Friday, May 27, 2011

The Heat are ON FIRE! 5 Actions to Burn Up the Courts

The headline in the Times today says it all:
Stars Lead Late Rally as Heat Advances
Of course I was rootin' for the home team..."In the finale, [LeBron] James and Dwyane Wade alternated big shots and suffocating stops as they crushed the Bulls’ spirit and ruthlessly erased a 12-point deficit in the final 3 minutes 2 seconds," the New York Times reported breathlessly. The Miami Heat beat the Chicago Bulls 83 - 80.
So what does this have to do with strategic leadership, the theme of this blog? Actually, a lot.
See the Heat were down 12 points -- it looked like a Bulls victory, game over...but LeBron, Dwyane, and Chris Bosh and the rest of the team didn't get the memo. And that's part of what sets strategic leaders apart. They're playing a different game.
When I write about the founding fathers and framers of the U.S. Constitution, I don't have to go far to find examples of that different game...think of George Washington and the Continental Army encamped at Valley Forge, crossing the Delaware or leading the far bigger and more professional British army on a wild goose chase up and down the eastern seaboard. Washington didn't know he was defeated by the major military power of the 1770s. Never-the-less, it was General Cornwallis who surrendered at Yorktown, not vice versa.
When George Hanbury began his tenure as city manager of Portsmouth, Virginia, he missed the notice that the city should be razed to the ground and rebuilt. He simply rolled up his sleeves and turned the city around. When Herb Kelleher had to sell a plane to make payroll, he missed the message from the competition that he should abandon his project to start a new airline. Instead, he and CEO Howard Putnam built a profitable, unique business that is still flying high. (The original competitors are long gone.)
In Conventional Wisdom, I recount these and other stories of strategic leaders who don't give up just because someone else thinks they should. What does it take? Here are 5 actions we can all take to "burn up the courts" and be successful in tough times.
  1. Know where you're headed: The Heat were headed to the Championship -- not just the playoffs. Washington was headed for an independent nation. Hanbury was headed for the return of a historic seaport where people wanted to live, work, and visit. They all had a driving, living VISION.
  2. Have a strategy: None of the top basketball players are just winging it any more than the successful executives. They all have a strategy and a plan. Of course, the plan has to be adjusted to deal with reality on the ground. LeBron, Dwyane, and Chris had a game plan, they had practiced and practiced, and at the end of the game knew they had to step up the pressure and simply stop the Bulls in their tracks. When Hanbury was asked to work his magic on Ft. Lauderdale, he ran into stiff opposition. He adjusted his strategy but kept the pressure on the opposition by continuing to move forward. When the French fleet arrived off Yorktown, Washington knew he had Cornwallis trapped and the troops charged the redoubts.
  3. Focus between your ears: Every new story on the brain and how it functions and the neuroscience of leadership and success shows the same thing that Henry Ford pointed out in the last millennium: "Whether you think you can or think you can't, you're right." Top athletes must have a mental game to win and hire success coaches to keep them sharp or to get back on track. Washington is well known for beginning to construct his winning character as a young man and learning from early, disastrous mistakes. Military historians may argue over how good a general he was, but there is no arguing with the results he got because of his tough mental discipline.
  4. Adopt Morita Psychology: Dr. Shoma Morita developed a powerful approach to dealing with the challenges of life. It comes down to this formula: Know Your Purpose. Feel Your Feelings. Do What You Must Do. Of course this prescription is difficult and almost impossible for some folks but not for strategic leaders. When public safety unions hired a sky writing plane to fly over the local stadium spelling out the message, "Fire Hanbury," he certainly wasn't a happy camper and he couldn't ignore his emotions. But he knew his purpose was to put the city back on a firm financial footing while transforming Ft. Lauderdale from a spring break wasteland into a vibrant, modern city. He kept to his message of fiscal responsibility with a promise of better times to come. At his retirement from the city, he was praised by the unions because he fulfilled his promises, and ignored their emotional meltdowns.
  5. Be relentless: When LeBron was interviewed at the end of that exciting winning game last night he said simply, and to the point, “There’s no sense of relief right now. We still got work to do.” As the founding fathers found out rather soon after the peace treaty with Britain (and as emerging governments are finding out today,) when the bullets stop flying there is still lots of work to do. Washington chaired the Constitutional Convention that put together a governing structure to save the barely united state from anarchy, dissolution, civil war, and absorption into Britain, France, and Spain. It's the last 3 minutes of the game...time to push! Sink 12 points and stop the offence and outsmart the defense.
It's time to Turn Up the Heat!
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(c) Rebecca Staton-Reinstein, President, Advantage Leadership, Inc.
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Read more about the game in the New York Times: