How Hawkeyes from Iowa show Heart

Iowa Hawkeye fans wave to patients of Stead Family Children’s Hospital after the first quarter at a recent game. Photo by Jeffrey Becker, USA TODAY Sports Images

There is a new tradition happening in college football and many may not be aware of it. But on Saturdays in Iowa City, Iowa, more than 70,000 fans wearing their beloved Hawkeye black and gold (and probably even the visiting fans too), turn to the east and – if during the day – begin waving, and – if at night – wave and even include their lights on their mobile phones.

However, they’re not waving their team onto the field or participating in a school fight song. Instead, they are waving to those who are already doing battle without any pads on, but with courage in their hearts. The Iowa faithful are waving at patients and their families in the newly opened University of Iowa Stead Family Children’s Hospital next door.

A Facebook fan suggestion has turned into one of the coolest, most sincere, perhaps most touching and gentle traditions for a sport where opponents crash and collide into each other with brute force. But at the end of the first quarter, there it is … tens of thousands waving to the tenth floor of the hospital, where the children and their families are watching the Hawkeyes from above. For these children and families, their daily battle may involve cancer, cystic fibrosis and diabetes (read more about some of these brave patients), but for just a moment, they are able to feel like normal kids, joining in with thousands of others on Saturday in the fall, rooting on their favorite team.

Given the theme of the blog, what communication tips can be taking from this sentimental sports story? Three important ones:

  1. The Big Picture: While they play a game below, the patients above are fighting for their lives. Instead of pretending they have a bubble inside the stadium, they realize there are those facing more serious situations right over their shoulder, and pausing during the game day festivities to recognize those brave individuals above. In the workplace, it’s easy to get caught up in just your individual task or what your team is doing. But taking a step back to see how your contribution can be part of the larger picture, or how you help solve a bigger problem, will ensure you always have a profound perspective.
  2. Inclusion: It would be easy for the football program or even the fans to forget about what building is looming over them or the tenants inside. However, instead of turning their backs, they turn their hands back and forth, helping to include the children and their families as part of the larger game-day family, providing a brief bit of normalcy in their daily fight. At work, don’t forget those who may be on the periphery as well. Ensuring the broader team is updated and feels they are part of the project will help ensure that everyone is not only on the same page, but an invested part of the process – and success.
  3. It’s Never Too Late: Usually traditions have been something already occurring over time. However, Iowa’s new tradition is just a few weeks old and one that is sure to have staying power. In our jobs, just because it hasn’t been done before, doesn’t mean something new cannot be created with a lasting impact. Stay innovative and keep thinking of new ways to enhance any experience. The best traditions may be ones waiting to be discovered at any moment.

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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.

5 Lessons from the Championship-Winning Teams of 2014

YR End Blog Pic

As 2014 comes to a close, here’s a look back at the champions of the major American sporting leagues and what communication lessons could be learned from each of these title-clinching teams.

(NFL) Seattle Seahawks – Proving that defense really does win championships, the ‘hawks beat up the Denver Broncos, 43-8, while paying the Super Bowl in New York…in January…outside. Riding a wave of momentum all season, the team was backed by its “12th Man” of fans while using the slogan “Why Not Us?” on their way to the big game blowout.

  • Lesson – Mutual Engagement Drives a Successful Shared Experience: Engaging your brand “fans” and involving them in your success helps to drive not only their engagement, but a feeling of inclusion. Plus, the team’s internal slogan gave everyone in the organization a common rallying cry, uniting them in their goal.

(NHL) L.A. Kings – Honestly, I don’t watch much hockey…maybe it’s my adverse reaction to a championship on ice being played in the middle of summer. But, the Kings did win their second title in three years in 2014, in a commanding 4-games-to-1 performance. They also did so while playing in 26 playoff games, the longest of any Stanley Cup-winning team in history.

  • Lesson – Enduring the Long Road Can Lead to Dominance: Playing 26 playoff games in any sport seems like a daunting task. However, focusing on each series and not looking too far down the road, helped the Kings keep their focus during their impressive journey. While it may seem impossible on the outset, persevering during the long, challenging times can lead to a momentous accomplishment.

(NBA) San Antonio Spurs – The franchise won its fifth title in five games over the Miami Heat and put itself into the debate of being the most recent NBA dynasty.

  • Lesson – The Big Team is Better than the Big Three: San Antonio is known for not being flashy, but always having the right team members step up when it counts. In 2014, it was young forward Kawhi Leonard that helped propel the Spurs to beat the Heat. Eventually Miami’s big three of Bosh, Wade, and James broke up, proving it’s not always good to be “king.” More importantly, it illustrated that multiple teammates fulfilling their specific roles can be better than a few members trying to do everything.

(MLB) San Francisco Giants – Earning their third title in just five years, the Giants won the World Series in seven games over my hometown and beloved Kansas City Royals. So just how did this team by the Bay stop a Royals team from the city of fountains?

  • Lesson – Sometimes All You Need is One: Despite the Royals’ incredible run in the postseason (they won the most playoff games possible without winning the title), the Giants possessed a pitcher in Madison Bumgarner that simply shut them down every time he took the mound. En route to becoming arguably the best World Series pitcher of all time, he proved that while one may be the loneliest number, sometimes, one great solution can overcome several good obstacles.

(MLS) L.A. Galaxy – The soccer franchise became the first in Major League Soccer win five titles (2002, 2005, 2011, 2012, 2014), with a 2-1 victory over the New England Revolution.

  • Lesson – Keep Evolving to Maintain Greatness: Perhaps just as impressive as the five titles are that the franchise has appeared in half of MLS’ championship games since its inception in 1996. The nine appearances over the league’s 18 years have occurred with different players and coaches, each tweaking lineups, rotations, and strategy, but all equaling amazing results. Even if it’s not broken, you may still want to try and fix it.

So overall, what was the general theme from all of these winning teams? That is, besides the Pacific time zone apparently being the one to play in?

Simple: The teams used what worked for them. While imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery, when a team – of players or employees – relies on its own innovation, that’s when championship performances are made.

 

Thank you for following Lessons from Left Field as it began in 2014. I look forward to sharing more communication takes with you from what the sporting world brings us in 2015.

3 Communications Lessons from the Ray Rice Incident

Running back Ray Rice of the Baltimore Ravens during a news conference with his wife Janay at the Ravens training center on May 23 in Owings Mills, Md. (Photograph by Rob Carr/Getty Images)

Ray Rice, then of the Baltimore Ravens, and his wife Janay speak at a press conference at the Ravens training center on May 23 after the first video surfaced. (Photograph by Rob Carr/Getty Images)

Yesterday, the video of professional football player Ray Rice slugging his then fiancée (and now wife) in the face in an elevator was released online. With the punch, the victim was lifted off her feet, hit her head on a railing, and crashed in an unconscious heap to the ground.

Up to this point, all that the public saw was Rice dragging the lifeless body of Janay Palmer out of the elevator. That elicited a two-game suspension from the NFL, then after a month of public outcry, the NFL left the suspension in place, but implemented heavier penalties for domestic abuse violations in the future.

With the video showing the whole incident, Rice was release from his employer and suspended indefinitely from the National Football League. There are a multitude of failures across the board and issues much deeper than this simple blog. From this tragic current event, here are three communications lessons that any company can learn from when faced with a possible crisis situation:

  • Don’t make up rules as you go along: Remember when we didn’t like it when our friends made up rules to a game we played as kids? Yeah, we don’t like it as adults either, especially when it comes to employment. The NFL issued a punishment, then made it more severe, then issued even a different penalty once they discovered more evidence. This leads to a credibility and trust issue for an organization, which I’ve talked about before here.
  • Don’t move forward without all the facts: Somehow the NFL didn’t have all of the video evidence before issuing its initial penalty. Despite any public outcry, explain to your audience that you understand the need for a quick resolution, but want to have all of the facts in place so that an educated – and complete – decision can be made. Otherwise, you end up with the public questioning not only your back-and-forth, but your apparent incompetence to do proper background security checks.
  • Don’t send someone else to deliver your message: The Baltimore Ravens sent their head coach in front of the cameras to comment on the team releasing Rice…by himself. However, the owner/CEO/President/General Manager should have spoken instead, or at least been at the podium with him, since they most likely made the final decision. This would have presented a united front and featured an owner actually taking ownership of the situation.

As mentioned earlier, at hand is a much more serious issue, such as the victim still deciding to stay with, and marry, her abuser. For those that may need help or are not sure where to go for help, the National Domestic Abuse Hotline is 1.800.799.7233 (SAFE). You may also visit their website at thehotline.org. Trained help is available for free 24/7.