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

Ray_Lewis_by_youngandreckless
Ray_Lewis_by_youngandreckless

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.

Moral:
Stoop to conquer.

 

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

The reeds were right.

Baseball, kids and the imagination

So, we’re in the next phase of life now – my son is learning the game of baseball via his first-ever T-ball team.  The league has many of the usual ups and downs – teams that are somehow concocted of the most athletic 5 and 6 year-olds you’ll ever see, driven coaches with crisp, sharp drills…….and the rest of us.  A bunch of Dads trying to help out volunteer coaches teach kids they hardly know how to be part of a team.

There’s the short stop who can barely make the throw to 2nd base, much less to first.  The outfielders who might never see a ball hit their way, the pitcher who is just a hair taller than the tee.  Sure, there’s that team of ringers who will win every game they play – except the big one – the one that goes on long after that glove is at the bottom of the toy box.

What am I talking about?  Well, I could tell you, but I think you’ll get the picture by watching this:

Dear NFL, we need to talk.

We’ve seen this coming for a long time, and now it’s finally time to get some things out into the open.  It’s bad enough that years have gone by, knowing that past agreements would come to an end and nothing was done to prevent the current situation.  On top of that, you’re cancelling meetings to even try and talk about the problem.

On top of that, over 1,000 people are going to sue you now because you broke your promise to them.  I know you tried to patch those things up, but let’s face it, it just wasn’t enough.  Clearly, you’re acting as if you no longer care about the people who have made you what you are.

Those big dollars you got from the networks – that was because of us.  They pay you the money because they hope to recover it from their advertisers, who pay big bucks because they know we’re watching.

You know we’re not going to leave, however, and that’s the worst of it.  You take us for granted and we keep returning.  That shouldn’t give you a right to regard us with such indifference.  Simply put, you’re miserable to live with.  Unfortunatley, you’re the best of what’s around, so I guess we still have to learn to live with you – no matter what you do.

And think about the kids.  What are you teaching them?  To drag out problems as long ass possible?  To never deal with things before they become to large?  To make internal problems public for everyone else to see, and to gain favor with outsiders in order to put pressure on the people you really need to deal with?  To be greedy?  To simply walk away from a difficult conversation?

You’d think that something like you, with so many resources, beloved by so many, would have the decency to treat its supporters with the highest regard.  To take care of situations before they become big problems, and before they threaten to undermine the passion that drives those who are so dedicated to you.

It’s sad, however, that rather than be admired for how you go about your business, you’re satisfied to merely be our entertainment.

As the biggest and the best, you should be setting an example for everyone to follow.  We know you can do better.

Yours always – for better or worse,

–The Fans.