What to Say When the Worst Happens

Photo by John Sleezer, K.C. Star

Yordano Ventura. Photo by John Sleezer, K.C. Star

Yesterday was a stark reminder that every day is not promised; rather it should be cherished. Kansas City Royals pitcher Yordano Ventura, just 25 years old, who went from high school dropout to millionaire World Series winner, died in a car crash on Sunday, Jan. 22 in his home country of the Dominican Republic.

Shock, disbelief, perhaps denial, but definitely sadness is being felt by anyone that knew him, felt like they knew him, or had any connection to him. A player who many felt his best years were still ahead of him, despite a meteoric rise the past two years. A player who many middle-aged people thought should learn to mature, (although how mature were many of us at 24 and 25 years of age?). A player affectionately nicknamed “Ace” (for the movie character Ace Ventura) whose smile warmed a room and melted any doubt that he was having fun playing the game of baseball.

When something like this happens to your team, to your company, or to your organization, what do you do? When do you it? How do you do it? But the most important question of all is: What do you say when the worst happens?

In a time of reeling emotions, it’s best to focus on just four words in preparing a response: let the heart lead.

That’s what many of Ventura’s teammates did in their reactions (see here and here), and what the Royals organization did in their initial response. They emblazoned their scoreboard (aka Crown Vision) with a tribute image, they offered a candlelight vigil at the stadium last night, and perhaps most importantly, they allowed fans to show their grief, support and emotion however they saw fit by creating makeshift memorial outside Kauffman Stadium.

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Royals fans create a makeshift memorial for Yordano Ventura outside Kauffman Stadium after learning of his death on Jan. 22, 2017. Photo by John Sleezer.

  • When you let the heart lead, true and genuine words follow. The fondest memories naturally rise and help create a great illustration of who the person truly was.
  • When you let the heart lead, you enable others to feel and share in your emotional connection, helping to create a shared bonding experience.
  • When you let the heart lead, you show your true sympathies, exhibiting a transparent sense of loss and understanding for those that feel the same.
  • When you let the heart lead, perfection is not expected and raw emotions are embraced. More often than not, these are the right emotions and the right words to address the situation, share in what others are feeling, and begin the journey toward healing.

As the days pass and the next baseball season begins, many other words will be written about Ventura. His number 30 should rightfully be adorned on the uniforms of Royals players this year. There is even a petition to retire his number, which would be just the fourth Royals number ever. All that will be determined in due time.

In this and any moment of sudden and tragic loss, whether it be a teammate, coworker, friend or colleague, no amount of preparation can prepare you for exactly how you will feel or react. But letting the heart lead will at least start you in the right direction and place you on the correct path of remembrance and recovery.

 

Note: Former big league infield Andy Marte was also tragically killed in an unrelated car crash in the Dominican Republic yesterday. Thoughts and prayers with the Ventura and Marte families.

The K-State Way: Improve A Little Bit Every Day

K-State's 'family' ties propelled the team to a 2016 Texas Bowl championship. Photo by Bo Rader, Wichita Eagle

K-State’s ‘family’ ties propelled the team to a 2016 Texas Bowl championship. Photo by Bo Rader, Wichita Eagle

Kansas State (K-State) Coach Bill Snyder did it again. He took a team with little to no expectations – picked 8th in the 10-team Big 12 – along with having the youngest squad in his 25 years with the school and finished fourth in the league, capping the season with a win in the 2016 Texas Bowl. Their 9-4 season marked the 14th time in his 25-year tenure with K-State in which his football team has won 9 or more games. That’s 56 percent of the time; not bad for regular winning percentage, but almost unbelievable for a percentage of winning nearly double-digit games for a quarter of a century.

Fans may also point out that the 2016 team is also the unofficial Texas State Champs, defeating all five Power 5 conference teams they played from the state: Baylor, TCU, Texas, Texas Tech and Texas A&M.

So how does he (and K-State) do it, and what can any company or organization learn from it? The secret is not one at all, but rather very public: 16 Goals for Success:

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16 goals. In our daily world, it may be a lot to remember. But I believe if you focus on one in particular, the rest will follow: Goal No. 4: Improve Every Day. Or as Coach Snyder often says, “Improve just a little bit every day.”

This helps large tasks seem manageable and puts you on a path of continued improvement, constant focus, and relentless determination.

Not sure how you’ll achieve a 365-pecent increase in sales for the year? “Improve just a little bit every day” and aim for only 1 percent per day. By the end of the year, you’ll have met your goal.

How do I even start putting together a strategic plan for 2017? “Improve just a little bit every day” and start with only three objectives you want to accomplish; it will build momentum and likely spur more ideas for a well-developed plan.

How do I keep up with the trends in my industry when new items are developing seemingly every day? “Improve just a little bit every day” and pick one to focus on; you’ll become a specialist on that item, carving out a niche for yourself and your newfound expertise.

While we embark on a new year many will inevitably attempt resolutions to stop something, start something, or try something else. However, focusing on measurable ways of “improving just a little bit every day” will truly show you how far you’ve come and 2017 will be marked as a year of growth and accomplishment instead of possible regret and underachievement.

And while you may not make 16 goals for yourself in the new year, or lead a team to a bowl win, by “improving just a little bit every day” you will accomplish one thing: become a resounding success.

Why Kevin Durant’s Decision Was a No-Brainer

Photo: Sporting News

Photo: Sporting News

Imagine if you received national condemnation for leaving the company you were with since college because you found a better opportunity for personal and career growth. You put your heart and soul into your first job, strived to do as much for the company as you could, and almost reached the pinnacle of your profession at that company.

But then, an opportunity arose at another company; one which may have even been a competitor. They offered you a chance to grow in your profession and perhaps a greater chance of reaching that career milestone that seemingly all great professionals in your industry are measured against. Why wouldn’t you take it?

That’s what NBA superstar Kevin Durant did. On Monday, July 4, he decided to leave the Oklahoma City Thunder (previously Seattle Supersonics); a team without a title in 37 years and just one conference championship since, in 2012. He opted to join the Golden State Warriors; a team that is a year removed from an NBA title and just a month removed from achieving the most wins in NBA regular season history. But people are upset.

People like ESPN sports personality Stephen A. Smith, who is paid to flamboyantly criticize others. Grown men in Oklahoma City are taking to burning their Kevin Durant basketball jerseys (sounds like bigger issues may be at play there). Other teams and fans are complaining that the “rich are getting richer.”

But how can you blame Kevin Durant?

Inevitably, all arguments about sports’ greatest players come down to “How many rings (aka championships) do they have?” It’s never, “Well they are the greatest because they never left their first team and they almost won it all one year.” Sometimes you give it all you got and it’s not enough in some situations. Just ask the Buffalo Bills teams from the early 1990s.

An athlete’s career is much shorter than us office warriors; their time to reach this type of opportunity far more limited. In any work environment, one should do the best they can and do all they can, not just from a personal development standpoint, but for the benefit of the organization. Sometimes there’s only so much an individual can do in that position as well. When you’ve maxed out the opportunity, it may benefit both employee and employer to look for a new fit.

So what communications lesson can be learned from this announcement? Maybe just one: It’s a shame on a day when the country is celebrating its independence – noted by leaving its original situation and moving to a newer and better opportunity – that many also took the chance to denounce someone for doing just that.

Lead Like LeBron

LeBron

More than two years ago, LeBron James returned to Cleveland. With it, the entire state of Ohio was placed on the broad shoulders of his 6’8”, 260-pound frame, more than 50 years of championship baggage from every local team dragging behind him, and one goal looming overhead: bring a championship back to Cleveland.

On the night of Sunday, June 19, 2016, weight was lifted, curses reversed, and the goal reached, with more than 30 million people watching. He led his team as the first to come back from a three-games-to-one deficit and win the title. He led his team to defeat an opponent that won more games in the regular season than any team in history. And he led his team – and the other team – in points, rebounds, assists, steals, and blocks in the seven-game finals, on his way to MVP honors.

This was James’ sixth straight appearance in the NBA Finals and seventh overall. He won twice with Miami, lost twice with Miami, and lost twice with Cleveland. It is common for pundits to wonder which road – through which team – another team must beat to win the title. Perhaps the answer has been there all along…the road to the Finals has been running through James.

And he has been running toward his ultimate goal: returning a trophy to his hometown. James did it in spectacular fashion with efforts like this, which will simply be known as “The Block:”

James has gone through a maturation process before our eyes from a high-profile high schooler, to making a misstep in announcing his departure for Miami,* to an older, more humble, and perhaps wiser man returning to Cleveland. While neither you nor I can run, jump, shoot, or defy gravity like LeBron James, we can do one thing like him: learn to lead. Here are three lessons he’s provided:

  1. Believe in Yourself and Those Assembled around You. While everyone may not be as talented as the main player or the CEO, each person brings something different to the team, while all work toward the same goal. Historically, it was easy to doubt the Cavaliers as no other team had come back from such a deficit. James helped his team, and city, believe the seemingly impossible. And now they do…with a new trophy in hand.
  1. Focus on Today before Worrying about Tomorrow. Do you know how you climb a mountain? Easy: one step at a time. The Cavaliers couldn’t win three games in one night. Not even two. To achieve such a comeback, they needed to only win Game 5. And then Game 6. And then Game 7. A monumental task may not be accomplished in one day, but breaking it up and achieving small goals toward your overall victory makes it not only manageable, but achievable.
  1. Let the Haters Hate. When you’re anointed “The Chosen One” and do yourself no favors by referring to yourself as “The King,” as James has done, criticism and scrutiny are sure to follow. Even when you try your best or do your best, others will compare you to others, not acknowledge your achievements, or even simply refuse to like you.One of the toughest parts of leading is realizing not everyone is going to like or agree with you. But leading isn’t about being liked. It’s about staying true to what you believe is right; the plan you have put in place, the people on your team, and the small victories on your way to your overall goal. Like James, block out the noise and focus on the vision. In the end, you’ll be the one smiling – or crying with tears of joy – at what you’ve accomplished.

 

*Many chastised LeBron (including me) for announcing that he was “taking his talents to Miami” in a televised spectacle that riled many, especially those in Cleveland. However, what many sometimes forget (including me) is that this “horrible PR move” still raised $2.5 million for the Boys and Girls club of Greenwich, Conn. If only all of our worst PR moves were still so charitable.