The Enormous Value of Constantly Getting Better

Last night the Miami Heat ended their 27-game winning streak. It was the second longest streak in the history of American major pro sports. Pat Riley is the president of the Miami Heat.

The longest streak in major league sports history is the 33 consecutive games won by the 1971-72 Los Angeles Lakers. Pat Riley played on that team and averaged seven points a game during that streak.

In between those two streaks Pat Riley coached the Los Angeles Lakers to four NBA championships and the Miami Heat to one NBA championship as a coach and one NBA Championship as the team’s president.

In 1993 Pat Riley wrote the book, The Winner Within. He described one of his processes for getting people to constantly improve. He called it “Your Career Best Effort.” He measured all 12 players in five areas and challenged them to improve by 1% over the previous season. He wrote, “As we saw it, a one percent improvement in five areas for twelve players gave us a 60 percent increment.” He developed that system for the 1986-1987 season when he was coaching the Los Angeles Lakers. Over the next two seasons the Lakers won the first back-to-back NBA championships in 20 years.

How are your improving your performance each day? It is the small continuous incremental improvements that make all the difference. Riley wrote, “Our goal was to leverage subtle improvements versus other high-level competitors.” What will be your subtle improvements today, tomorrow, the day after that, and…?

Defining Opportunity

When I give a speech I always try to interview a dozen people from the audience beforehand to better understand their situation. Two of the questions I usually ask are, “What are the two greatest challenges your organization is dealing with in the next 100 days?” and “What are the two greatest opportunities your organization has in the next 100 days?”

Recently I asked a CEO this question for an upcoming meeting. He answered the question on challenges and then asked me how I defined opportunities. While I’m big on defining words, I had not thought of defining opportunity. So I said, “Anything that you can leverage now to improve your future.”

In retrospect, I like that answer. What can you leverage now to improve your future? Is there a person in your organization that you could mentor for greater performance down the road? If yes, then that’s an opportunity. Is there a particularly cranky customer you could proactively reach out to and ask for his or her opinion that might help solidify your relationship with that person? If yes, then that’s an opportunity. Is there an idea you’ve had in your head for over a year about how to create more appropriate value for your customers that you could start to put into motion? If yes, then that’s an opportunity.

What can you leverage today that might improve your future? There’s your opportunity.

With the CEO it turned out that his answer about his challenges ended up being his same answer about his opportunities.

Be Ready for Your Moment – Florida Gulf Coast University

In 1985 Butch Perchan was the athletic director at Tri-State University in Angola, Indiana, a small NAIA school. Butch gave me my first job after college as the head soccer coach, head of the Greek system, and dorm director of the largest dorm on campus. I made $3,000 and free room and board, and I thought I was in heaven. I can remember sprinting up the steps to my office to recruit soccer players and lining the field for the games. It was a great job, and I learned a ton about a lot of things.

Butch was the greatest boss I ever had. He worked hard, he made sure I worked hard, and he made every minute of it fun and funny. He cracked more jokes in five minutes than anyone I’ve ever met.

I left Tri-State in 1987 to go to DePaul University, but Butch and I stayed in touch for a few more years and then I lost track of him. I caught up with him on Google in 2008. He had been the AD at a few Division II schools and then he took the job as the Senior Associate Athletic Director for External Affairs at a small university in Florida. I had a speech near his school so we met for lunch and then he gave me a tour of the campus. It was a really beautiful school that I had never heard of. He showed me the soccer fields and then the basketball court where the team was practicing. He told me the goal was for the team to play in Division I. Everywhere we went people yelled out, “Hey, Butch, how’s it going?” I felt like we were back at Tri-State University.

Last weekend his school, Florida Gulf Coast University, made history as the first-ever #15 seed to make it to the Sweet Sixteen in the NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Tournament. Yesterday FGCU was on the homepage of cnn.com, USAToday.com, and espn.com. Their website had more than a 500% increase in hits in one day.

Butch was ready for his moment. After being an athletic director for more than 30 years he is now a big part of NCAA history, and I’m really, really happy for him.

Are you ready for your moment? Are you ready to handle massive success at a moment’s notice? You never know when the tide will turn in your favor, but you have to prepare for your moment every day.

Four Links to Practical Advice on Business Leadership

Today I just want to share four links on business leadership:

1. Click here for my new article on competitive business behaviors: what they are and what they are not.

2. In case you’re not familiar with it, here is a link to the archive of my articles on business leadership since January 2010.

3. Click here for my new The Business Leader’s Impact Video Series, which provides 3-5 minute videos on the six essential elements of business leadership.

4. Click here and then click on the video for five short video clips from my business keynote speeches over the past few years, including new footage on the best leadership advice I ever received.

Competitive Behaviors versus Competitive Strategies

Recently Charlie Rose interviewed Michael Porter about strategies that could help the U.S. be more competitive in a highly-competitive world. Here’s the link. Porter explained eight broad, high-level strategies that he believes will affect the direction of the U.S. toward becoming more competitive on the global stage.

High-level strategies that affect the nature and direction of an organization are very important and can be extremely useful. However, for an organization to compete, individuals in the organization must act in competitive ways.

Here are six competitve behaviors that individuals can do that I believe really matter: define winning (what would have to happen in terms of your efforts that you would consider a victory for your organization?) prepare to win (do what it takes to get yourself ready to deliver that victory), maintain a burning desire to win and to do so honestly, persevere through challenges, analyze your performances and improve in the details, and be comfortable with getting other people uncomfortable (it’s okay to challenge the way other people think and behave, just do so in a mature and respectful way.)

New Feature: The Business Leader’s Impact Free Video Series

Click here to watch 3- to 5-minute videos on my insights on the six essential elements of business leadership. I go one-on-one with the viewer to explain these ideas.

Revised Business Keynote Video

In this 15-minute video. you will see 5 clips from my keynote speeces, including new footage on the best leadership advice I’ve ever received. Click the video on my website’s home page to watch.

Avoid the Traps of Irrational Optimism and Irrational Pessimism

Spring is just a few weeks away. The Dow Jones just broke its all-time high. Optimism is in the air. Your year is looking better than you thought it was going to. You’re feeling very optimistic about the future. You want to throw a little celebration at your company. Be careful.

Your business results are not where you thought they would be by now and you’ve been working for years and years to survive these recessionary times and all you hear on tv is about high unemployment and massive government deficits. You want to take the day off and wallow in some good old-fashioned self-pity. Be careful.

The trap is getting emotionally caught up in results, or even the perception of results. I encourage you to not do that. Instead focus on rationally analyzing where your business is at right now, what got it there, and what you can do to positively impact the future. It doesn’t matter whether things seem great right now or terrible.

Here are the questions I encourage you to answer:

1. What were your business objectives six months ago and what has actually been achieved?

2. What did you personally do to try to improve those outcomes, what worked well and why did it work well, and what did not work well and why did it not work well?

3. As you look back over the past six months, what lessons have you learned or relearned?

4. As you look out over the next six months, what will you do the same, what will you do differently, and why will you be doing this?

By taking the emotion out of your current situation, you can move forward in the way that you think is best for your business.

Insights from Tim Cook and Warren Buffett about Apple and your business

Recently there were several very negative articles about Apple, and conversely very positive about Samsung, in USA Today, Fortune, and The Wall Street Journal. After those articles came out, at the Annual Shareholders Meeting, Tim Cook, CEO of Apple, said, “We stay very focused and work on a few things. Where market share is important is in being big enough to attract an ecosystem. We’re really aware of the competition as well. We don’t have our heads stuck in the sand. There’s a button or two we could press to make the most. But that would not be good for Apple.”

He went on to say that Apple is focused on making great products and not on selling the most of any type of product. A few weeks later, Warren Buffett said this about Apple’s declining stock price,  “I would run the business in such a manner as to create the most value over the  next five to 10 years. You can’t run a business to push the stock price up on a  daily basis.”

Lessons for Your Business

Tim Cook could have lowered the prices on the iPhone, iPad, and iMac and driven sales through the roof. He could have gotten into a price war with Samsung and really slowed down their momentum. That is one way to create appropriate value for customers. Instead he chose to focus on making even better products. In other words, he focused on creating greater value over the next five to ten years. That’s another way to create appropriate value for customers.

What decision is right for your business at this time? You don’t have to do the same thing that Tim Cook did, but you do have to make decisions. You can’t be all things to all people. Cook drew a line in the sand that may have made a lot of shareholders mad, but he did make a decision that he thought was best for the business.

What decision do you need to make right now that you believe is the best thing to do for your business?