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

When I got to be about eight years old, I asked my dad if I could make some money by raking the back yard. He said yes, and so I went out and I raked hard, working hard. I got all the dirt and the leaves piled up, and I called to my dad because I was ready to get paid. My dad came out and said, 'Son, did you do a good job?' I said, 'Oh, yeah, dad. I did a good job.' He said, 'Really?' I said, 'Oh yeah, dad. I did a good job.'

He walked over to the corner of the yard and he said, 'Son, there's some leaves still here.' Then he walked to another corner and said, 'You've still got some here, too.' And then he walked back to where I was standing and he said, 'Son, you didn't do the corners.'

I protested, 'Dad . . .'

He said, 'Son, you didn't do the corners. That's the most important thing in life. Do the corners.'

It's a lesson I've never forgotten. Too many times we forget about the importance of taking care of details. We paint a canvas with a broad brush, but we forget to use the small brush for the little things that make all the difference in the painting. When we look at a door, we see only the door; we don't see the hinges, which are what make the door go back and forth. Without the hinges, the door stays shut. We see only the door and forget about the hinges. And suddenly the door doesn't work, and nobody can figure out why.

Do the corners also means don't cut corners. Basketball coaches who know this make sure their players touch the line when they're running gassers; soccer coaches who know it make sure their players don't take shortcuts when they're running laps around the field.

It's the same thing in life.

You don't write a report for your boss without first researching every little fact and making sure everything is absolutely perfect before you turn it in. Because if you don't do this, if you don't pay attention to detail or you've saved yourself a few steps by not looking something up or making that extra call, then you can rest assured something's going to be wrong. A fact here or there, a miscalculation-something minor is going to derail that entire report and all of your efforts. All because you cut corners.

Life is a step-by-step process. You take one step and then another. You don't skip over a step because it's time-consuming or boring or too difficult. You just take the step. If you're teaching a child to read, you don't just hand her a book. You teach her the alphabet, then phonetics and how to sound out words, and then how to recognize certain words. If you skip any of those steps, that child won't be reading any time soon.

Often it's the littlest things that mean the most. You leave a note for your wife saying goodnight when she comes in late and you're already asleep. You mention to your daughter that she has a great collarbone when she's trying on dresses. You call your mom out of the blue just to chat. What you think are little things are often big things to those on the receiving end.

And often it's the littlest things that bring you the most gain. You triple-check a valve on a heating unit, and on the last check, you find that there is a spring missing that could have caused a fire. You take an extra reading of a voltage meter to be sure the equipment is running properly, and you find that the voltage is dangerously high. Nobody asked you to take that extra reading, but you did it because you knew how important the voltage level was if the equipment was going to run safely. You paid attention to detail. You did the corners.

Sometimes we become so complacent, however, or so content, that we forget the corners we did in the past to get to where we are.

Say you're in a great relationship with a great person and everything's going along just fine. Somewhere down the line, though, you stop talking to that person-I mean really talking, about issues and ideas and situations and theories, the kind of conversation that made you fall for each other in the first place. You're talking, sure, but the conversation is stilted. It's about what you did that day, or what you're going to do, or what you want to do, or it's only about the problems that you face each day with work or the kids. And even worse, you've fallen into a pattern. Gone is the stimulating dialogue, the exchange of ideas and dreams and anything with depth. You're going along fine in this great relationship, and you know you've got this great person, but something isn't quite right. You search and search until you realize it's the details, the smallest things that you've forgotten about-intriguing conversation sparked by meaningful questions. Once you realize what the problem is, it's usually easy to fix. When you're facing a problem you can't quite get a handle on, break it down to its smallest parts. That's usually where you'll find your answer.

Football players who don't get in the weight room when they're supposed to or run sprints when they're supposed to find themselves in a bad situation fast. Many of the guys at the pro level believe that they've already got it made because they've been successful. But once they start cutting those corners that got them there, they find they're out of football as fast as they made it in.

In the 2002 season, when we went from worst to first, it was taking care of details that got us there. We started out 2-5, but once we started doing the corners, working every single day on footwork, tackling, and blocking, we started finding success. We didn't leave one corner undone. We got 8 wins in our next 10 games and won the AFC East Divisional Championship.

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