You Play to Win the Game - Leadership Lessons Westside Toastmasters, in Santa Monica
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Halftime-Making Adjustments

When a man is able to take abuse with a smile, he is worthy to become a leader.

-Nachman of Bratslav

You go into that locker room at halftime, and either you're happy with what has happened or you're not. If you're not, you'd better find out quick what went wrong in the first half and correct it. If you're trying to achieve something and something has gone wrong, you've got to fix that, too. Life is all about making adjustments, solving problems, navigating your way through issues and circumstances that sometimes are out of your control. Often it's how you look at something that shapes it in your mind. We all have troubled times; it's how you react to them that counts. Becoming an effective leader sometimes means making adjustments to the message when the message isn't working.

Hit It and Deal with It

Life is filled with speed bumps. You're cruising right along, and then you hit one. Some are bigger than others; that's a fact. What's important is not that you hit the speed bump; it's how you navigate it. So you hit one-then what do you do? Do you wallow in self-pity, or do you deal with it?

Top athletes have to learn to live with mini-speed bumps every day. Baseball players, on the average, fail four times for every time they get a hit. Runners rarely post personal-best times; more often than not, their times are below their best. Those athletes have learned that it's how they react to those failures or mistakes that's important. A soccer player might get stripped of the ball, but if he chases the guy back down the field and alters his pass, then he's made something good out of something bad.

Facing and dealing with speed bumps and working through them, no matter how large or small they are, will give you the inner strength to keep going. Every case is different. But in the end, every result is the same. Deal with obstacles, learn from them, and refuse to give in.

Say your son gets hurt playing sports. He's a top high school athlete who is being recruited by a bunch of colleges and it's his senior year, and just before it begins, he tears his ACL, and there goes the season. He's going to need surgery and rehab, and he's now going to miss out on so much. He's devastated; you're devastated. But what do you do? Do you sit there and cry and mourn what was lost? You can't. How does that help him to get where he wants to go, which is to college to play football?

I always say that when something bad happens, you can feel bad; it's natural to feel bad, but feel bad for about five minutes. Then let it go because feeling bad doesn't bring anything to the table other than feeling bad. You've got to leave it behind and focus on the future. Okay, your son is hurt. He's going to need surgery, and things are going to be pretty rough for him for a while. Instead of feeling bad, ask yourself, 'What can I do to help him get back on track? How can I help him?' You can help him by making a plan and showing him how you're going to tackle this problem, and you can reassure him that everything is going to be fine. Not only will this help him get through a tough time, but you've just now given him a valuable lesson that will guide him through life. Problems creep up all the time. Sometimes they smack you straight in the face. And it's tough. Sometimes it's really tough.

We lost our quarterback to injury the third preseason game of the 2003 season. Chad Pennington had put on a show in 2002, and expectations were high. But he dislocated his thumb, and the diagnosis was he'd be out for 12 weeks. Sure I felt bad. He felt bad. We all felt bad. But I knew feeling bad wasn't going to win us any games. What we needed was to deal with that speed bump. I gathered my guys together and said not to worry. 'We've got a quarterback. We've got a good quarterback. Vinny Testaverde has won a bunch of games for us, and he's going to step in and do it again.'

We felt bad for Chad, but by shifting the focus from feeling bad for him to feeling good about Vinny, we accomplished a lot of things. Chad was able to stop feeling he had let the team down, which is as destructive an emotion as there is, and start thinking about doing everything he could to heal because he knew that we believed we'd be okay without him. And the team stopped thinking they were doomed because Chad was out and started thinking about how they could help Vinny.

On a much more personal note, my wife, Lia, was diagnosed with diabetes a few years ago. We were stunned. Lia is probably the healthiest person I know. She eats right; she works out all the time. But here's the doctor telling us she's got diabetes and is going to have to monitor her blood sugar and come in for tests and keep a very close watch on her health. It was frightening to both of us-especially to Lia. At first she didn't really understand the disease, nor did I. Lia thought she might die, or at least lose years off her life. But once we got educated on how controllable diabetes is by the use of an insulin pump and other wonders of modern science, it was much easier to feel okay about things. Still, she was terrified of having to test her blood sugar every day, and I knew I wouldn't be around all the time to do it for her. So I pulled myself together, grabbed one of those needles, and pricked my own finger to show her it was no big deal. It made her laugh, and it wasn't long before this speed bump was way in the rearview mirror.

The hardest thing I ever had to go through, the biggest speed bump in my life, was when my dad passed away. I was only 23, and I had just finished my rookie year with the Eagles. My dad wasn't sick; he wasn't in bad health or anything. One day he went out to run an errand, and within 20 minutes after he left the house, the hospital was calling to say he'd been in a car accident after passing out while driving. I rushed to the hospital to find out what had happened, but the doctors didn't really know. He seemed so tired to me. All he kept saying was that everything was going to be fine, and I really did think everything was going to be fine. But it wasn't. He died that day.

The last thing my father told me was that I had to be strong. 'Make sure your mother and your sister are okay,' he said. And then he was gone. It was devastating to all of us. And confusing. He was gone, and I was sitting there saying, 'What am I supposed to do?'

I had achieved my goal of playing professional football, but now I was responsible for my mother and my sister, and I wondered what that meant, how it would all fit. My dad had seen me play against the Los Angeles Rams; in fact, he saw my first interception-picking off Joe Willie Namath-and I saw after the game how proud he was of me. I thought about things for a long time, and I came to the conclusion that I could do both-take care of my family and continue playing football. I felt that that was what my dad would want me to do: to make sure my sister and my mother were taken care of and then move on with my career.

I did everything I could think of around the house to make sure it would be easy for them to live there without my dad. I even pulled up the lawn and put down rock so they wouldn't have to deal with the front lawn. I took care of how the bills were going to be paid and the car maintained-all the things that my dad did, I figured out a way to get them done, or at least make them as easy as possible for my mom to deal with. And once I knew my mother and my sister were okay, I went back to work. My heart was heavy, but I knew it was what my dad would have wanted me to do.

When Green Bay Packers quarterback Brett Favre lost his father during the 2003 season, it reminded me so much of what I had gone through 25 years earlier. It brought back some of the pain, but it also reminded me that what I had done way back then was the right thing to do. I was hoping Brett would find that answer, too, and he did-he turned in one of his best performances ever in a Monday night game a day after burying his dad. Later I read that he had said he felt his father was with him that night. I know mine is with me now, too.

The heat of hard times is designed to improve us. How we react to heartache and obstacles and problems and tough situations defines us as sons, daughters, mothers, or fathers, and as individuals. It gives each of us a chance to challenge ourselves and pass lessons on to others. It gives us an opportunity to do something right. It allows us to turn something devastating into something wonderful.

I believe God never tries to trip us up, but he does allow tough circumstances to surface to build our character and maturity. Two of the most beautiful metals in this world are silver and gold. I learned that they are refined by intense heat, which forces the impurities to float to the top. The impurities are then skimmed off to improve the quality of the metal. In the same way, suffering through problems and situations allows the moral impurities in our characters to surface. Then we are able to see them and skim them off, too.

I know that before anyone can really enjoy success, he must deal with speed bumps. They mean nothing as long as something is gained by how he reacts to them and how he solves the problems they create.

You Play to Win the Game - Leadership Lessons Westside Toastmasters, in Santa Monica
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