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Amazonís Fire Phone and the Death of Connection

Dr. Foster Mobley // Business, Wisdom Leading

Recently, Amazon.com released a device that pundits are calling the "death of brick and mortar retail": the Fire Phone. Its owners will be able to scan any product's bar code, find the same product on Amazon (presumably for a lower price) and buy it on the spot, with same-day or next-day delivery. It's pretty amazing. Retailers are justifiably terrified for their businesses, and I find the Fire Phone disconcerting for a different reason. With it, people will be able to spend even less time in the public marketplace and more time at home in front of their devices, where we face little risk of being affected by people or situations. To me, that's a flaw, not a feature. We risk a critical loss of that rare commodity called connection. Connection is best cultivated in person, face-to-face, in those messy real-world meetings where we don't have the luxury of hanging up or unfriending. Connection creates a level of communication with empathy, which goes beyond just clarity. It's being on the same wavelength as another person, yielding a deep understanding of emotions, values, and what makes another human being tick. The serendipitous run-ins at the market or gas station, the shouted "Join us for a drink!" invitation from the sidewalk cafť nurture our souls, and feed our ability to listen and our tolerance for views different from our own. They free us from our cocoons. As leaders, inspiring our people means first connecting with them-understanding what motivates them, what they value, and how they view themselves. We can't do that from a distance, by email or social networking. We need to be in the marketplace. We're at our best, leader and led, when we're bouncing off one another and watching the sparks fly. How are you choosing to connect with the people in your life?

Recently, Amazon.com released a device that pundits are calling the "death of brick and mortar retail": the Fire Phone. Its owners will be able to scan any product's bar code, find the same product on Amazon (presumably for a lower price) and buy it on the spot, with same-day or next-day delivery. It's pretty amazing.

Retailers are justifiably terrified for their businesses, and I find the Fire Phone disconcerting for a different reason. With it, people will be able to spend even less time in the public marketplace and more time at home in front of their devices, where we face little risk of being affected by people or situations. To me, that's a flaw, not a feature. We risk a critical loss of that rare commodity called connection.

Connection is best cultivated in person, face-to-face, in those messy real-world meetings where we don't have the luxury of hanging up or unfriending. Connection creates a level of communication with empathy, which goes beyond just clarity. It's being on the same wavelength as another person, yielding a deep understanding of emotions, values, and what makes another human being tick. The serendipitous run-ins at the market or gas station, the shouted "Join us for a drink!" invitation from the sidewalk café nurture our souls, and feed our ability to listen and our tolerance for views different from our own. They free us from our cocoons.

As leaders, inspiring our people means first connecting with them-understanding what motivates them, what they value, and how they view themselves. We can't do that from a distance, by email or social networking. We need to be in the marketplace. We're at our best, leader and led, when we're bouncing off one another and watching the sparks fly.

How are you choosing to connect with the people in your life?  


6.30.14 0
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The Two-Buck Chuck Problem

Dr. Foster Mobley // Business, Wisdom Leading

Back in 2001, Frederic Brochet conducted an experiment at the University of Bordeaux. He got 54 oenology (the science of wine) students in a room and had them taste two red wines. One, he told them, was a cheap table wine. The other, he told them, was very expensive. The students described the expensive wine as "complex and rounded" while calling the cheap wine swill. The wine in both bottles was the same cheap wine. So, did the students lie? Not really. Brain scans of wine tasters have shown that the expectation of tasting something exquisite can change how the brain's sensory circuits respond to taste. In other words, expectations can fool us. But I also think that many of the students were exhibiting a natural human need to be part of the elite. Nobody wanted to be the one to say that the cheap wine in the expensive bottle tasted like mouthwash; to do so would mean division from the group. What if nobody else agreed? It was more rewarding to insist, along with everyone else, that this particular emperor was wearing fine robes instead of rags. We're all guilty of pretending to like something that we don't in order to be part of the cool crowd. I can't imagine that everyone who raved about Trader Joe's famous "Two-Buck Chuck" (a $2.99 bottle of Charles Shaw cabernet that became a national bestseller a few years back) actually liked it. But while wine tasting is innocuous, conforming to the masses actually has consequences in a company. Quality can suffer, bad strategies can be enacted, laws can be broken. It seems to me that as leaders, we're charged with creating environments where speaking up, standing out, disagreeing, shouting that the emperor is in the buff, is not only safe but rewarded. I don't know about you, but I'll drink to that idea. Where are your people free to dissent and speak their truth? Where aren't they?

Back in 2001, Frederic Brochet conducted an experiment at the University of Bordeaux. He got 54 oenology (the science of wine) students in a room and had them taste two red wines. One, he told them, was a cheap table wine. The other, he told them, was very expensive. The students described the expensive wine as "complex and rounded" while calling the cheap wine swill.

The wine in both bottles was the same cheap wine.

So, did the students lie? Not really. Brain scans of wine tasters have shown that the expectation of tasting something exquisite can change how the brain's sensory circuits respond to taste. In other words, expectations can fool us. But I also think that many of the students were exhibiting a natural human need to be part of the elite. Nobody wanted to be the one to say that the cheap wine in the expensive bottle tasted like mouthwash; to do so would mean division from the group. What if nobody else agreed? It was more rewarding to insist, along with everyone else, that this particular emperor was wearing fine robes instead of rags.

We're all guilty of pretending to like something that we don't in order to be part of the cool crowd. I can't imagine that everyone who raved about Trader Joe's famous "Two-Buck Chuck" (a $2.99 bottle of Charles Shaw cabernet that became a national bestseller a few years back) actually liked it. But while wine tasting is innocuous, conforming to the masses actually has consequences in a company. Quality can suffer, bad strategies can be enacted, laws can be broken.

It seems to me that as leaders, we're charged with creating environments where speaking up, standing out, disagreeing, shouting that the emperor is in the buff, is not only safe but rewarded. I don't know about you, but I'll drink to that idea.

Where are your people free to dissent and speak their truth? Where aren't they?

3.10.14 1
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Rebooting Your Operating System

Dr. Foster Mobley // Business, Quotables, Wisdom Leading

About Lake Wobegon, Garrison Keillor says: "Where all the women are strong, all the men are good-looking, and all the children are above average." Silly? Not so much. Research says that most of us feel the same way about ourselves. Work by psychologists Nicholas Epley of the University of Chicago and Erin Whitchurch of the University of Virginia suggests that we tend to believe that we are much better looking than we actually are. Beliefs are powerful, reality-shifting things. Think about your mind as a four-layered mechanism. On the top, most visible, are your choices-your imperatives to action. Below that are thoughts, your analytical processes. Below that are your emotions, which drive your thoughts more often than you might like to admit. Below emotions, running invisibly like the code of a computer operating system, are your unconscious beliefs. Beliefs are frequently ingrained from early life, and they're the foundation for all manner of automatic assumptions. From your religious faith to your racial consciousness to your belief in people's trustworthiness, beliefs are always running in the background, shaping every response, emotion, thought and action. Wisdom comes when we question our beliefs-when we acknowledge that while they might represent truth for us, they don't necessarily represent truth for everyone. Thoughtlessly applying closely held beliefs to everyone can alienate; applying gentle self-skepticism to those beliefs can make us more compassionate and open to the experiences and beliefs of others. Have you skeptically questioned your own beliefs? What did you discover?

About Lake Wobegon, Garrison Keillor says: "Where all the women are strong, all the men are good-looking, and all the children are above average." Silly? Not so much. Research says that most of us feel the same way about ourselves. Work by psychologists Nicholas Epley of the University of Chicago and Erin Whitchurch of the University of Virginia suggests that we tend to believe that we are much better looking than we actually are.

Beliefs are powerful, reality-shifting things. Think about your mind as a four-layered mechanism. On the top, most visible, are your choices-your imperatives to action. Below that are thoughts, your analytical processes. Below that are your emotions, which drive your thoughts more often than you might like to admit. Below emotions, running invisibly like the code of a computer operating system, are your unconscious beliefs.

Beliefs are frequently ingrained from early life, and they're the foundation for all manner of automatic assumptions. From your religious faith to your racial consciousness to your belief in people's trustworthiness, beliefs are always running in the background, shaping every response, emotion, thought and action.

Wisdom comes when we question our beliefs-when we acknowledge that while they might represent truth for us, they don't necessarily represent truth for everyone. Thoughtlessly applying closely held beliefs to everyone can alienate; applying gentle self-skepticism to those beliefs can make us more compassionate and open to the experiences and beliefs of others.

Have you skeptically questioned your own beliefs? What did you discover?

1.13.14 0
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We're All Young At Something: Over the Hill At 40

Dr. Foster Mobley // Business, Quotables, Sports, Wisdom Leading

One startling thing about professional sports is that the participants are considered washed up and unemployable at an age when most of us are just hitting our stride in our careers. Whether it's baseball, football, basketball, hockey, soccer, you name it (golf might be an exception)-if you're lucky enough to make a living at your sport until you turn 40, that's about the time you'll be handed your gold watch and told, "Thanks. Good luck with what's next." Imagine being over the hill when you're just figuring out who you are and what you're capable of! In sports, that's reality; everything, from reaction time to speed and durability, declines in middle age. That turns sports into a real-time experiment in forced transition from being old in what you know to being young in something new. Knowing their inevitability, how can we best handle such transitions? Many of us don't anticipate, nor face transitions well. We either hang on to what we know and are comfortable with far beyond its value to us, or flail around chasing the first butterfly that passes our gaze. The point is, becoming young can and does happen in an instant. How we manage those transitions is about our humility, openness and wisdom. What skills and beliefs can you call on for your next rookie assignment?

One startling thing about professional sports is that the participants are considered washed up and unemployable at an age when most of us are just hitting our stride in our careers. Whether it's baseball, football, basketball, hockey, soccer, you name it (golf might be an exception)-if you're lucky enough to make a living at your sport until you turn 40, that's about the time you'll be handed your gold watch and told, "Thanks. Good luck with what's next."

Imagine being over the hill when you're just figuring out who you are and what you're capable of! In sports, that's reality; everything, from reaction time to speed and durability, declines in middle age. That turns sports into a real-time experiment in forced transition from being old in what you know to being young in something new. Knowing their inevitability, how can we best handle such transitions?

Many of us don't anticipate, nor face transitions well. We either hang on to what we know and are comfortable with far beyond its value to us, or flail around chasing the first butterfly that passes our gaze. The point is, becoming young can and does happen in an instant. How we manage those transitions is about our humility, openness and wisdom.

What skills and beliefs can you call on for your next rookie assignment?

11.18.13 0
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We're All Young At Something: Misplaced Certainty

Dr. Foster Mobley // Business, Quotables, Wisdom Leading

Think back to when you were, say, 22 years old. Did you think you had life all figured out? Did you roll your eyes at anyone who told you otherwise? We all did it. It usually resulted in us taking a few shots on the chin later in life, as we discovered that we didn't know everything after all. That's what's known as misplaced certainty, and it's a hallmark of the young. Unfortunately, it's also a hallmark of the older and more experienced. The more you know about a field or subject, the more tempting it is to assume that you've got all the answers. For example, in 1899 Charles H. Duell, Commissioner of the U.S. Office of Patents, made this statement: "Everything that can be invented has been invented." Outrageous? Sure. Arrogant? Absolutely. But all too common. When we presume that we know everything about a field and everything that's possible in it, we close ourselves off to discovery and learning...and we close off the teams we lead as well. The great British philosopher and mathematician Bertrand Russell said, "In all affairs it's a healthy thing now and then to hang a question mark on the things you have long taken for granted." That's wisdom. That's humility. That's also something we should all try to emulate. In what parts of your life do you owe yourself a look with new eyes?

Think back to when you were, say, 22 years old. Did you think you had life all figured out? Did you roll your eyes at anyone who told you otherwise? We all did it. It usually resulted in us taking a few shots on the chin later in life, as we discovered that we didn't know everything after all. That's what's known as misplaced certainty, and it's a hallmark of the young.

Unfortunately, it's also a hallmark of the older and more experienced. The more you know about a field or subject, the more tempting it is to assume that you've got all the answers. For example, in 1899 Charles H. Duell, Commissioner of the U.S. Office of Patents, made this statement: "Everything that can be invented has been invented." Outrageous? Sure. Arrogant? Absolutely. But all too common. When we presume that we know everything about a field and everything that's possible in it, we close ourselves off to discovery and learning...and we close off the teams we lead as well.

The great British philosopher and mathematician Bertrand Russell said, "In all affairs it's a healthy thing now and then to hang a question mark on the things you have long taken for granted." That's wisdom. That's humility. That's also something we should all try to emulate.

In what parts of your life do you owe yourself a look with new eyes?

11.11.13 1
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We're All Young At Something

Dr. Foster Mobley // Business, Quotables, Wisdom Leading

In your chosen field, you might be the guru. You might be the one everyone comes to for advice and wisdom. That's great. But what about outside your narrow field of expertise? Do you even step outside your area of greatest competence long enough to find out what you don't know? I know that I don't do it often enough. When I do, I find the same thing that I suspect you find: while I might be a source of wisdom in my field, in most others I'm a babe in the woods. We're all young at something, and that can be both humbling and exciting. What are the characteristics of youth? If you said inexperience, a short attention span, and a tendency to throw a fit when you don't get your way, welcome to the humbling side of things. We all have fields where we're babes in the woods. I stepped tentatively into the world of writing books a few years ago and found out how little I knew-how young I was. Slowly, I'm learning, mostly by making mistakes but also by listening to those who know more than I do. Youth leads to maturity. What about the exciting side? Well, children are also curious, full of energy and don't care one bit about failure. We could all do with more of those qualities. Who wouldn't want to be curious about new areas of life and work and ready to explore new pursuits with zeal, joy and fearlessness? This month, I'll be exploring what it means to be young at something from both sides: inexperience and curiosity. Let's begin our exploration with a provocative question - at what are you young?

In your chosen field, you might be the guru. You might be the one everyone comes to for advice and wisdom. That's great. But what about outside your narrow field of expertise? Do you even step outside your area of greatest competence long enough to find out what you don't know? I know that I don't do it often enough. When I do, I find the same thing that I suspect you find: while I might be a source of wisdom in my field, in most others I'm a babe in the woods.

We're all young at something, and that can be both humbling and exciting. What are the characteristics of youth? If you said inexperience, a short attention span, and a tendency to throw a fit when you don't get your way, welcome to the humbling side of things. We all have fields where we're babes in the woods. I stepped tentatively into the world of writing books a few years ago and found out how little I knew-how young I was. Slowly, I'm learning, mostly by making mistakes but also by listening to those who know more than I do. Youth leads to maturity.

What about the exciting side? Well, children are also curious, full of energy and don't care one bit about failure. We could all do with more of those qualities. Who wouldn't want to be curious about new areas of life and work and ready to explore new pursuits with zeal, joy and fearlessness?

This month, I'll be exploring what it means to be young at something from both sides: inexperience and curiosity. Let's begin our exploration with a provocative question - at what are you young?

11.4.13 0
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Language Matters

Dr. Foster Mobley // Business, Quotables, Wisdom Leading

On a recent trip abroad, I couldn't help but notice how many people were wearing clothing with English-sounding sayings. Trying to look cool and stylish, few had any idea that many sayings were misspelled or misapplied and made them look a little silly to English speakers. For example, one shirt said, "The Wind City: Chicago." I'm not sure if that implied flatulence or climate, but true Chicagoans would be aghast at the error. Another guy meant to wear a shirt that said "Cocktail shots" but instead it said, "Cocktails in shoots." These unwitting subjects wanted to demonstrate they understood a culture, but lack of accuracy in their language made them strangers to it. This is instructive for leading and for teams. Organizations need shared language that communicates a common story, direction and community. Without a common language and shared stories, there's little common ground. Community suffers. Wise leaders pay attention to language, both spoken and written. They find ways to steer the organizational narrative toward specific storylines and away from more general words like "excellence," so overused they've become meaningless. They remember that words have impact. Words change minds. Words change the world. What does your employees' language say about the health and cohesiveness of your organization?

On a recent trip abroad, I couldn't help but notice how many people were wearing clothing with English-sounding sayings. Trying to look cool and stylish, few had any idea that many sayings were misspelled or misapplied and made them look a little silly to English speakers. For example, one shirt said, "The Wind City: Chicago." I'm not sure if that implied flatulence or climate, but true Chicagoans would be aghast at the error. Another guy meant to wear a shirt that said "Cocktail shots" but instead it said, "Cocktails in shoots."

These unwitting subjects wanted to demonstrate they understood a culture, but lack of accuracy in their language made them strangers to it. This is instructive for leading and for teams. Organizations need shared language that communicates a common story, direction and community. Without a common language and shared stories, there's little common ground. Community suffers.

Wise leaders pay attention to language, both spoken and written. They find ways to steer the organizational narrative toward specific storylines and away from more general words like "excellence," so overused they've become meaningless. They remember that words have impact. Words change minds. Words change the world.

What does your employees' language say about the health and cohesiveness of your organization?

9.30.13 0
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A Hard Right

Dr. Foster Mobley // Business, Quotables, Wisdom Leading

This summer, I was in Italy interviewing a former officer in the Special Forces for my upcoming book, The Wave. After sharing many stories, this impressive, decorated hero said something I found fascinating, "It was my job to help my men see that it's never okay to do an easy wrong instead of a hard right." That's morality in a nutshell: doing what's merely convenient is never acceptable for its own sake. When faced with the choice between expedience and moral, ethical action, the leader must choose the harder path. Leaders lead by example. Leaders go first. This is an old-fashioned notion in a world where people are often more concerned with the optics of a decision-how it plays to the media or shareholders-than with its moral and ethical implications. Leaders should know that easy, questionable choices are slippery slope. The "easy" road leads to rationalization and self-justification, and conveys a message to those observing that it's fine to play fast and loose with the facts or product quality. Hard choices announce loud and clear, "THIS is the way we do things. THIS and nothing else is acceptable." By rewarding those who choose "hard rights," the wise leader also says, "I know this isn't easy, and it was extra work, but I recognize your wisdom." What message are you sending your team about "hard rights" and "easy wrongs"?

This summer, I was in Italy interviewing a former officer in the Special Forces for my upcoming book, The Wave. After sharing many stories, this impressive, decorated hero said something I found fascinating, "It was my job to help my men see that it's never okay to do an easy wrong instead of a hard right."

That's morality in a nutshell: doing what's merely convenient is never acceptable for its own sake. When faced with the choice between expedience and moral, ethical action, the leader must choose the harder path. Leaders lead by example. Leaders go first.

This is an old-fashioned notion in a world where people are often more concerned with the optics of a decision-how it plays to the media or shareholders-than with its moral and ethical implications. Leaders should know that easy, questionable choices are slippery slope. The "easy" road leads to rationalization and self-justification, and conveys a message to those observing that it's fine to play fast and loose with the facts or product quality.

Hard choices announce loud and clear, "THIS is the way we do things. THIS and nothing else is acceptable." By rewarding those who choose "hard rights," the wise leader also says, "I know this isn't easy, and it was extra work, but I recognize your wisdom."

What message are you sending your team about "hard rights" and "easy wrongs"?

9.23.13 0
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Cardboard Playhouse

Dr. Foster Mobley // Business, Quotables, Wisdom Leading

Recently, a friend told me how he asked furniture delivery men to leave a large cardboard box at his home so his daughters could turn it into a playhouse. Sure enough, his girls and their cousin fell on that box with tape and markers and imagination, turning it into a whimsical cabin that they slept in for several warm summer nights. This got me to thinking about scarcity and how it can be one of the best stimulants for imagination. Think back to your own childhood. How many times did you turn a refrigerator or washing machine box into a spaceship or racecar? You didn't have controllers, screens or an Internet connection. You had scissors, paint, and your imagination. And you worked wonders! What's to stop you from doing the same thing today? I've written that winning often makes teams forgetful and complacent. Well, the availability of resources often makes teams and departments lazy. Have a problem? Throw some money at it! But money doesn't solve problems; imaginative, innovative thinking does. Ironically, we call that sort of thinking "outside the box." However, pause to consider how a little "inside the cardboard box" thinking would serve us better. Next time you're trying to pin down a hard-to-find solution, get out your cardboard box. Ask your team, "What could we do if we didn't have a budget?" You'll be startled by the creativity of the answers. How can you stimulate "inside the box" imagination on your team?

Recently, a friend told me how he asked some furniture delivery men to leave a large cardboard box at his home so his daughters could turn it into a playhouse. Sure enough, his girls and their cousin fell on that box with tape and markers and imagination, turning it into a whimsical cabin that they slept in for several warm summer nights. This got me to thinking about scarcity and how it can be one of the best stimulants for imagination.

Think back to your own childhood. How many times did you turn a refrigerator or washing machine box into a spaceship or racecar? You didn't have controllers, screens or an Internet connection. You had scissors, paint, and your imagination. And you worked wonders! What's to stop you from doing the same thing today?

I've written that winning often makes teams forgetful and complacent. Well, the availability of resources often makes teams and departments lazy. Have a problem? Throw some money at it! But money doesn't solve problems; imaginative, innovative thinking does. Ironically, we call that sort of thinking "outside the box." However, pause to consider how a little "inside the cardboard box" thinking would serve us better. Next time you're trying to pin down a hard-to-find solution, get out your cardboard box. Ask your team, "What could we do if we didn't have a budget?" You'll be startled by the creativity of the answers.

How can you stimulate "inside the box" imagination on your team?

9.9.13 1
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200 Words for Choice

Dr. Foster Mobley // Business, Quotables, Wisdom Leading

It is said that the indigenous tribes in the Artic Circle have over 200 words for the concept of snow. To an outsider, that seems a little excessive at best, and confusing at worst. But, the value of an important concept in any culture is almost never accurately determined from the outside. Culture is defined as "...the traditional ways of thinking, feeling and reacting shared by a society which help it address its challenges." Think about culture as the stories we tell ourselves about ourselves that define who we are. Culture is important because, while it doesn't necessary determine what happens to us, it heavily shapes the meaning we place on those events, and whether they empower or cripple us. It's not hard for anyone to understand that snow, and all its permutations have very real implications on people in the Arctic regions. Therefore, their culture promotes a deep understanding of, and sensitivity to weather and its nuances of snow. You know what I'd like to see? Our business organizations have placed so much value in the concepts of human development and consciousness (read as "awakenness"), like choice, presence and intentionality that we have 200 words to cover their many aspects and nuances. In many well-intentioned organizations today, uttering those three words get you branded softheaded, naÔve or worse. Wise leaders know otherwise and act accordingly. What is possible when a culture honors and values qualities attributed to the full performance of its people? What do you value through your words and actions?

It is said that the indigenous tribes in the Artic Circle have over 200 words for the concept of snow. To an outsider, that seems a little excessive at best, and confusing at worst. But, the value of an important concept in any culture is almost never accurately determined from the outside.

Culture is defined as "...the traditional ways of thinking, feeling and reacting shared by a society which help it address its challenges." Think about culture as the stories we tell ourselves about ourselves that define who we are. Culture is important because, while it doesn't necessary determine what happens to us, it heavily shapes the meaning we place on those events, and whether they empower or cripple us.

It's not hard for anyone to understand that snow, and all its permutations have very real implications on people in the Arctic regions. Therefore, their culture promotes a deep understanding of, and sensitivity to weather and its nuances of snow.

You know what I'd like to see? Our business organizations have placed so much value in the concepts of human development and consciousness (read as "awakenness"), like choice, presence and intentionality that we have 200 words to cover their many aspects and nuances. In many well-intentioned organizations today, uttering those three words get you branded softheaded, naïve or worse. Wise leaders know otherwise and act accordingly.

What is possible when a culture honors and values qualities attributed to the full performance of its people? What do you value through your words and actions?

8.19.13 0
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Dr. Foster Mobley

Trusted advisor and coach to admired executives globally for 3 decades, Thought leader on wisdom-based approaches to breakthrough leading, "Lead Coach" for Deloitte's experienced and high potential leader development, Team performance advisor to two NCAA championship teams