Lombardi Time

by Don Yaeger

As the NFL Playoffs continue to take us further from the regular season routine and closer to Super Bowl dreams, I can’t help but tap into my appreciation for the iconic figure who won the very first Super Bowl in NFL history.  Back in January of 1967, Green Bay Packers head coach Vince Lombardi captured the trophy (which would eventually bear his name) in a 35-10 victory over the Kansas City Chiefs.  The endless wit and wisdom he displayed over the course of his career fueled my desire to learn more about the man who is, arguably, the league’s Greatest coach.  His quotes were memorable to say the least.

“If you aren’t fired with enthusiasm, then you will be fired with enthusiasm,” is one of the nuggets that always brings a smile to my face.  That line alone encourages me to approach my daily life—both at work and at home–with passion.

When it comes to the green and gold, there’s no shortage of football passion.  The current Packers are flirting with winning their fifth Super Bowl title in franchise history, and their star players have become household names with TV commercials and product endorsement deals.  But no matter the popularity of fan favorites like Aaron Rodgers, Clay Matthews, or Greg Jennings, historic Lambeau Field will always spark stories of Coach Lombardi ahead of anyone else.  In fact, the philosophy of the Hall of Fame coach is part of the very structure of the stadium–literally.

This past summer, the franchise christened the Vince Lombardi clock tower on the north side of Lambeau Field.  But as reporter Michelle Tafoya pointed out in a recent game broadcast, the Packers set the time on the clock tower ahead 15 minutes.

“We felt it was a unique and fitting tribute to Coach Lombardi,” said Packers President and CEO Mark Murphy.

While it went unnoticed to many outside of the franchise, true “Cheese Heads”  appreciated the constant reminder of Coach Lombardi.  You see, from 1959-1967 the Packers went by “Lombardi Time,” wherein the legendary coach demanded all players and staff members to show up 15 minutes early for everything.  To him, punctuality poured the foundation for Greatness.

“I remember we had a rookie show up seven minutes early and Coach Lombardi said to him ‘You are eight minutes late’,” remembered Murphy.

Lombardi placed such value on time that players were disciplined if they were tardy.  At the time, Lombardi’s level of authority allowed him to distinguish himself from his peers.  It’s a philosophy that has been adopted by current coaching Greats, like Tom Coughlin, who has won two Super Bowl titles with the New York Giants.  (Although I should note that Coughlin only demanded his players to arrive five minutes prior to scheduled events, meetings and practices.)

As fan after fan enters the Green Bay stadium, they either acknowledge the constant tribute to Coach Lombardi, or they arrive at their seats ahead of schedule—sometimes, they do both.  It’s amazing how the Packers have managed to honor their history by allowing it to tick-tock so visibly in front of their organization.

The lesson here is in the habit:  The Great leaders develop a discipline for achieving success.  Just as Lombardi placed a high value on time, we must find a discipline for Greatness and then make it an emphasis in our daily, weekly, monthly routines.  A simple change in how you manage your time can help you clock in with top results.

Do you have any clock tower-like habits that effect your organization?  Have you ever seen a leader with a habit like Lombardi’s 15-minute rule?  What pattern can you develop or adopt today that could—in time—make you Great?

Be Perfect on EVERY Play

by Don Yaeger

Decisions are the frequent fabric of our daily design.  Studies show the average person makes at least five decisions per minute.  Given the ideal goal is eight hours of sleep each night–although since becoming a father to young Will and Maddie, that appears  to be more fantasy than a realistic goal– the average person is awake for 16 hours.  By those parameters, the average person makes 4,800 decisions daily.  But even that total seems severely underestimated.

In sports and in business, the greatest leaders are those who make the best decisions in the most crucial of situations.  They are the ones who focus their energy on turning tough decisions into winning decisions.

The University of Alabama head football coach Nick Saban incorporates that philosophy and uses it as nourishment… Literally.  Saban is so intent on saving his energy and attention for the major decisions, that he eats the same lunch meal each day in order to take one of his 4,800 decisions, literally, “off his plate.”

“A salad of iceberg lettuce and cherry tomatoes topped with turkey slices and fat-free Honey Dijon dressing” means that he doesn’t have to take time away from his day to study a menu and decide on lunch.  Instead he can add that time to the laundry list of NCAA items a national champion head coach has to handle.

But the lesson on Saban doesn’t end there.  In a recent ESPN interview the Crimson Tide coach talked about his demanding style, the expectations he puts on his players, and his team’s chances of winning this year’s national title.

“You coach against perfection, not your opponent and you’ll find you win quite a few,” was the response from Saban that quickly caught my attention.

Legendary UCLA basketball coach– and my mentor– John Wooden used a similar motto 40 years ago.  “Don’t focus on your opponent.  Focus instead on what you are capable of doing,” was one of Wooden’s many golden lessons.

Both coaches built teams of great respect and success.  Both believed that perfection should be the demand at all times.  Both believed that success didn’t begin with simply trying to beat everyone else, but rather in trying to be so well-prepared that the opposition didn’t stand a chance.

Saban believes that if you focus on your personal performance on each play, you will find that the scoreboard is in your favor more times than not.  Just as he eliminated his own lunch options to avoid seemingly insignificant decisions, so too has Saban eliminated the distractions of championship predictions by challenging his players to focus solely on where they will be at the end of each play.  If his team perfects how they execute each play, then the sum of perfection will most likely equal victory.

Too many of us are focused strictly on the end result when each play deserves that same kind of attention.  We should all strive to be extraordinary and that starts with a focus on our own capabilities instead of those of our opponents.  The myriad of distractions, predictions, and feigned finish lines only create room for disappointment, failure and lack of preparation.

What “play” do you have in front of you today that deserves your full attention?  Are there current decisions in your life that should require more of your focus?

Join the conversation today.

Committing to Great Change

by Don Yaeger

Over the years, I’ve had the opportunity to meet and interview many of the world’s top athletes and champions.  While their greatness had more to do with their inner characteristics than their ability to touch their toes, I’d be out-of-touch if I completely overlooked the physical conditioning of the great ones.  To this day, Michael Jordan looks like he could put a jersey on and make an NBA roster.  Michael Phelps’ superior physique was ideal for making historic Olympic splashes but his discipline in achieving strong health and endurance can’t be ignored.

And neither will mine.  During a recent trip to San Diego for SUCCESS Publisher Darren Hardy’s High Performance Forum, I sat next to Jeff Smith, an entrepreneur from England. Over discussions about the challenge of living life often on the road, I shared with Jeff that I had a desire to lose some weight. He suggested a call with a personal trainer named Dan Forbes…  Several remarkable conversations later, the Englishman convinced me into what could be one of my greatest challenges yet.  I intend to lose 25 pounds by January 1st.

While it’s not an insurmountable goal, it definitely isn’t a piece of cake–which under the circumstances, is a good thing.  But this goal will not be littered with a mountain of exercise techniques and nutritional “do’s & don’ts”…  Instead Forbes challenged me to change one habit at a time, each for a 2-week period.  The concept is that when a person is loaded with a big list of changes to make all at once, very rarely do they have the endurance to achieve their goal.

Forbes said if “you commit to breaking one habit for a period of two weeks, your chance for successfully breaking that one habit is around 85 percent.”  He went on to explain that the success rate drops significantly when you add more to an already life-changing restriction.  “Try and break two habits at the same time and the success rate is 30 percent,” he continued.  “Try breaking three habits at the same time and you have no chance at all.”

The eye-opening lesson here simply focuses on how you create winning habits in your personal life and business life.  Changing or creating a habit one-at-time ensures greater accuracy in reaching your goal.

If only the lesson stopped there… Forbes then challenged me to ” go public” with my goal.  The logic behind making it part of my platform is to make me directly accountable for its success or failure.  No one likes to talk about their own failures, and now that my goal is public, failure will not be an option.

What have you been wanting to change that can actually be broken down into singular commitments over a period of time?   What habits of yours are preventing you from going from good to great?

Join the conversation today.

Also, be sure to visit my new and improved website!  www.donyaeger.com

Are You in Their Head?

by Don Yaeger

College football has once again intercepted a powerful life lesson in the quest for greatness.  This week, the value comes with one glance at the Top 5 Associated Press rankings.  Alabama is the top rated team in college football followed by LSU, Oregon, Florida State and Georgia.  It’s a list of football powerhouses that are the dreaded matchup for every other team on their respective schedules.  Just imagine the kaleidoscope of emotions that run through opponent’s minds when they line up against the firepower and winning tradition of the Crimson Tide.  In many cases, these NCAA treasures have beaten their opponents before they’ve ever stepped on the field.

During the 1990s, Hall of Fame head coach Bobby Bowden spearheaded a football dynasty at Florida State that featured size, speed, skill and intimidation.  The latter wasn’t achieved by bullying teams with late hits and excessive trash talk… Instead FSU weakened the opposition simply by the way they carried themselves to the field.

Recently, college football analyst Kirk Herbstreit reflected on their dominance.  He said that when the Seminoles walked out of the tunnel “9 of the 11 teams that they used to play during that era wanted to go back into the locker room.”  Bowden would lead his players out of the tunnel at Doak Campbell Stadium arm-in-arm, helmets carried workmanlike, and with a focus that made even the most prepared teams have second thoughts.  They were already in the other team’s heads before they even reached the 50-yard line.

Lots of companies and businesses prove themselves as winners long before the first words or marketing pitches are ever spoken.  In some cases it’s not about being the best company or even having the best product.  Sometimes it is how the sales team navigates a meeting.

Opposing teams knew FSU’s product…  They knew of the goosebumps felt when a National Champion head coach led his team confidently onto the field.  They knew of the crowd that would erupt in support.

Years ago, I interviewed a college head coach who made it a priority not only to practice their gameplan, but also to practice his team’s entrance.  He specifically worked with his team on how to get off the bus before a game. He wanted his players to have an air of confidence that would start setting the tone for success.

How do you carry yourself?  Has anyone ever carried themselves so well into a meeting with you that it left you impressed?

Join the conversation today.

Second Chance Greatness

by Don Yaeger

The US Open at Flushing Meadows gave me the chance to have a true New York City experience filled with stars and one of the NYC’s most historic sporting events…  Where else can you go in the Big Apple where backhands, smashes and faults aren’t followed by flashing lights and police sirens?  While I admit that my passion for US Open tennis far outweighs my actual skill level on the courts, I couldn’t help but notice while I was there last week the number of errors and mistakes made by some of the greatest tennis players on the planet.

The first serves were flashy and powerful, but in many cases resulted in a fault.  Wimbledon champ Roger Federer–as great as he is, failed 33% of the time on his first serve through his first 5 matches at the Open. Of his 349 first serves, he missed 116 of them.  Novak Djokovic (67%) and Andy Roddick (68%) both had similar battles with the tennis racket.

The lesson here should be in the importance of a second chance–or in tennis terms, the second serve.  The efficiency and precision of a second serve is where the truly great players begin to differentiate themselves from the rest.

Few tennis stars understand the significance of a second chance more clearly than 5-time Wimbledon champ and recent Olympic gold medalist Serena Williams.  Her incredible career was nearly cut short in 2010 after a series of surgeries and life-threatening health issues took the racket out of her hands for 10-months. Sunday, she completed an amazing comeback by capturing the US Open title in a 3-set showdown with top-ranked Victoria Azarenka.  Serena claimed the $1.9 million top prize for winning the US Open—her 4th time doing so – but one look at the statistics showed that she couldn’t have done it without taking advantage of second chances.

Serena is known for her powerful first serves—she led all women in the tournament by clocking in a serve at 125 mph.  And while she recorded 63 aces over 7 matches, nearly 300 of her 453 total points were scored on the second serve.

Clearly it’s what she did on her second chance that helped her win her 15th career Grand Slam.  In most cases, she took a little off of the second serve in order to ensure greater accuracy.  Then she served most of those points wide and with precision so that her opponent was kept on the move.  She had a plan for the second serve that included a more disciplined approach toward success.

Second chances are just as important in life and in business.  Many of us miss the first time around…but it is what we do when we get that second chance that makes the difference.

Has a second chance – or second serve – given you a shot that led to success?

Never Out of It

by Don Yaeger

Life has once again given us a crystal clear reminder that competition reigns supreme…and that you’re only out of a game when you decide you are (or the buzzer sounds!).

Every summer, the Little League World Series showcases the best of the best on both the domestic and international fronts.  Pre-adolescent baseball players take their swings and get their earliest test of global competition.

This year’s American Finals featured two teams from two states (Tennessee and California) who combined to score 40 runs in one 7-inning game.  In fact, Tennessee 12-year-old Lorenzo Butler tied a Little League World Series record by hitting three homeruns in the same game; his three, 3-run homers also made him the first ever to have 9 RBI in the same contest.  But those feats and the 24-16 final score were just the footnote in an amazing lesson.

Trailing 15-5 in the 6th inning, the team from California faced elimination but NEVER gave up.  As the team from California prepared for its final at-bat, the announcers in the booth said this: “No team has ever come back from this many runs this late in a World Series game.”  Good thing the kids weren’t listening.  California then did what no team had ever done…score 10 runs in that inning to tie the game! Prior to the 6th inning, all of their plans had fallen short but rather than add to their own demise, they added runs to the scoreboard.  A remarkable inning of perseverance and resilience saw the young men from California tie the game and send it into extra innings.

This team chose to ignore the odds and instead welcomed the opportunity for greatness.  The world of sports and business is full of people who give up when things don’t go according to plan.  But some of the greatest in either realm have cashed in on the chance to look at the opportunity rather than the odds.

But there’s more!  That same thirst for greatness that California quenched in their 10-run comeback now stared the Tennessee team in the face.  With a tie ballgame and the momentum now going California’s way, the kids from the Volunteer State also had the chance to pick opportunity over the odds.  Rather than falling completely apart, they regrouped and scored 9 runs of their own to win it in extra innings.

On the brink of failure and disappointment, these Little Leaguers refused to count themselves out.  They understood the odds but embraced the opportunity for success.

Which do you find yourself thinking about most often, odds or opportunity?

The Sweet Brand

by Don Yaeger

College football is ready to kick off another year loaded with opportunities for greatness.  But the countdown to kickoff goes beyond the usual sell-out crowds or the frequent clashing of helmets and shoulder pads.

For the last 5 years I’ve had the opportunity to work with a number of college student-athletes, discussing with them the “brand” that they will leave behind when their playing days are behind them.  This summer, the journey my team and I have taken has spanned from Cal-Berkeley to Michigan to Ball State University (greatest school on Earth—although as an alum I might be biased).  Through examples, we convince them that each of them is CEO of their own brand and it is in their interest to define their brand before others do so.  We challenge each athlete to identify his or her brand NOW, choosing five words that they hope will be used to describe them when they leave campus.  Then we show each of them how to use those words as the backbone of every media interview and their social media profiles.  The impact for them is huge… and there is a great lesson in the discussion for all of us.

Jarrett Payton, the former University of Miami runningback and son of NFL Hall of Famer Walter Payton, joined our team this month for media training at Ball State.  As one of our presenters, he spoke to the athletes about the power of his brand. That’s easier than converting on 3rd & inches for a guy like Payton.  Even though he played in the NFL for the Tennessee Titans, the NFL Europe in Amsterdam, the CFL with Toronto, and the IFL with Chicago, Jarrett Payton’s brand has always been as simple, classic and powerful as his last name.

Known as “JP”, Payton knows he was blessed to be the son of Walter, but I’m constantly amazed by his drive to keep enhancing and re-defining HIS personal brand.  With the same kind of focus that helped him run to MVP honors during the 2004 Orange Bowl as starting tailback for the Miami Hurricanes, JP has run full speed into the social media realm.  His usage of Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest and Twitter to promote his efforts has now become the main factor that fuels his brand—and his life.

JP methodically and consistently sends out tweets of encouragement, inspiration, and promotion.  Now the man who touts himself as “Motivational tweeter, host of The Jarrett Payton radio show, entrepreneur, and the son of the Great Walter Payton” has a Twitter fan base of more than 16,000 followers.  His relentlessly positive branding even sparked an interest from the ESPN brass; now JP has been recently hired to appear as a regular on ESPNU programming.

But my amazement in this story of greatness is his intent to handoff the brand concept.  No, I’m not referring to the common desire to build a brand just to sell it to the highest bidder; in this case JP is focused on branding the next generation of “Sweetness” —Walter’s first grandchild.

The legacy lives on now that JP and his wife have a 4-month-old baby boy who is fully equipped with his own twitter account and more than 200 followers!  As you can imagine, the son of Walter Payton couldn’t stop gushing over the potential for greatness in his own son.

“I want him to have his own brand before he can walk,” said JP.  “I don’t know where Twitter will be ten years from now, but I want my son to already have a built-in following long before he realizes what a brand is.”

It’s that kind of foresight that can often times take an athlete, a coach, a team, a franchise, a company, or a brand from good to great.

How much thought have you given your brand?  What are you doing to make your brand great?

A Perfect Time for Greatness

by Don Yaeger

Through my experiences writing about some of the GREATEST athletes the sports world has ever known, I’ve learned that GREATNESS doesn’t happen by chance.  Sometimes it’s the ability to do the “Right Thing” at the “Right Time” that makes one truly GREAT.

Take Olympic gymnast Jordyn Wieber for instance; at age 17, she defined GREATNESS through her actions at the highest level of competition.  The high school senior from DeWitt, Michigan entered the 2012 London Olympics as Team USA’s main hope for a gold medal in the Women’s All-Around Competition.

And why wouldn’t she be the center of attention?—she was a proven winner in the sport.  Wieber had just won gold at the 2011 World Championships in Tokyo, Japan.  In fact, she won the first All-Around gold of her gymnastics career back in the 2006 Junior Olympics at the age of 11.

On July 31st, Wieber put her years of tireless training to the test in London at the qualifying rounds for the Women’s All-Around Finals.  Her skill on multiple rotations, ranging from the vault to the balance beam, earned her a 4th place spot out of 24 qualifying positions and at least 15 other countries.  Two of the 3 competitors ahead of her in qualifying for the event were none other than American teammates Gabby Douglas and Aly Raisman.  But the reigning World Champion saw her gold medal dream turn into a nightmare when international rules, allowing only 2 gymnasts per country into the finals, eliminated her from the Top-24. As her teammates celebrated their individual triumphs just footsteps away, Wieber’s face displayed a canvas of heartbreak.

As the glory and praise bypassed Wieber, she was faced with 2 options: self-destruction or the construction of her own GREATNESS.  Despite being on the outside looking in, Wieber looked within and found passion for her teammates—and in doing so found what would make her a champion again.

Just two days later, she wiped away the tears and dazzled the international crowd with amazing scores in the vault, floor exercise, and uneven bars for the Women’s Gymnastics Team Competition.  Both performances fueled the Americans to claim their first Team gold medal since the Magnificent Seven won it during the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, Ga. Wieber’s ability to put her own disappointment aside, helped her and Team USA achieve Olympic GREATNESS.  As if the story needed further etching, reports surfaced from London this week that Wieber’s performance endured a possible stress fracture in her right leg sustained during the U.S. Trials weeks prior to the Olympics.

Her struggle and triumph challenges us all to prepare diligently for our moments of GREATNESS.  What have you done today to prepare for GREATNESS?


A Few Words From the Memorial Service of Steven Covey

by Don Yaeger

Saturday, my wife and I were in Salt Lake City with thousands of others to attend the memorial service for Stephen Covey.  Covey was one of the most influential business authors of our generation, having penned the Seven Habits of Highly Effective People in 1989 and then watched as the book sold more than 20 million copies.  He authored several other amazing books that combined to sell another 20 million copies.

Several months ago his children asked if I would author their father’s biography, one of the great honors in my career.  In the last few months I’ve gotten to know the Covey family and have reveled in the stories they’ve shared about how this amazing thinker came to shape the world.

At the memorial, which was public but also served as Stephen’s family funeral, each of his nine children stepped up and shared their greatest memories of growing up with a father that US Presidents and dozens of foreign leaders have asked for counsel.  As we listened to each child, the word that hung over every story was “Authentic.” What made Stephen Covey so great as a leader – and as a father – was that “As good as he was in public, he was even better in private,” as his oldest son Stephen M.R. Covey said.

The youngest Covey child, Josh was the last of the family to speak at the service.  He told a story of being a young boy, four years old, who so wanted to be like his father that he wanted to dress just as he did, right down to wearing the same belt buckle.  Then Josh told the story of being the final child to speak to his father the previous Sunday night, just hours before his father would pass, when the family gathered in his hospital room.  Josh said he wanted desperately to have the right words to say in that moment.”  I told my father that as a boy I wanted to be like him so I dressed like him,” Josh said as tears welled in his eyes.  “Now as a man, I want to be like him so I want to live like him.  As a boy, it was on the outside.  As a man, I want to be like him on the inside.”

What a tribute.

Tips from a Great One

A few of my favorite quotes from Stephen Covey

“Live life in crescendo!”

“Most of us spend too much time on what is urgent and not enough time on what is important.”

“Effective leadership is putting first things first. Effective management is discipline, carrying it out.”

“Live out your imagination, not your history.”

“The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.”

“There are three constants in life…change, choice, and principles.”

“We are the creative force of our life, and through our own decisions rather than our conditions, if we carefully learn to do certain things, we can accomplish those goals.”

“We are free to choose our actions…but we are not free to choose the consequences of those actions.”

“Strength lies in differences, not in similarities.”

“Wisdom is the child of integrity–being integrated around principles. And integrity is the child of humility and courage.”

“Live, love, laugh, and leave a legacy.”

Thinking Your Way Out of a Slump!

by Don Yaeger

Former Yankees catcher Yogi Berra once said, “Baseball is ninety percent mental.  The other half is physical.” Yogi, one of the best interviews you could ever imagine, was clearly not a math major, but he did have a point. Mental strength is a huge differentiator between winners and losers.

How many times in your life have you found yourself in a mental slump?  Professional athletes hit slumps all the time.  We do, too.  It may not be that you have trouble hitting a curve ball.  You could be in a slump in your relationship, at work, or wherever you have performed well.

But that’s the thing about a slump, to be in a slump, you have to have done something well in the first place. Albert Pujols of the Los Angeles Angels is one of the premier hitters in the past 25 years.  He’s been putting up Hall of Fame numbers since he became a pro.  But this year, he moved from St. Louis to L.A. and hasn’t been able to find his sweet spot until recently.  Much was made about his large contract and small productivity. Pujols had to revert back to what it was that made him one of the best hitters of all time and concentrate on achieving greatness.

There’s a difference between choking and slumping.  A choke is a one-time event.   You miss a 10 foot putt to win the tournament.  A slump is missing 10 of those putts because your mind is not right.  This phenomenon of a slump is so prevalent that doctors like Dr. Rob Gray from the School of Sport and Exercise Sciences at UAB has spent extensive time studying what creates a slump.

Gray says, “We think that when you’re under pressure, your attention goes inward naturally.  Suddenly it means so much, you want to make sure everything’s working properly.  Focusing on what you’re doing makes you mess up, but why?  How do your movements change?  How can we focus on correcting those issues instead of telling you to stop trying so hard?

That’s usually the “easy” answer.  Stop trying so hard.  But those words usually enhance your slump because breaking out of a slump isn’t easy.

We’ve all had to recharge our batteries at one point in time.  So how did you do it? For me, I try to remember what steps I took to achieve the level of success I had, but most important, I need to get out of my own head. It’s easy to talk yourself out of being great.  The great ones thrive under pressure while others talk themselves out of success. Whether it’s shooting the game winning free-throw or asking out a girl for the first time, you can’t be great unless you go for it and find a way to break the slump.

Has there been a time in your life that you were in a slump? How did you get out of it? What slump-busting steps did you take?