While it is almost impossible for the Super Bowl game to rise to the dramatic expectations stoked by the media and advertisers, what occurs on the field always provides teachings applicable to our business and personal lives. First, the team that wins is the one whose players have restrained yet fully internalized their satisfaction gained from the victories leading up to the game. That internalized satisfaction plays out slowly to energize them.
Each player retains the confidence that comes from prior successes, he understands that he and his teammates do right to harvest immense satisfaction from any significant achievement, but he also understands that while those achievements provide a ticket to ever greater achievements, past wins do not guarantee future wins. And by means of earlier wins that season, he is not entitled to future wins without new work and sacrifice.
As the former president and COO of a highly successful service provider to the pharmaceutical industry, I have learned a fair amount about the keys to building a sustainable competitive advantage. I consistently reminded my co-workers that we needed to prove ourselves daily. The comparisons are endless: A friend tells you about a terrific play, one certainly worth seeing, but that good review of the work should matter little to the play’s performers. They know that when the curtain goes up, the folks in the audience are expecting a great evening. But at that moment the paying customers will gain not one shred of satisfaction from what they were told of prior performances. This night’s performance stands on its own merits—so the actors go out there and give it their best; every night is opening night!
Here is a more dramatic telling of the need to be at your best daily. My twin brother was a fighter pilot in the Navy with nearly 300 carrier landings–many at night. I once asked him, “Bill, what are you thinking about as you hurtle toward the ship’s deck at 200 miles per hour?” “That’s simple,” he said. “I’m thinking that it doesn’t matter how many times I’ve done this before–if I can’t get my plane safely on board tonight, this time, I have a real problem!”
Second is the problem of focus. We have all read of the distractions that beset the teams as they try to prepare for the Super Bowl while circling in a whirlpool of hoopla surrounding the game. I’ll bet it’s sort of like trying to study for a final exam in the center ring of a circus tent, a cadre of clowns carrying on to the right of you, a parade of linked elephants turning up the sawdust to your left. When I speak to groups on the attributes of great leaders, I list the ability to get things done. They shake their heads in wry agreement when I remind them that it’s great to be involved in crafting mission statements and vision statements. Thinking in aspirational terms always gives us confidence—the hours spent on these tasks offer a generalized, communal era of good feeling.
But the next day when we come to work, we must have a laser focus on just one thing–making that new or redrafted mission statement a reality. We need to get things done. It sounds pedestrian to some but not to really successful companies. The Fed Ex slogan is the perfect directive to its employees: “Absolutely, positively the next day.” I can’t imagine anyone in that organization who doesn’t understand what today’s mission is and that it must be done.
And so when you watch the Super Bowl on Sunday, think about these two factors to success: which team best realizes that all past victories and accomplishments were steppingstones to, preparations for what for many players will be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to excel; and which team is able to maintain its focus upon the job at hand.
A final story: Many years ago I had one of my greatest chance encounters. On a plane flight toSalt Lake City I sat next to Dick Bass, then the oldest man to climbMount Everestand and the first man to climb the highest summit on all seven continents! When I asked him his key to success, he smiled and said, “I just kept putting one step in front of another.” Now there’s a rock solid way to focus on reaching transformational goals!
Enjoy the game!