So long, Ray Lewis, and a tale of two retirements


Ray Lewis by youngandreckless

If any of you watched the Ravens – Colts football game this past weekend, you were treated to the final home game played by one of the NFL’s all-time greats.  Ray Lewis, an iconic figure for over a decade in the NFL, has announced he will retire at the end of this season. While I am not a fan of Ray Lewis, personally, any fan of the game of football still must respect and appreciate him for his tenacity, toughness, on-the-field and locker room leadership and overall football smarts. 

 What has always turned me off to Lewis is his ballsy bravado and showmanship that is so very much the hallmark of many a famous athlete.  It does nothing for me, whatsoever.  Nonetheless, watching him play the position of inside linebacker has been a site to behold for a very long time.  

The Ravens defeated the Colts handily and, although the game was well out of reach, Lewis took the field for the game’s final play – a meaningless kneel-down to run out the clock from the Colts rookie QB sensation, Andrew Luck.  There was no need for Lewis to be on the field.  In fact, he stood about 15 yards away from the line of scrimmage, deep in the defensive backfield, avoiding even the suggestion of contact on the final play of a game in which he played with a large, heavy brace on his injured arm. 

This play, however, was the most memorable thing for me in the entire game, even with amazing circus catches from Anquan Boldin and explosive runs pulled off by Ray Rice still lingering in my mind’s eye.  Ray Lewis left the stadium where he made himself a legend in the one place where he should have – on the field.  He was not on the sideline, high-fiving teammates, hugging coaches or waving to spectators.  He was active, involved, in the game and doing his job – no matter how trivial or small the play he was going to be remembered by everyone in that stadium as spending his last final moments right where he should have been – on the field. 

Now, let’s contrast that with another story…… 

I knew someone who, after spending over 30 years with a company, decided to retire.  After a long but unspectacular career, it was time to leave the rat race as just about every single one of us who is not a legendary NFL icon will do.  Unfortunately, also unlike those legendary NFL icons, leaving the job with an iota of respect wasn’t in the cards. 

You see, the rulebook indicated employees needed to work on such-and-such days in order to receive certain benefits.  This meant reporting to work for 2 more days, even though operations on those days were just about completely shut down for the Holidays.  And, of course, there’s no way that a full day of work could be done with all the retirement congratulations going on, not to mention the complete lack of motivation to throw yourself into anything knowing you are never – ever -never-ever-never coming back. 

Rather than thanking this person for a lifetime of commitment and riding off into the sunset with a feeling of admiration and respect, like Ray Lewis, the company required reporting to work for a couple more days just to satisfy some meaningless policy requirement from which no value to anyone could be derived. And that is the difference between running an organization on the basis of cost vs. running one on the basis of value, and the difference between people in an organization that understand what Respect for People means, and those who do not.

NFL’s return to work spells disaster for improvement initiatives

Thanks to a new Collective Bargaining Agreement between the NFL and its Players Union, we can all rest comfortably knowing that American-style football will return to the gridiron this Autumn.  That spells disaster for managers in any workplace looking to take advantage of the lockout and push through some difficult initiatives.

Clearly, all those out-of-work athletes could have been put to much better use this Fall.  Most are college-educated individuals, with passion and commitment, and a demonstrated ability to function as part of a team while driving others to do the same.

See this video, for a demonstration of how the skills of professional athletes can be implemented in the workplace.

The Reeds were right

Yet another evening T-ball practice with 6 year olds, and yet another lesson in simplicity……

It’s June.  It’s a little hot an buggy in the evenings, and getting a half-dozen kids ages 4 to 6 to focus on a common goal is nearly impossible.

I say nearly, because today I saw that it can be done.  All you have to do is throw away what you think should happen, and embrace what actually does happen.  Let me explain:

Only 1 of the 2 coaches could make it tonight, so the Dads had to help out before things turned into pandemonium.  As things went along, the kids were twirling, talking, tackling and pretty much doing everything un-baseball-like.  The coach, trying to force some focus, shouted what we all shout:  “Are you guys ready?  Are you all paying attention?”  That worked for about 5 seconds, prompting another round of shouting and an even shorter duration of focused attention.

I tried a different approach.  I stood behind the shortstop, who was trying to wrestle the 3rd baseman for the ball most of the time, while the pitcher counted dandelions, and said, “Hey!  Guys?  What is that thing on the batter’s shirt?”  All heads turned towards the batter, who was mid-swing, and they all saw the ball as it was hit right at them.  One of them grabbed the ball, lobbed it towards first, and then the three boys looked right at me and said, “It’s a dinosaur!”

“A dinosaur?  Really?”  I said back.  “I think it’s something else.”  All heads turned back toward home plate, the batter was once again swinging, the ball went to the boy playing 3rd, who picked it up and threw it to first again.  Then, the shortstop shouted out, “It’s an iguana!”  That prompted the heads to turn once more, and with all eyes focused towards the batter, the ball was hit towards them once more.  They saw it, of course, and did what they were expected to do.

The rest of the practice went much the same.  Instead of “Watch the batter!” I said, “Cheer for the batter!”  The boys in the field would ask me what the batter’s name was so they could do a cheer.  It dawned on me that neither I, nor the coaches, had done enough to build a sense of team – the children didn’t even know each other’s names!  A lesson learned for everyone, I hope.

How many times in life do we give instructions to people, and wonder why they can’t understand our simple directions?  The answer is easy – because not everyone sees the same things in the same way, or wants to, or needs to.  Perhaps, rather than focusing our efforts on bending others to our will, through anger or determination, we should bend to theirs, through patience and understanding.  Guiding people to a common goal isn’t necessarily about driving them into it, it’s more often about creating the desire to get there so that they drive themselves.

The episode reminded me of Aesop’s fable, The Oak and the Reeds:

A VERY LARGE OAK was uprooted by the wind, and thrown across a stream. It fell among some Reeds, which it thus addressed: I wonder how you, who are so light and weak, are not entirely crushed by these strong winds. They replied: You fight and contend with the wind, and consequently you are destroyed; while we, on the contrary, bend before the least breath of air, and therefore remain unbroken.

Stoop to conquer.


After over 2,000 years, we seem to have learned one thing for certain:

The reeds were right.