very serious business. But wait. Shouldn’t we treat all of our businesses that way? Is it only professional sports that should expect excellence or top performance? Shouldn't we all strive to be at the top of our game?
Not long ago, I had a conversation with a colleague as we discussed the reason a mistake was made on a project. The point of the discussion was to figure out why it happened so that we could identify it and correct it moving forward. I went on to describe how pro sports teams review their mistakes each week in a classroom setting as a position group. They watch film over and over, in order to correct their mistakes, improve and make it right the next time.
The young colleague asked, “You mean their coach points out someone’s mistake in front of the other team members?”
“Yes, they do,” I answered. “In fact, they have the mistakes on film and can rewind it as many times as necessary to get their point across and find a solution.”
“Wow. That’s harsh. I can't imagine that kind of culture,” she stated.
I went on to explain that it’s not personal, it’s business. It’s not about calling someone out to embarrass them or knock them down, it’s about fine tuning their execution in order to be their best. We all make mistakes, no matter the industry, but you have to correct those mistakes as quickly and efficiently as possible in order to perform at the highest level. These guys have thick skin and reviewing mistakes is just part of perfecting their skill to be their best. Don't we all want to perform our best at our job? Part of the winning formula is not shying away from conversations about how we can improve, even if it's immediately identifying why a mistake was made in order to correct it. Feedback is key to perfecting your game plan for success. We need to reset our thinking to see feedback, good or bad, as an opportunity to perfect our skills.
That sports-minded philosophy became ingrained into my day-to-day work ethic, even as a business leader today. And my hope is to see more young professionals adopt a sports-minded philosophy in their daily work and attitude in order to perform at their highest level, no matter what industry they are in. You don’t have to be a professional athlete, or even a sports fan, to be a champion in your own workplace. The power of positive attitude and willingness to learn will get you far. Let the mindset of a champion become more ingrained into your daily business lives and workplaces and you’ll be amazed at the results.
Who is the Derrick Henry in your office? You know... the staff member that carries the load and takes your team across the finish line just when you need them? Who is your Ryan Tannehill? The staffer you didn't see coming, that surprised everyone well beyond expectations. Do you work from the sidelines OR are you making big plays to help your company win? If we treated our own careers like athletes treat theirs, what would the result be? It would be a solid win for everyone. You. Your boss. Your company. And most importantly, your career.
You can be your company’s MVP. The first step is to reset your thinking, then commit to a solid work ethic. Be eager and willing to learn and stay motivated to be your best. You can create your own game plan and find a winning formula for success if you have the passion and desire to do so. It’s really up to you.
Now, as the Titans approach the AFC Championship game this weekend, 18 years later, it’s okay that they are considered the underdog. They like being underestimated. After all, the win is so much sweeter when they don’t see you coming. It’s their time to shine and I'll be screaming at the TV again for a win.
Let’s go Titans! Bring home the AFC Championship!
January 20, 2020 – Update
Well, it was a solid try, but we just didn’t make it. The Titans has a heartbreaking loss to the Chiefs in the AFC Championship game. The real-life lesson here, that we can all take away, is not that you fall, it’s how you get up from the fall. Sure, reflect and evaluate on what went wrong, but don’t linger there. Don’t marinate in your failure. It doesn't define you.
We don’t always get what we want in life, but we must pick ourselves up and move on to the next challenge. We’ve all been through failure but it’s how we bounce back that matters. That’s not just in football, that’s just a fact of life for all of us. Pick yourself up and find something new to achieve. Believe in yourself. You can succeed. That is the mindset of a champion!
To put things into perspective, here’s an article about 21 of some of the most famous failures in our time that went on to succeed. When you truly know their stories, you’ll realize that achieving greatness isn’t something that comes easy whatsoever. But it does eventually come as long as you don’t give up.