Archive for December, 2014

What Bo Pelini Should Have Said

Former Nebraska football coach Bo Pelini was recently caught on tape sharing his frustration with the circumstances and people involved in his recent firing. His audience was a group of college students who also play football for their university. Though a select few, probably fewer than 10%, will earn money in the NFL, most will become professionals who could have learned something from the experience, if Pelini had handled it differently.

In fact, there were probably future CEOs and perhaps even a few future head football coaches in attendance that night. At the very least, there were many future fathers – a position where leadership is all too often undervalued – in the audience. Imagine if Pelini had treated the forum as a teaching moment to prepare these young men for their future roles, rather than a Festivus-like airing of grievances.

Imagine if he had shared lessons like this:

Some positions just aren’t good fits. For the past few years, it’s been evident to nearly everyone paying attention and being honest that Pelini wasn’t a good fit for the head coaching role at the University of Nebraska. He knew it too. In fact, at times, he seemed to beg the administration to decide whether or not they wanted him. If you have to do that, it’s not a good fit.

In my role as the owner of a recruiting company, I routinely encounter good people who are bad fits for good companies, and vice-versa. That doesn’t necessarily make either side bad, but to prolong the relationship is to increase the bitterness and stifle progress on both sides. These young football players might find themselves in ill-fitting jobs or relationships, and they need to know how to recognize and correct the situation.

Sometimes you and your boss will disagree, and that’s OK. Pelini’s boss was Shawn Eichorst, the athletic director Nebraska hired during Pelini’s tenure. Pelini directed most of his vitriol at Eichorst, calling him many vulgar names and saying that he had no integrity. Not only were the vulgar names Pelini used inappropriate, especially for a leader of young men, they were part of an immature response to a very normal adult situation.

The young men in his audience need to learn how to cope with the conflict they might have with their superiors. In very short order, they are going to trade the fleeting glory of playing a high-profile sport for a high-profile team for the reality of working a low-profile entry-level job. Not all of their bosses will be exemplars of leadership. They will need to learn to control their emotions and be professional when they disagree with their bosses. Without that skill, most careers will stagnate.

At some point, you might get a new boss, and that could be good. Pelini was seemingly comfortable with Eichorst’s predecessor, Tom Osborne. For whatever reason, Eichorst and Pelini were not a good match, but that doesn’t mean that all management and leadership change is bad.

The football team will see almost an entirely new coaching staff next year. Just like Pelini when he knew Osborne was retiring, they likely have some trepidation about how things will be handled by the new staff, and there is little doubt that they might not like some of the changes coming their way. They should have been encouraged to be open-minded and give the new staff a chance, just as they might need to do at some point in their post-football careers when a new boss is hired.

Sometimes you will feel life is unfair, but how you react makes a difference. Pelini’s words leave little doubt that he feels like he was treated unfairly. That’s understandable, but lashing out at others is not a productive way of addressing perceived unfairness. It promotes a victim mentality. Instead of acting the victim, Pelini could have encouraged his players to face adversity like grown men.

Some of those guys will get fired at some point in their careers. They need to learn how to take inventory of the situation and how to dust themselves off and keep going. Just because life gave you a sucker punch doesn’t mean that you’re powerless to change your plight.

Taking the high road makes life less stressful. A true measure of a man is not how he handles himself in times of tremendous success, it’s how he handles himself in times of deep loss. The people who are most respected are not those who yell and scream at injustice, but rather those who quietly persevere and reapproach their challenges in a dignified way. This promotes a sense of calmness and peace in which some challenges simply seem to fade away.

The future fathers in that room will have children who will look to them for guidance during times of great stress. If they can keep themselves from bitterness and vindictiveness during these times, their children will likely model that behavior in their adulthood. Everyone wants to see that in their children.

College is more than classroom learning, and those blessed enough with the talent, work ethic and physicality to be athletes have the experience enriched with athletic participation. Let’s hope that most college coaches correctly use their positions to teach their players lessons that help them succeed in their careers and personal lives. It should be better than this.

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Save Yourself Holiday Stress, Live in the Moment

The holiday season is also often the season of unrealistic expectations. Fed messages of the perfect Christmas throughout our lives, we create an ideal in our mind that is almost impossible to reach, and when we don’t reach it, we feel guilt and/or disappointment, when we should just enjoy the moment.

If you expect perfection while involving other people, and you schedule during unpredictable weather, you are setting yourself up for frustration. If you drag out the nice china and allow little kids or drunk uncles to use it, you are setting yourself up for frustration. If you spend hundreds of dollars on gifts and expect commensurate appreciation, you are setting yourself up for frustration. If you can’t simply be happy when other people are happy, you are setting yourself up for frustration.

Don’t set yourself up for frustration. It’s the holiday season – a time when we’re supposed to be appreciative and spiritual. Giving up any of this precious time to frustration is extremely wasteful.

Help yourself avoid holiday stress by surveying the landscape ahead and trying to identify frustration before it’s upon you. It’s really not that hard. Because tradition, ceremony and habit play heavily into the holiday season, holiday frustration is more predictable and easily identifiable than everyday frustration. Look back at last year and the years before that. Note what made those days enjoyable and do more of that. Likewise, admit what detracted from enjoyment and do less or none of that.

Admittedly, that’s easier said than done, because OBLIGATION is involved. Obligation can be a good thing; taking time out of your weekend to attend a religious ceremony or stopping to see Grandma when you are in town are good things that don’t always appear as high on our priority list as they should. As my parents often explained to me during childhood, especially on holy days and when going to mass on weekends, sometimes you just do things, regardless of your wishes at the time.

It’s the gray, often unwritten area of obligation that causes us the most stress. Which events do we attend? How long do we stay? To whom should we give gifts, and how much should we spend? How extensive must our preparations be when we host family and friends? When we consider these questions, obligation too often is the deciding factor. Prioritizing obligation over fulfillment leads to unnecessary stress.

In our first few years of marriage, my wife and I lived in North Carolina, about three hours from her parents and three hours in another direction from her sister’s family. When we went for weekend visits, the expectation/obligation was to stay until mid-afternoon on Sunday. The problem with that was, because we didn’t arrive home until Sunday evening, we didn’t have time to take care of chores like laundry and grocery shopping that also didn’t fit in our work weeks. After our first few trips, we started leaving right after breakfast, and, though it took a little explaining and a little adjusting from the family, they learned to understand our motives. The people who really love you will understand when their expectations become frustration-producing obligations for you.

When someone releases you from your obligations by modifying their expectations of you, be ready to reciprocate. Be happy when other people are happy, even when that requires sacrifice.

There are times when we must push aside our own preferences to make way for another’s happiness. We’re going to find ourselves in a crowded room of children and noise or a company party held loosely together with uncomfortable conversation. Maybe we’ll have to get dressed up and pose for pictures. We’ll want to be elsewhere, but the ability to squash those emotions and find happiness in the happiness of others can be the difference between holiday frustration and the spirit of the season.

Learn to live in the moment and look for happiness from all angles. Do your part to make others happy, while not forgetting your own happiness and sanity, and you should have the holiday season you deserve. If you can do it every day, you’ll have the life you deserve.

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