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Climbing Trees

Dr. Foster Mobley // Sports, Wisdom Leading

According to that sage source for all things Spring, HGTV, it's now tree climbing season around the country. After a rough winter, the cold weather is finally receding and children are taking to the trees in their backyards, schoolyards and parks. But why do children love to climb trees? Part of it is the daring risk of a fall; the adrenaline of dangling eight feet off the grass, pretending to be a monkey, that gives them a thrill. But it's also the ability to view the world from a different perspective. Children are generally looking up on the adults who rule their world, but in a tree, they become taller. They look down on us, on rooftops, on cars, on everything. Every time you change the point from which you view the world, you change your perspective on what you're seeing. When was the last time you climbed a tree? More to the point, when was the last time you got a radically different perspective on your world? We can all use one from time to time; we're prone to believing that our way of seeing things is the only way. It's not, and standing taller or looking around from a different angle can change everything. If you haven't tried it, try it. Last time you looked at the world from a different point of view, what did you learn?

According to that sage source for all things Spring, HGTV, it's now tree climbing season around the country. After a rough winter, the cold weather is finally receding and children are taking to the trees in their backyards, schoolyards and parks.

But why do children love to climb trees? Part of it is the daring risk of a fall; the adrenaline of dangling eight feet off the grass, pretending to be a monkey, that gives them a thrill. But it's also the ability to view the world from a different perspective. Children are generally looking up on the adults who rule their world, but in a tree, they become taller. They look down on us, on rooftops, on cars, on everything. Every time you change the point from which you view the world, you change your perspective on what you're seeing.

When was the last time you climbed a tree? More to the point, when was the last time you got a radically different perspective on your world? We can all use one from time to time; we're prone to believing that our way of seeing things is the only way. It's not, and standing taller or looking around from a different angle can change everything. If you haven't tried it, try it.

Last time you looked at the world from a different point of view, what did you learn?

4.14.14 0
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Brackets or Possibilities?

Dr. Foster Mobley // Sports, Wisdom Leading

The last soldier has fallen. The last perfect NCAA Men's College Basketball tournament bracket-at least, the last to enter Warren Buffett's contest that offered one billion dollars to anyone who could pick every March Madness winner-went belly-up yesterday when Syracuse lost to Dayton. It's not really a big deal; the odds of having a flawless bracket are, according to Harvard mathematicians, about 9.2 quintillion to one (that's 9.2 followed by eighteen zeros). You have a better chance of winning Powerball six weeks in a row.

What's more interesting is the question of whether or not the NCAA Tournament is more or less enjoyable when we have a vested interest. On one hand, being invested in something makes us pay closer attention to details and outcomes. On the other, it's precisely the possibility of a college like Dayton beating powerhouse Syracuse that makes March Madness so thrilling. The games aren't played on bracket charts, and a top seed guarantees nothing. You've got to go out and put the ball through the hoop.

In our organizations, we're confronted with the same question: how do we balance predictability and control with the potential for exciting surprises? More to the point, how do we, as leaders, keep letting our assumptions about anyone's abilities limit their potential to do great things? Dayton was a number eleven seed; odds makers gave them little chance against Syracuse. But they won. We owe it to our people and ourselves to keep searching for that delicate balance between safe structure and unpredictable possibility that can produce a Cinderella story.

Who in your organization has Cinderella potential?

3.24.14 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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Yasiel Puig Versus the Wall

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

If you've followed baseball recently, you've heard about Yasiel Puig. The Cuban-defector playing for the Los Angeles Dodgers has been setting the world on fire since his debut in June: hitting over .400, setting all-time records for hitting, running into walls, and basically playing like a 23-year-old possessed. He's become an obsession for the entire island of Cuba. Here's my question - is it better to go a thousand miles an hour with your hair on fire for as long as you can, like Puig, or to pace yourself, conserve your energy and avoid getting hurt? Going all-out and burning your candle at both ends might thrill your fans and fire up your team, but is it the best way to achieve your goals? Answer - it depends. Depends on your talent. Depends on your goal. Depends on team needs. It truly depends. In Puig's case, when he was called up to the majors to join the Dodgers, the team sporting the highest payroll in the history of the game was languishing in last place and showing few signs of life. Today, barely a month later they are challenging for first place in their division and have righted their ship, largely sparked by the energy and heroics of Puig. Sometimes, a leader's job is to inspire his or her team and demonstrate the pedal-to-the-metal commitment that he or she wants the team to possess. In that case, it's not a bad idea to stock up on Five-Hour Energy, pull a few all-nighters and leave everything on the field in order to deliver something amazing in a short time. Basically, you're running into the outfield wall to make an incredible catch. And, logic would tell you that it's inadvisable to keep doing that long term. If your job, or success, frequently depends on energy drinks and all-nighters, you're pretty much toast. If Puig keeps going face-first into walls, eventually he's going to end up on the disabled list. When your goal is to guide your team over a long-term time horizon, you need to stay on the field. That means being smart and wily-like the old bull - or a longtime baseball veteran. Where could moderating your energy or tempering your willingness to crash into walls actually fire up your team's performance?

If you've followed baseball recently, you've heard about Yasiel Puig. The Cuban-defector playing for the Los Angeles Dodgers has been setting the world on fire since his debut in June: hitting over .400, setting all-time records for hitting, running into walls, and basically playing like a 23-year-old possessed. He's become an obsession for the entire island of Cuba.

Here's my question - is it better to go a thousand miles an hour with your hair on fire for as long as you can, like Puig, or to pace yourself, conserve your energy and avoid getting hurt? Going all-out and burning your candle at both ends might thrill your fans and fire up your team, but is it the best way to achieve your goals?

Answer - it depends. Depends on your talent. Depends on your goal. Depends on team needs. It truly depends. In Puig's case, when he was called up to the majors to join the Dodgers, the team sporting the highest payroll in the history of the game was languishing in last place and showing few signs of life. Today, barely a month later they are challenging for first place in their division and have righted their ship, largely sparked by the energy and heroics of Puig.

Sometimes, a leader's job is to inspire his or her team and demonstrate the pedal-to-the-metal commitment that he or she wants the team to possess. In that case, it's not a bad idea to stock up on Five-Hour Energy, pull a few all-nighters and leave everything on the field in order to deliver something amazing in a short time. Basically, you're running into the outfield wall to make an incredible catch.

And, logic would tell you that it's inadvisable to keep doing that long term. If your job, or success, frequently depends on energy drinks and all-nighters, you're pretty much toast. If Puig keeps going face-first into walls, eventually he's going to end up on the disabled list. When your goal is to guide your team over a long-term time horizon, you need to stay on the field. That means being smart and wily-like the old bull - or a longtime baseball veteran.

Where could moderating your energy or tempering your willingness to crash into walls actually fire up your team's performance?

7.15.13 0
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Traffic Jams on Everest

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

Recently, famed mountaineer Conrad Anker said something about Mount Everest that was probably the last thing you would expect to hear about the fabled mountain: it's overcrowded! It turns out that hordes of well-heeled adventure tourists are making their way up the mountain in record numbers, aided by guide companies that will get even marginally qualified climbers to the summit-for the right price. As a result, says, Anker, "If you're going to Everest for that pristine, I'm-in-the-mountains [experience], it's not the place to go." He also points out that climbers have left an unfortunate sign of their passing: tons of garbage, which doesn't biodegrade in the frigid Himalayan temperatures. I find that to be a fascinating metaphor for the way we leave our mark on the environments we enter and how those marks endure, sometimes for years. A leader immersed in the dynamics of a team or organization is like the mountaineer ascending Everest. The environment may appear forbidding and invulnerable (a team made up of veteran salespeople, for example), but beneath the exterior crust, it's surprisingly fragile. Just as oxygen bottles, food containers and medical supplies may remain beneath Everest's ice for decades, careless words or inappropriate anger may leave marks on the psyches of even the toughest professionals. We must always consider what we leave behind when we climb into the rarified air of leadership. What lasting marks are you leaving on your people?

Recently, famed mountaineer Conrad Anker said something about Mount Everest that was probably the last thing you would expect to hear about the fabled mountain: it's overcrowded! It turns out that hordes of well-heeled adventure tourists are making their way up the mountain in record numbers, aided by guide companies that will get even marginally qualified climbers to the summit-for the right price.

As a result, says, Anker, "If you're going to Everest for that pristine, I'm-in-the-mountains [experience], it's not the place to go." He also points out that climbers have left an unfortunate sign of their passing: tons of garbage, which doesn't biodegrade in the frigid Himalayan temperatures. I find that to be a fascinating metaphor for the way we leave our mark on the environments we enter and how those marks endure, sometimes for years.

A leader immersed in the dynamics of a team or organization is like the mountaineer ascending Everest. The environment may appear forbidding and invulnerable (a team made up of veteran salespeople, for example), but beneath the exterior crust, it's surprisingly fragile. Just as oxygen bottles, food containers and medical supplies may remain beneath Everest's ice for decades, careless words or inappropriate anger may leave marks on the psyches of even the toughest professionals.

We must always consider what we leave behind when we climb into the rarified air of leadership.

What lasting marks are you leaving on your people?

6.24.13 0
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Sometimes, commitment is its own reward

Dr. Foster Mobley // Sports, Wisdom Leading

The 2013 Women's College Softball World Series started on May 30. As you may know, I have a long history of involvement with the sport, and most recently with the UCLA softball team, so I take great interest in this tournament. Countless things impress me about the young women who come to the tournament to try and win the national championship for their schools: their talent, their passion, and their discipline. And I'm impressed most by what drives them - these young women work so hard with the near certainty that they will not receive any reward beyond the joy of competition, love of school, love of team and concern for each other. There's one women's professional softball league in the U.S.: National Pro Fastpitch (NPF). It has four teams. The players make from $4,000 to $25,000 a season. Unlike male college athletes in basketball, football and baseball, there's little chance of a monetary payoff at the end of the rainbow. Even a possible Olympic team berth, recently a renewed possibility for 2020, offers little beyond the prospect of competing for their country; Olympic softballers seldom get the endorsement opportunities of gymnasts, women's soccer players, swimmers, and figure skaters. No, if you're competing at the highest levels of college softball, you're working and sweating and sacrificing for excellence for intrinsic rewards. That's why I believe that these women are such wonderful examples of wisdom. They know they aren't going to get huge shoe contracts or TV commercials, and it doesn't matter. They simply want to be there for each other and to perform at the highest levels possible. I've seen what happens when everyone on a team shares those same values, and it's extraordinary. Watch the finals of the 2013 Women's College Softball World Series beginning tonight if you can. You'll see some amazing future leaders in action. Do the rewards in your organization promote real excellence?

The 2013 Women's College Softball World Series started on May 30th. As you may know, I have a long history of involvement with the sport, and most recently with the UCLA softball team, so I take great interest in this tournament. Countless things impress me about the young women who come to the tournament to try and win the national championship for their schools: their talent, their passion, and their discipline. And I'm impressed most by what drives them - these young women work so hard with the near certainty that they will not receive any reward beyond the joy of competition, love of school, love of team, and concern for each other.

There's one women's professional softball league in the U.S.: National Pro Fastpitch (NPF). It has four teams. The players make from $4,000 to $25,000 a season. Unlike male college athletes in basketball, football and baseball, there's little chance of a monetary payoff at the end of the rainbow. Even a possible Olympic team berth, recently a renewed possibility for 2020, offers little beyond the prospect of competing for their country; Olympic softballers seldom get the endorsement opportunities of gymnasts, women's soccer players, swimmers, and figure skaters.

No, if you're competing at the highest levels of college softball, you're working and sweating and sacrificing for excellence for intrinsic rewards. That's why I believe that these women are such wonderful examples of wisdom. They know they aren't going to get huge shoe contracts or TV commercials, and it doesn't matter. They simply want to be there for each other and to perform at the highest levels possible. I've seen what happens when everyone on a team shares those same values, and it's extraordinary.

Watch the finals of the 2013 Women's College Softball World Series beginning tonight if you can. You'll see some amazing future leaders in action.

Do the rewards in your organization promote real excellence?

6.3.13 0
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Relearning the Fundamentals

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

Ah spring, a time when fly balls and pickoff throws fill the air! In Florida and Arizona, Major League Baseball clubs are going through the motions of spring training. Players are working on their batting eyes, limbering up their pitching arms, and repeating drills until their hands bleed, all with an eye to being ready for Opening Day. But why? Does anybody really believe these athletes need a refresher course year after year? After all, they work out year-round with personal trainers. They have video and computer swing analysis and advanced pitching metrics like WHIP, whatever that is. Are you going to tell me that, other than young kids trying to make the big club and old timers trying to hang on, that these guys need to spend six weeks in Scottsdale? So what's the reason for spring training? In part, I think it's to remind everyone that baseball is hard. Hitting a 95 mph fastball is the hardest task in sports, and throwing one is the runner-up. Spring training is, in part, about humility. A reminder that greatness is rare and that if we can do things that others can't, that's cause for gratitude, not boastfulness. In any organization, people are subject to complacency and resting on laurels. It's healthy, once in a while, to get a reminder that succeeding once is no guarantee that you'll succeed again. Staying on top means recognizing that the work of getting better never ends. What do you do to encourage humility in your people?

Ah spring, a time when fly balls and pickoff throws fill the air! In Florida and Arizona, Major League Baseball clubs are going through the motions of spring training. Players are working on their batting eyes, limbering up their pitching arms, and repeating drills until their hands bleed, all with an eye to being ready for Opening Day.

But why? Does anybody really believe these athletes need a refresher course year after year? After all, they work out year-round with personal trainers. They have video and computer swing analysis and advanced pitching metrics like WHIP, whatever that is. Are you going to tell me that, other than young kids trying to make the big club and old timers trying to hang on, that these guys need to spend six weeks in Scottsdale?

So what's the reason for spring training? In part, I think it's to remind everyone that baseball is hard. Hitting a 95 mph fastball is the hardest task in sports, and throwing one is the runner-up. Spring training is, in part, about humility. A reminder that greatness is rare and that if we can do things that others can't, that's cause for gratitude, not boastfulness.

In any organization, people are subject to complacency and resting on laurels. It's healthy, once in a while, to get a reminder that succeeding once is no guarantee that you'll succeed again. Staying on top means recognizing that the work of getting better never ends.

What do you do to encourage humility in your people?

3.18.13 0
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Mud Bowl

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

Were you one of the 50 million Americans who watched the Super Bowl? It's a great spectacle, and has become an important American ritual where the hoopla often outshines the game. When I watch football today, I can't help thinking that the game is more fun when it's messier. Football is at its primal, grunting best when it's played either in the ice and snow of a place like Green Bay, or in the mud, not on perfectly lined fields of synthetic turf in a domed structure with larger-than-life bigscreens. Ever play in, or witness a Mud Bowl... maybe on a rainy weekend or in the afternoons before Thanksgiving dinner? A bunch of people, shivering like nitwits in the pouring rain, mucking through fields turned ankle-deep swamps, and diving for passes and belly-sliding ten yards. Everybody winds up filthy, soaked, starving and exhausted. It's awesome. In the wake of the Big Game, I can't help thinking that maybe in our everyday teams it should occasionally be more like the Mud Bowl and less like the neat and orderly San Francisco 49ers offense. Maybe sometimes the work we do, and the teams with whom we do it should be messier, more chaotic and celebratory. There are times to run a tight ship, but there are also times to do a cannonball into the water and invite everyone else to do the same. From no-rules brainstorming sessions to heartfelt check-ins to problem-solving games, it's the counterintuitive that keeps us fresh, energized and coming up with satisfying surprises. What are you doing to encourage your teammates to get messy?

Were you one of the 50 million Americans who watched the Super Bowl? It's a great spectacle, and has become an important American ritual where the hoopla often outshines the game.

When I watch football today, I can't help thinking that the game is more fun when it's messier. Football is at its primal, grunting best when it's played either in the ice and snow of a place like Green Bay, or in the mud, not on perfectly lined fields of synthetic turf in a domed structure with larger-than-life bigscreens.

Ever play in, or witness a Mud Bowl... maybe on a rainy weekend or in the afternoons before Thanksgiving dinner? A bunch of people, shivering like nitwits in the pouring rain, mucking through fields turned ankle-deep swamps, and diving for passes and belly-sliding ten yards. Everybody winds up filthy, soaked, starving and exhausted.

It's awesome.

In the wake of the Big Game, I can't help thinking that maybe in our everyday teams it should occasionally be more like the Mud Bowl and less like the neat and orderly San Francisco 49ers offense. Maybe sometimes the work we do, and the teams with whom we do it should be messier, more chaotic and celebratory. There are times to run a tight ship, but there are also times to do a cannonball into the water and invite everyone else to do the same. From no-rules brainstorming sessions to heartfelt check-ins to problem-solving games, it's the counterintuitive that keeps us fresh, energized and coming up with satisfying surprises.

What are you doing to encourage your teammates to get messy?

2.4.13 0
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Singing the Powerball Blues: When $579 Million Isn't Enough

Dr. Foster Mobley // Sports, Wisdom Leading

Last week two ticket buyers, in Missouri and in Arizona, hit the biggest Powerball lottery jackpot ever, $579 million. That got me thinking about the often-negative effect that sudden wealth has on people's lives. University researchers have determined that people who win larger jackpots are more likely to wind up bankrupt than those who win small ones. And recent history is filled with accounts of lottery winners winding up in poverty, in prison, or committing suicide. You may have heard me say that winning makes people forgetful and stupid; apparently money has the same effect. Coming into sudden, unearned wealth appears to make some people abandon their core values. Let's say that you're a construction worker-hard-working, respected and dependable. Then, ZAP-a $100 million lightning bolt. Are you suddenly a financial planner, tax lawyer and international playboy? No. But if you try to act like you are, you're probably going to wind up in trouble. When success comes, it's more important-not less-that we stick to the essential qualities that define who we are, independent of that success. That's the only way to ensure that success will come around again. Are you grounded enough in who you are and what you stand for to declare your core essence "Not for Sale"?

Last week two ticket buyers, in Missouri and in Arizona, hit the biggest Powerball lottery jackpot ever, $579 million. That got me thinking about the often-negative effect that sudden wealth has on people's lives. University researchers have determined that people who win larger jackpots are more likely to wind up bankrupt than those who win small ones. And recent history is filled with accounts of lottery winners winding up in poverty, in prison, or committing suicide.

You may have heard me say that winning makes people forgetful and stupid; apparently money has the same effect. Coming into sudden, unearned wealth appears to make some people abandon their core values. Let's say that you're a construction worker-hard-working, respected and dependable. Then, ZAP-a $100 million lightning bolt. Are you suddenly a financial planner, tax lawyer and international playboy? No. But if you try to act like you are, you're probably going to wind up in trouble.

When success comes, it's more important-not less-that we stick to the essential qualities that define who we are, independent of that success. That's the only way to ensure that success will come around again.

Are you grounded enough in who you are and what you stand for to declare your core essence "Not for Sale"?

12.3.12 0
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"Miracle on Ice"

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

Q: How are you causing "miracles" to happen? Do you remember watching the 1980 U.S.A.-Soviet hockey showdown, and hearing the enduring question, "Do you believe in miracles?" The Americans had a team of untested college kids, and the Soviets had a team of hardened veterans at the peak of their careers. The young Americans upset the champion Soviets, in what many called a "miracle on ice." What looked like a "miracle" was actually the result of a strategy engineered by U.S.A. Coach Brooks to capitalize on the Soviets' weaknesses, and build on the Americans' strengths. In business, "miracles" seem to happen all the time, but they're almost always the result of careful planning toward a specific goal. These "miracles" are often successes against near-impossible odds - the start-up against an industry leader, the rookie goalie against the veteran power forward. These successes look both incredible and effortless to outsiders, but insiders know the intellectual blood, sweat and tears that went into the achievement.

Q: How are you causing "miracles" to happen?

Do you remember watching the 1980 U.S.A.-Soviet hockey showdown, and hearing the enduring question, "Do you believe in miracles?"
 
The Americans had a team of untested college kids, and the Soviets had a team of hardened veterans at the peak of their careers. The young Americans upset the champion Soviets, in what many called a "miracle on ice." What looked like a "miracle" was actually the result of a strategy engineered by U.S.A. Coach Brooks to capitalize on the Soviets' weaknesses, and build on the Americans' strengths.
 
In business, "miracles" seem to happen all the time, but they're almost always the result of careful planning toward a specific goal. These "miracles" are often successes against near-impossible odds - the start-up against an industry leader, the rookie goalie against the veteran power forward. These successes look both incredible and effortless to outsiders, but insiders know the intellectual blood, sweat and tears that went into the achievement.

3.5.12 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