Slow Down You Move Too Fast - Being in the Zone

Yesterday, Coco Vandeweghe (ranked 35th in the world), crushed Garbine Muguruza (7th ranked) at the Australian Open 6-4, 6-0. There was no question that Coco was the better player at that moment, but it was something else I believe that made the difference.

George Mumford’s The Mindful Athlete describes it as “mindfulness”, the ability to pay attention in a particular way, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgmentally as if your life depended on it.” In sport, yes skill is critical to performance, but self-awareness is the pivotal thing that creates this zone.

Coco, a leader in her own right and a strong personality, focused on her journey, her experience, not on the end destination. In other words, she was in touch with herself and a sense of calm resonated. She played in the moment, and maybe you could say “she slowed down”. That ability to be present in the moment was her catalyst to a great performance.

The same could be said for leadership. So much depends on deep self-awareness, being comfortable with being uncomfortable. It allows one to lead/perform with a sense of self-purpose, trusting your insights and instincts and seeing possibilities not distractions, in everything you do.

As you embark on this calendar year, take a moment to “slow down” and listen to yourself. The mere fact of being, not doing might yield this calm and performance will abound. I think Coco found her zone.

Take a moment and listen to Simon & Garfunkel’s song, “Feeling Groovy”. I’m taken with their line “slow down you move to fast”.

Have a Heart


Thomas Friedman wrote an Op-Ed column in the NY Times on January 4 titled: “From Hands to Heads to Hearts”. This article strikes at a compelling notion: what makes us humans unique as the fast-changing world of artificial intelligence challenges human thinking and its impact on society. Does it replace us humans?

As a former business executive and now professional leadership coach focusing on college athletics, daily I think and talk about how does leadership and it’s leaders enhance success towards real goals. In the world of college athletics, performance on the field is paramount, yet we know that to get there, there is a commitment to becoming self-aware of one’s feelings about things that influence daily life. This is an expression of one’s values and beliefs. Results on the field or those “outward” things often detours us from what is a critical starting point – the whole person or persons.

Having said this, artificial intelligence and technological advancement influence our lives in many positive ways. It can give us tools to make us more productive, intelligence gathering is superb, and it can create metrics that help us understand performance.  Just think, optimal athlete performance can be measured bio-metrically and help us realize how to achieve next levels of success. 

Yet, I suggest we consider what I call the “five have-a-heart foundations” so that performance has a real backbone:

Be authentic – be yourself; let others see this; it’s the real you and it means you’ve taken the time to be the real you and what you value.

Be curious – leadership is energy and that means seeing opportunities abound. Opening yourself up to ideas, people, and things is refreshing, energizing and hopeful.

Listen, don’t be listened to – be informed first, then be the informant. Let team members know you get it. It imbues trust and willingness to create a culture that matters.

     Know your Why – You may not what it is you do and understand your goals, but it will have real meaning when you can express why you’re doing it first.

And lastly….

Have a Heart –

It’s what makes you. You. Technology can’t feel or hope as Thomas Friedman wrote. As athletic leaders, having a heart is what adds meaning to leadership development. 


What About Belief and Hope?

If you don’t know about Zingerman’s Deli in Ann Arbor, or for that matter, you haven’t been, you’re missing out. Living in the NYC area, we’re deluged with great delis. Yet, Zingerman’s is right up there with the best of them. But what’s behind this organization and who’s leading it merits accolades.

Ari Weinzweig, one of the co-founders of Zingerman, was interviewed recently by the Hitachi Foundation. His leadership has propelled Zingerman’s to great heights, a company today with over $60 million in revenues. This is a compelling article, bringing in relevant metaphors about how to build an organization through belief and hope.

As we look to the new year, take a moment to read this article. As leaders, we all should cherish our potential to change people’s beliefs and hope for building our organizations, teams and/or family. Zingerman’s has changed people’s beliefs about food and what work means among other things. Ari also has translated his thinking to the positive feelings about work, and helping one grow as a person. Tolerating is not a recipe for a productive life.

Ari’s example about how he changed his deep-seated/somewhat impulsive opinion about his dislike of Pimento cheese was astounding after he attended a conference hosted by the Southern Foodways Alliance. He re-thought this opinion (and belief) through more research and voila; Pimento cheese became a staple and expansive line of products with Pimento.

Ari’s metaphor about beliefs are akin to what he calls “the root system of our lives” and organizational culture is our soil. For those in sports, this root system is our staff, coaches, student-athletes and their collective ideas. Yes, culture takes time to take root, yet it does yield it’s fruits.

How do you feed and nurture your root system? How do they fuel your success and growth?

Wishing you health, happiness and hope for this holiday and the new year. 

Year Round Gratitude

Showing appreciation should not be seasonal. Maybe it's because it's the season of bounty that we all think about being grateful for what we have. The plentiful table at Thanksgiving in no short order of course. There are those who need our help. We reach out with our time, resources and compassion especially when it gets cold outside.

Yet, why should this be a seasonal thing? In the New York Times food section last week, there was a timely article about the many ways to give thanks. What I most appreciated was the idea keeping a journal.

The day after, I thought about my wife who planned a Thanksgiving that crammed in, even comfortably, 27 family members from around the country. No easy task. It made my day!

For those of you who have highly engaged teams, encourage them to keep a "gratitude journal". And even daily, before their feet land on the ground each morning, they pick up their "journal" and scribe one thing that deserves their gratitude.

As leaders we'll all perform better when we show up authentically and with purpose. 

Today's NY Times sports section had a wonderful article featuring Cori Close, Head Coach of UCLA women's basketball. It talked about the impact John Wooden has had on her coaching and the cherished relationship they developed over the years.

Wooden's long established and respected Pyramid of Success has served many leaders over the years. For me, two things stand out: intentness and alertness. Each of these characteristics serve leaders because behind them is one's clarity and purpose to what they are doing.

Cori Close shares, "it's equipping them to be leaders". Yes greatness on the court, but in her discussion with a former UCLA player John Vallely, a member of the '69 and '70 title teams, Wooden's coaching was all about his success in life. 

And this all leads to what Wooden refers to as "competitive greatness". And I believe this is competitive greatness on the court and in life. Coaching helps bring this clarity and purpose and that's why Cori Close is building a culture that is long lasting for the program and her players.

Free Webinar - Compass for Internal Brand Building, hosted by Tom Hess

Free Webinar

November 9, 9a Pacific, 12n Eastern, Presented by Tom Hess, Founder, The Playbook Lab


November 9, 9a Pacific, 12n Eastern, hosted by Athledify, presented by Tom Hess, founder of The Playbook Lab

November 9, 9a Pacific, 12n Eastern, hosted by Athledify, presented by Tom Hess, founder of The Playbook Lab

What You Will Learn:

  • Insights about how consumer brands connect to their audience?
  • Introduction of a new brand concept that could be applicable to college athletic brand planning.
  • Tools and exercises to enhance the clarity and power of messaging through your people.
  • How to activate the heart and truth of your brand.
  • How to strengthen the connection between athletics and your greater campus community.

What's Teaming?

I participated recently in a webinar featuring Amy Edmondson, Novartis Professor of Leadership and Management at Harvard Business School. She is the co-author of a new book entitled Building the Future, Big Teaming for Audacious Innovation. I was so intrigued by her message. Even though the topic was about a bold innovation of a new city with an extremely cross functional team, she champions a concept called “big teaming”.  And it is through Amy’s leadership levers that one begins to understand, regardless of your industry, the challenge to produce productive, breakthrough team building.

Her levers are:

1.       Foster an adaptable vision

2.      Promote psychological safety

3.      Enable Knowledge and Sharing

4.      Foster Execution-As-Learning

I was particularly struck by Psychological Safety and Enabling Knowledge Sharing. In a day and age of the explosion and access to knowledge and data, increasing specialization and to say the least a plethora of problems, to build trusting communities/teams is essential to innovation/success.

View it from a rational and emotional mindset. Here’s a quick take on her principles:

Please share any thoughts/insights you might have.

Why a Coach?

Harley Finkelstein, COO of Shopify, an online ecommerce retail platform, wrote an insightful article recently in Forbes about "His Dirty Little Secret"....hiring an executive coach. 

My big takeaways apply to all of us as leaders:

- We manage for the long term and lead people by trusting them in their abilities.

- Have empathy. Respect people's opinions; listen to them intently and be glad that it's ok to disagree. It's a healthy way to build productive, respectful growth.

- Be present in the moment, whether you're in a meeting, in a competition, or at home with family. Today's multi-tasking society sometimes gets in the way...too many meetings, a calendar that is on overload etc. 

As Harley put it about his coaching and being the leader and person he wants: "At least I know what I don't know". Being aware of you is where it all starts.

Why Fear Can Be Your Friend

Our beliefs and influences filter the way we see the world.

Fear is something we all think about and confront. Whether it’s the fear of failing in a game, fear of not being good enough on a team, fear of not being liked, and the list goes on. 

Yet, if one could change our thinking about fear, we could use it in a powerful way to our advantage.

Maybe, just maybe, we could think about fear as our friend. Don’t fight “him”. 

Kyle Battles’ article for Inc. about Team USA Volleyball player Rachel Adams, talks to the power of fear “as friend”.

“She went on to paraphrase a metaphor about how to deal with fear. She later sent me screenshots of the book: Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert. Imagine yourself and two others, fear and creativity, are preparing for a road trip. Fear is welcome to come, “I allow my fear to live and breathe and stretch out its legs comfortably.” However, only you and creativity are making decisions. “It seems to me the less I fight my fear, the less it fights back.”

Rachel is a leader. She sees opportunity and choice through her creativity and awareness of herself.

So when fear pops up you might say, "hey fear (or whatever your name is), take a back seat and enjoy the ride with me. The front seat is occupied.

What Coaches Say Matters to Leaders

Coaches of all types are not miracle workers, contrary to popular belief. Yet, coaches have a vital role: embrass the athlete, his/her perspectives, listen intently and ask thought-provoking questions. This helps spur creativity and clarity about themselves. Attitudes and perspectives can change.

In Mattson Newell's article in Inc.I particularly like what Coach Bob Bowman said, "For a swimmer, I'm their eyes out of the water. They can't see what they're doing."

"A lot of times what you think you're feeling isn't exactly what you're supposed to be doing," he continued. "The most important thing a coach does is give feedback. Also, I think we give guidance and motivation and some other things. The coach really is a partner in your activity, and I think it's so much better when you have one."

Takeaway: We all live in our own heads, and it's often difficult to evaluate ourselves. Outside perspectives are vital to development as an individual and as a leader. Just as you are looking at others and coaching them, make sure you also have a mentor guiding your way.



Graciousness is a Powerful Attribute

Max Whittaker for The New York Times

Max Whittaker for The New York Times

David Brooks wrote an insightful column in yesterday's NY Times op-ed column: "The Art of Gracious Leadership". I was particularly taken by a few morsels of his article:

"graciousness is a gentle strength"

"experience distills life into instinct"

"see life as not a battlefield, but the world as a friendly and hopeful place"

"gracious leaders greet the world openly".

Leaders see possibilities, learn from experience and are humble in their ability to accept. Reference is to Martin Luther King. 

The leader in all of us leads with intuition, where everything is a possibility. Isn't that what we want for our employees, players, and the world? 


The Olympic Spirit and High Performance

As the Olympics wind down, I’ve reflected on what it takes to be a high performing Olympian. The early August debut on PBS of The Boys of 36, is a powerful story on many fronts that speaks to the spirit of high performance and hope.

This University of Washington team was against all odds to compete on the world stage. Powerhouse teams from Germany, and the proven elite of the Ivy League made winning a formidable challenge to say the least. Furthermore, the U.S. was focused on reviving itself post-Depression.

They went through rigorous training, honed their skills and bodies. The shells became their homes.

Yet, this team, comprised of unexpected athletes, rose above all of what I call the influencers: social, emotional, physical, geographical, mental and even spiritual to achieve Gold. The hallmarks of great teams: selfless, acceptance, trust, accountability manifested themselves throughout their journey.

High performing teams realize their goals when their values are aligned with their overall mission. The Boys of ’36 saw opportunities and choice, not defeat, but Gold and a country that needed a “kick in the pants” rallying cry!


The Trust Barometer

It’s hard to believe that a “new year” is upon us. The school year was and still is for me, that time of year when we set our goals, intentions, and generally try to gain some clarity. Whether you are a coach or company executive, it’s really quite a refreshing time. Furthermore, I look forward to the crisp weather of fall which invigorates me.

Many things influence us as we start our fall journey - new recruits, new staff, ambitious schedules, new uniforms, team chemistry, family, friends and the list goes on. A plan to get us to our goal is set in place. Yet with all these influences, we keep coming back to the people. Isn’t that what it’s all about?

We know that getting to “success” depends upon our people. “How do we get them to be high performing team members and teams”? “How do build their TRUST”? Sherri Coales, Head Women’s Basketball Coach of Oklahoma, talks about how student-athletes and I’d add coaches, must “find their voice”. That place where it’s what you think of you first, not others opinions. When that becomes clear, we appear to our team authentically and confidently.

Jim Davis, Professor at Utah State talks in his Tedex talk about The TRUST BAROMETER, and the three drivers of trust. It’s people’s perceptions of us and how we’re viewed. So now that your “onboarding” things this fall, think about the TRUST BAROMETER and the three drivers of trust

If we can build "perceptions of a happier, trusting team", then I suggest we've made progress towards our goal.

If we can build "perceptions of a happier, trusting team", then I suggest we've made progress towards our goal.




How Does Leadership Show Up in Coaching?

A Chat with Ellen Yopchick, Assistant Volleyball Coach, UIC Flames. In 2012, Yopchick was named an American Volleyball Coaches Association's (AVCA) "Thirty Under 30" recipient.

How would you define leadership?  Leadership is the ability to communicate and motivate a group of people to accomplish specific goals.  
What makes an effective leader?  I am not sure there is a specific make up of what a great leader is, but in my experience all great leaders that I have had the opportunity to work with or be around have several common characteristics. These include: excellent communication skills, a passion for people, and a high level of integrity. 
 Why is leadership important in collegiate athletics today?  Leadership is vital in collegiate athletics today because we have the great opportunity and responsibility to help mold future leaders of society. We need effective leaders to guide these student-athletes and help them reach their goals on and off the courts and fields. The experiences they have with the leaders around them- coaches, athletic directors, administrators will impact them long after they have hung up their uniform.
 Collegiate athletics has and is experiencing great change today? How has this impacted you as a coach?  If you ask any coach in any sport at any level they will tell you that the landscape of collegiate athletics is changing constantly. A lot of that change is coming from the use of social media. Social media is a big role player in recruiting, marketing/branding, communicating with players, etc. In some ways social media has made my job a little easier. The ability to communicate instantly and effortlessly with hundreds of people is amazing. With platforms such as Snapchat, Periscope, and Instagram we can literally take our fans and recruits behind the scenes. We can tell the world we won and scream it from seven different outlets. However, in other ways, it has made it more challenging. Social media has created a transparency. Our student-athletes, both current and prospective, have to be more careful because there are more eyes on them than ever before. They are exposed from all different angles and they are still young and learning themselves.  As leaders and coaches, it is our responsibility to help guide them through these unchartered territories and help them “think twice, and act once.”
 What are your greatest challenges?  My greatest challenge is creating an environment for our players that enables them to accomplish their goals academically, socially and athletically. This environment is constantly evolving in order to best meet the needs of current and future women of our program. It is both my job and challenge to help these women become the best version of themselves.
 How do you measure success?  I am always torn by this idea of measuring success. At first thought, I know that I will always measure success in wins and losses. However, I have come to measure success in other ways as well. I measure success in our graduation rate, our alumni that come back year-after-year to support the program, in community service projects, and in our team GPA. These are all measurements of success and perhaps hold more truth and carry more weight than the wins and losses.






Why..why matters to athletic leaders and teams

This great and thought-provoking poem by our beloved Dr. Seuss about The Sneetches peeked my curiosity. Why did he pen it? What's your reaction to what Seuss meant by this. If you care to, let me know. The why does matter!

So, what a coincidence! I reread Simon Sinek’s amazing book, “Start with Why” and no sooner had I finished there was an article in the NY Times July 4th weekend, entitled, “The Power of Why? And What If?”. So you ask, why does this matter at all, especially to you?

Well, for quite some time I have explored the building blocks for great leaders. Much has been written about confidence, flexibility, listening, decisiveness, conflict resolution, and so on. So, how do great leaders inspire their teams? Is it their ideas about how to get certain things done and actually what it is they’ll do? Not sure that’s what I’m now uncovering.

Apple makes iPhones and iPads and so on. That’s what they do and continue to do. Yet, where it all started was their “why”, so aptly put by Steve Jobs, we “think differently”. That belief system permeated Apple and still does. How they do it and what they do are clearly in alignment with this belief. And the rest is history; the consumer followed.

So the next time you have a team meeting or are stuck on something, ask yourself or your team members, “what’s our why?” It’s these type of questions that will reveal the sole of your team members, what they really value and this will lead to their how and what.

All team members are leaders. Team success is a reflection of what they value. Great teams and organizations continue greatness by believing in something that is etched deep inside. A feeling of belonging or often said by Simon, “The Circle of Safety”.

It’s the questions we ask, not just our solutions that produce short and long term team success. Questions enlighten us, empower us and beg for increased awareness around how we perceive and think about things, either on or off the field, or long after the college careers.


On hatred, fear, uncertainty - and the power of hope

My daughter received this email from a friend of Kate's. Kate, a Yale graduate, has been hard at work, getting her to the level to compete for the Olympics. She runs for @teamoiselle, a wonderful running apparel company, in Seattle, trying to make it. What matters is she did something that made a difference to her, and in so doing, gave us all inspiration and hope during such a dark week. 

The shooting in Orlando. The bombings in Baghdad and Istanbul. The murders of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile. The shooting in Dallas.
Can I be honest with you and say that it is all too much for me to process?  
We are drowning in violence, oppression, and fear. I do not know what to say to you about all of this pain. I do not know what to do or how to help in a meaningful, tangible way. I cannot remain silent any longer, with my head buried in the sand of privilege, but I also do not want to just add to the noise and confusion. 
So today, with all of the pain that is weighing heavily on my heart (and no doubt on yours as well), I want to take a minute and talk about hope, and about resilience and strength.
Because these things - hope, resilience, and strength - can come to us from unlikely places.  
In the midst of our uncertainty and anger, when we are truly asking ourselves and each other what we can do and if anything will ever change, it is okay, maybe even necessary, to source hope from wherever we can.  
Which is why, every single day for the past five days, I have looked over and over again at the photo above.
That's my dear friend Kate Grace, who blazed across the 800m finish line at the U.S. Olympic Trials on Monday evening, winning the race and earning a much-deserved spot on Team USA.  
She did it. She's going to the Olympics.  
And here's the thing:  
She won the race in 1:59.10.  
That's less than two minutes. Your life can change - in terrible ways, yes, but also in beautiful ways - in less than two minutes. 
And yet, what's easy to overlook is the fact that these two minutes came at the end of 11 years of work. ELEVEN YEARS - that's how long Kate has been running.
We all know what can happen, what does happen, to a person over the course of 11 years. Pain, loss, injury, growth, big dreams, self-doubt, fear, shaken faith, false starts, and the need to overcome hopelessness and each crisis of confidence. This is true for athletes and it is true for those who fight for social justice and it is true, I believe, for absolutely everyone. 
The road is long, and we are tired. Too often, we find ourselves lost in the dark for what feels like an eternity. We question whether or not our hard work is worth it. Does the individual effort of any one person really matter? 
But I will tell you what - watching Kate put all of herself on that start line, watching as she emptied herself onto that track, into that race, and seeing the tears streaming down the faces of all of those who know her and love her and all of those who have never met her but are inspired by her just the same - I was reminded that hope comes in the most unlikely places, and that one person's seemingly inconsequential effort can reverberate out, break through our pain, and bathe us in the power of strength and resilience.  
So while I am not suggesting that sport is the answer to the world's pain and injustice, I do know that watching one woman's extraordinary effort to get the best out of herself is a damn good place to start.  
During what feels like a particularly dark week, Kate gives me hope. Hope that even if the daily work of being our best selves (and trying, imperfectly, to build a better world) seems both endless and excruciating, that eventually it will all connect, and that one day we will experience a turning point that can change everything. 

"Sometimes what you say to yourself matters"


In advance of July 4, I thought it would be appropriate to reflect a bit about ourselves, especially what we say...not to them but to ourselves. Our own independence is what drives us.

A recent article by Jeff Haden, Contributor Editor of Inc., titled "11 Phrases Intelligent People Say Every Day (and So Should You), made me pause. Why? Because our thoughts as leaders who empower student-athletes start with our thoughts and actions. As we all think about accomplishment, it sometimes begs for us to shift our perspectives and think about what's important to us...our values. 

So, as leaders we want to see opportunity, want choices and options, so we lead with power and commitment. 

These 11 phrases from Jeff offer a moment, as I said, to pause, ready them, and decide how they could affect you. 

1. "No one else is willing to do that, so that's what I will do."

2. "I will answer the question that wasn't asked."

3. "Hey, that wasn't so bad after all."

4. "I can't do everything today, but I will take one small step."

5. "I should just be quiet."

6. "I won't care what other people may think."

7. "I'll show you."

8. "It's not perfect, and I'm fine with that."

9. "I should have done better."

10. "I will recognize a person who doesn't get enough recognition."

11. "If nothing else, I can always do more."

Happy July 4th!