"Notes" of An Elder

True learning begins with unlearning.

Nothing in life is of any value unless it is shared with others.

"Notes" of An Elder is a depository of pertinent information, knowledge and wisdom. Available weekly will be an elder's "thinking menu" for your use. Enjoy this bounty.

  • Become good at what you don't know but need to know.

  • True learning begins with unlearning.

  • Love does not keep score.

  • If you want to get smarter, constantly ask why?

  • Goal: Become a better listener. Be a much more open-minded thinker.

  • Start and keep a learning journal.

  • The only person who is educated is the person who has learned how to learn.

New Needs

  • New Mindset

  • New behavior

  • New Processes

  • New Beliefs

  • Help people feel successful.

  • Life is about choice, meaning, and purpose.

  • Where there is a good and a better, there must be a best.

  • Failure is an opportunity to learn.

  • Who we are is not who we have to be.

  • Don't become defensive when someone disagrees with you.

  • Find new and different ways to do what we have been doing all along.

  • Every time you try something new, you learn something new —  build on it.

Magic Question

What good shall I do today?

Jon Gruden's Downfall

Gruden never built trust with his players, nor did he monitor himself.

When we leave our high-powered leadership positions — especially if we’re fired — we often view the development as career-ending.

But it can also be career-building if we learn the right lessons.

Jon Gruden, who resigned this week as Las Vegas Raiders head coach after a trove of his offensive emails was released, spent almost 10 years away from the game he so desperately loved after being fired in 2009.

But many of the weaknesses that led to his dismissal from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers then were never addressed — and they came full circle this week.

The 2018 book Gridiron Genius explores the four areas needed to be a successful coach:

  1. Management of Attention

  2. Meaning

  3. Self

  4. Trust

Gruden’s undoing in the end was a result of mismanaging the latter two. He never built trust with his players, nor did he monitor himself. According to Gridiron Genius:

Gruden has incredible communication skills, but he walks a tightrope in the areas of command of self and trust. In large part, that is a result of his internal motivation mechanisms. To hear him tell it, Gruden, the new coach of the Raiders after a first go-round in the league a decade ago, never has enough offensive talent for the schemes he has devised. Without fail, the last team he coached was more talented than his current one. How do I know this? I was with him in Philadelphia when he was the offensive coordinator and I was the pro personnel director. He would walk around the office complaining, “Can you believe I have to play these guys?” before rattling off names like Ricky Watters, Charlie Garner and Irving Fryar. By all accounts, those guys were at the very least competent pros, and some were far better than that. But to Gruden’s eyes, there was always something wrong with each of them.

When I moved on to Oakland, he was there too—and, believe it or not, giving the exact same speech, with a twist. This time he let it be known that the talent he coached in Philadelphia was far superior. Even when Gruden was being interviewed by TV production crews as background for Raiders’ nationally televised games he would complain about his lack of talent. A member of an announcing team finally called him out on it: “Jon, you do realize that Rich Gannon is having an MVP season?”

That’s when I realized Gruden told this no-talent story to himself as motivation to work harder and smarter. Problem is, that’s not exactly the best way to develop trust and mutual respect with your players, and eventually, that method backfires. If he were better at this part of the job and better at fixing things instead of complaining about his roster, he could be one of the greats. If he hasn’t learned that lesson, he’ll end up flaming out in Oakland again just like he did after winning a Super Bowl in Tampa Bay.

Clearly, Gruden didn’t learn from his past. His lack of self-awareness, fueled by his ego, made him feel invincible with his words and actions. He was able to secure a 10-year, $100M dollar deal from the Raiders because often the people doing the hiring don’t understand the four dynamics of leadership and how they must all be aligned —perfectly aligned.

There are many lessons from the entire Gruden fiasco. We must do complete self-analyses to improve our areas of weakness. And we can never allow our egos to grow so large that we believe we’re untouchable and can just say whatever we please.

Whether Gruden will finally self-reflect in the months and years ahead or ever change his ways remains to be seen.

But one thing is for certain: He needed to make adjustments to his leadership behavior while he had the time to reflect years ago.

Instead, he remained the same and, ultimately, flamed out.

Is Experience Overrated?

Today, whether it’s on NFL sidelines or in corporate offices, more and more organizations have turned to youth to run their teams.

“Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.”

-John F. Kennedy

President Kennedy spoke these famous words at his Inaugural Address in 1961 after he was sworn in as the 35th, and youngest, president of the United States.

At just 43, Kennedy was already seen as a charismatic leader, someone who could bring an ambitious vision and newfound energy to an office long dominated by men in their 50s and 60s.

“Out with the old, and in with the new” was what most Americans wanted during this time, and with Kennedy’s good looks and youthful appearance, he was considered by many to be exactly what the nation needed.

After delivering these remarks, Kennedy assumed control of the White House and hired other youthful thinkers to assist his administration. He wanted vibrancy, relentless energy and a freshness that would signal to the American public that he was blazing a new trail.

But deep down, Kennedy was self-aware. He knew he needed someone he could rely on for advice, a political grown-up who understood that the jungle is only dangerous if you don’t know the paths.

So he quietly turned to former United Kingdom Prime Minister Harold Macmillan to serve as his mentor. Macmillan was 68 and a WWI veteran, and he had seen the ways in which political leaders struggled. During his distinguished career, he had walked through these jungles and could be as a dependable confidant to Kennedy.

Today, whether it’s on NFL sidelines or in corporate offices, more and more organizations have turned to youth to run their teams. The grown-ups have been shown the door, have taken their buyouts and early retirement packages, and the fresh faces have been placed at the helm.

But when experience walks away, a wealth of knowledge and wisdom departs as well. Unless new leaders surround themselves with some people who have previously walked these paths, they run the danger of quickly becoming overwhelmed or making foolish mistakes that could easily be prevented.

We could all use a version of Harold Macmillan in our lives, someone we can turn to for sage advice, someone who’s willing to lend a listening ear during tumultuous times. We need someone who can refocus our attention so that our lack of experience never rears its ugly head.

Today, let’s make a list of five people who could potentially fill this role, then start picking their brains. As time goes on, the mentor who fits what we need will emerge.

When that happens, our true talents and skills will become apparent, and we can prevent ourselves from stumbling on the leadership jungle’s slippery terrain.

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Leading With a Type B Personality

Far too often, leaders run into trouble by attempting to be something they’re not.

Authoritative. Hands on. Aggressive. Analytical.  

They’re traits we associate with Type A personality leaders, the ones who are decisive, who don’t shy away from confrontation, who insist that orders be executed a particular way.

The list of them is seemingly endless. Steve Jobs, Elon Musk, Mark Cuban, Bill Parcells, just to name a few.

But can you be a successful leader with a Type B personality? Can you run a team if you don’t really fit the above description?  

In short, absolutely.

Warren Buffett, Jeff Bezos, Bob Iger and yes, Bill Belichick, really have Type B personalities.

They’re soft spoken, they’re humble and they’re not afraid to delegate responsibilities.

What unites these different lists isn’t one etched-in-stone philosophy or leadership style.

It’s knowledge of the craft, attention to detail, a relentless work ethic and an ability to hold a team to a standard.  

Above all, it’s authenticity.

The Type Bs are really Type A in their knowledge and convictions. They’re just a bit softer in their communication styles.

Far too often, though, leaders run into trouble by attempting to be something they’re not.

We’ve seen CEOs like Theranos’ Elizabeth Holmes wear all-black turtlenecks attempting to be like Steve Jobs. We’ve seen Belichick disciples put pencils in their ears. We’ve seen countless investors try to work the market like Buffett thinking that will yield the same results.

It’s often said that “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery,” but imitation out of insecurity or a belief that our current personality can’t satisfy the demands of the job can lead to straying badly out of character.

And that can be fatal — particularly for Type Bs.   

We should always strive to acquire new skills, learn pertinent information and improve our emotional intelligence.

But the core of who we are can never be rooted in trying to imitate something we’re not.

Make Fear Your Tailwind

So many of us are only one play or encounter away from our once-in-a-lifetime moment.

It was Easter Sunday in 1974, and 21-year-old Jimmy Iovine was getting ready for church when suddenly the phone rang around 10 a.m.

It was his boss, Roy Cicala, John Lennon’s go-to engineer at Record Plant Studios in New York. Iovine was ordered to get to the office to handle the phones, so he ditched his parents’ church plans and dashed out the door.

Iovine was Record Plant’s always-willing gopher and would do whatever it took to prove his worth. If Cicala told him to jump, Iovine would ask “How high?”

Several years later, while working as Cicala’s assistant engineer on a Lennon album, Iovine had something happen that would change his life forever.

Cicala and Lennon got into a heated argument one day about the mixing of the sound. Lennon grew so enraged that he fired Cicala on the spot, telling Iovine he was now the man in charge.

Was Iovine ready at that point? Probably not. But was he going to show this lack of confidence? No chance.

He knew “once-in-a-lifetime” happens only once. He was going to use his fear as a tailwind and rely on what his father called his “magic ears” to prove Lennon right. Iovine trusted his talent and never looked back.

So many of us are just like Iovine, only a single play or encounter away from our once-in-a-lifetime moment. We just need a little luck or happenstance to break our way.

But if we hesitate or allow fear to be the headwind that controls us, we won’t have the career we dream about.

Fear is a powerful motivator if used in the right amount, and Iovine used it to give him confidence and extra incentive to do the job.

He wasn’t going to rubber-stamp everything Lennon wanted or become his “Yes man.” He was going to do what he felt was right because he knew Lennon wanted the truth.

Getting promoted into a bigger role is always frightening. We often ask ourselves questions like “Am I ready?” or “Do I actually deserve this chance?”

When these scenarios come up moving forward, let’s make sure we don’t simply dismiss fear as a bad thing and let it hold us back.

If used properly, it can be the tailwind that helps us reach our destination even faster.

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