Tuesday, March 21, 2023

Don't be a Train when it Comes to Leadership

Joe Moore once shared how he had become such an outstanding leader. Joe was an assistant football coach at Notre Dame known for developing offensive linemen into players capable of playing professional ball.
Don’t be a train, he said. He then shared how he grew up in a small house right by the train tracks. Every night at 3 the train would rumble by, causing him to shoot out of bed. Eventually, though, he slept right through it because the train came at the same time and made the same noise.
That is like leaders who never change up certain things. Eventually those following just zone it out like young Joe by the train tracks.
This summer I have spent extensive time studying the leadership of coach Herb Brooks and the 1980 Miracle on Ice for my new Talk this winter. Herb was the speaker corporate America wanted more than anyone else after his young college boys stunned the Soviet professionals in Lake Placid, NY.
They played seven games in the Olympics and Herb changed up his motivational strategy and talks each time. He NEVER was a train.
*GAME ONE – vs Sweden. Down 1-0 at the end of the first of three periods, Herb knew the boys had stage fright (it was the OLYMPICS!) and a loss would basically kill their medal hopes. They needed fire and brimstone leadership. He went ballistic in the locker room, throwing over a table and challenging a player with a deep thigh bruise to play. Upon storming out, he winked at goalie Jim Craig to let him know he was fully in control of his composure but that he had to become Herb the Volcano to get them going. RESULT – they stormed back to get a critical 2-2 tie.
There is a terrific scene of this in the movie Miracle starring Kurt Russell as Herb Brooks.
unnamedGAME TWO – vs the Czechs. Victory in hand, the U.S. saw their star player Mark Johnson get a terrible cheap shot by a sore loser Czech. The ABC cameras happened to take a live shot of Herb as he fired off a list of bad words towards that Czech player that would make an Eddie Murphy comedy night sound like Mr. Rogers. He basically told the Czech where he could put his hockey stick and in what angles.
RESULT – It showed his players he had their back. It showed millions of Americans watching on TV that he had fire. “Herb wouldn’t put up with the Soviet tanks in Afghanistan!” “Herb would do something about the hostages in Iran!”
GAME THREE – Norway. Down 1-0 after the first period, Herb calmly told them they were better than they were playing, and to say nicer things to each other out there on the ice. After he left the players looked at each other like ‘where did THAT come from?’ Dave Silk got up and walked to Eric Stroebel and said, “I LOVE the way you do your hair!” RESULT – They scored 4 straight goals and won 4-1.
GAME SIX – the Soviet dynasty team. Before the game, Herb walked in the locker room with 11,000 fans crammed in a 7,700 seat arena above, and put his hand on the shoulder of a scared player as he entered. It was subtle, but noticed. In a speech that goes down as one of the all time greats, he said:
Great moments are born from great opportunity. And that’s what you have here tonight, boys. That’s what you’ve earned here, tonight. One game. If we played ’em ten times, they might win nine. But not this game. Not tonight. Tonight, we skate with ’em. Tonight, we stay with ’em, and we shut them down because we can! Tonight, we are the greatest hockey team in the world. You were born to be hockey players — every one of ya. And you were meant to be here tonight. This is your time. Their time — is done. It’s over. I’m sick and tired of hearin’ about what a great hockey team the Soviets have. Screw ’em! This is your time!!
RESULT – the greatest upset in sports history, a 4-3 win over the greatest hockey team ever.
ANALYSIS – By telling them they had EARNED the opportunity, he was applauding their 7 month effort to get there. By telling them they were born and meant to be there, he was telling them it was their destiny to slay Goliath.
When Mark Johnson scored with :01 to go in the 2nd period to tie the game at 2, it was because of that pre game speech and his feeling that it had been written in a book centuries ago they they were meant to be there and beat the unbeatable team.
GAME SEVEN – Finland, for the gold medal. Down 2-1 going into the third and final period, Herb’s Talk was short, but powerful.
“Lose this game and you take it to your graves.”
He walked out, and back in.
“To your graves.”
He added a certain word before graves. Why? Not to be a bear, but because he cared so much about these kids he did not want them to be 51 years old and regretting what could have been.
RESULT – As soon as he left the locker room, a player jumped up and said, “We’re not letting a bunch of Finns keep us from the gold!!” The team played their best period of their seven months together, outscoring Finland 3-0 in the final period to win 4-2.
Herb Brooks had a degree in Psychology from the University of Mississippi. He studied motivation and leadership during his ten years of Sales success before he ever got into coaching. He knew the value as a leader of being able to come in from different angles to get maximum performance from his team. He always felt you don’t put greatness into people, you pull it out. That’s what he did.
When I deliver this Talk, leaders especially are fascinated at how he delivered the gold. He drove them hard, but sometimes would throw a tennis ball out on the ice and they would have fun playing a practice game that way! Sometimes he would blow the whistle and have them play a fun game skating backwards! When he was coaching in college, his team had lost 5 games in a row in mid season. They were called to a conference room where they thought they would get chewed out. There waiting was tons of pizza…and beer! I know. I know. You couldn’t do that today (that WAS 1979 and hockey guys from Minnesota), but they talked things out and ended up winning the National Championship in March.
No matter if we are leading a company, division, school, home, or little league team, it is important to not be a train, and to mix it up sometimes.

Charlie-Adams-e1378206959986-150x150Peak Performance speaker Charlie Adams is a 1980 grad of Lafayette High who is an Ole Miss alum. His new motivational keynote More Than a Miracle is a powerful description of the greatest moment in United Sports history. He shares how a group of college kids upset the best team in hockey history in Lake Placid in the winter of 1980, and galvanized America along the way.

“I literally had to choke back tears about 5 times during this Talk. Now I now feel as if I can do anything! ANYTHING!!” – Christopher Pataro, lawyer

“As powerful a motivational talk as I have heard in 40 years.” – Bob Bayliss, former tennis coach at Notre Dame and Navy

Charlie can be reached at charlie@stokethefirewithin.com