Information for educational purposes only.
At the summer Olympics in Athens, twenty-one-year-old Oscar Figueroa placed 5th in the men’s weightlifting competition and came to Beijing in 2008 hoping to better his performance. Unfortunately, due to a cervical disc injury he failed to make a lift in the snatch category and left the Games without posting a result. Failure and a risky surgery did not stop Figueroa. With a new coach, he began training immediately and arrived in London in 2012 stronger and mentally committed. With maximum concentration, he completed an Olympic Record lift of 177 kg, earning a Silver Medal.
A second painful surgery followed success in London, yet Figueroa maintained focus, practicing meditation and preparing mentally as well as physically for Rio de Janeiro in 2016. Observers noted that he remained remarkably calm before a roaring crowed, with Colombian fans “in a frenzy” and rivals falling away.(1) In Figueroa’s own words, he knew that in order to win, “…you had to believe, to trust, to desire, to be disciplined…the only way was to keep working.” (2) At age 33 in Rio, Figueroa fell to his knees and burst into tears after winning the men’s competition and taking home Gold. “I never give up.”
- “Against All Odds,” video, retrieved January 10, 2021, https://www.olympicchannel.com/en/athletes/detail/oscar-figueroa/
The emergence of Covid-19 has forced all of us to change the way we conduct our lives. For nearly a year, people in every circumstance and walk of life have dealt with an invisible threat to the health of family, friends, and neighbors, as well as the distress imposed by economic uncertainties.
While there is encouraging news about COVID vaccines, daily life continues to be challenging as infections again surge. We still need what some military sources call “mental armor” to cope and carry on, to remain resilient and adaptable.
A key component of my own mental armor is meditation, which I use to mask the “noise” of the daily news and other distractions. I use both inner-focused meditation techniques and outwardly directed practices to help me to focus and “clear the decks.”
The second component is finding a purpose beyond my own immediate concerns. As psychiatrist and concentration camp survivor Viktor Frankl wrote in Man’s Search for Meaning “Those who have a ‘why’ to live, can bear with almost any ‘how.’” I also adhere to ideas expressed in Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience: “It is by being fully involved with every detail of our lives, whether good or bad, that we find happiness, not by trying to look for it directly.” For me, this means being clear about my intentions, setting goals slightly above my ability and engaging in physical activity. I see these philosophies at work when I run marathons and climb mountains to raise money for cancer research and in my commitment to financially support an Asian researcher. Fighting cancer has profound personal meaning for me.
Finally, I find the Stoic philosophy helpful. Epictetus (50 A.D.–135 A.D.) wrote that, “Some things are within our control and others not.” The Greek philosopher consistently considered the capacity for choice and the limits of “volition,” writing, “There is only one way to happiness and that is to cease worrying about things which are beyond the power of our will.”
In essence, leadership is the art of guiding a group of people toward a common goal. But what are the qualities of an effective leader? Is it a matter of charismatic personality or something that can be learned and cultivated? My interest in leadership led me to an article in the Harvard Business Review entitled, “What Sets Successful CEOs Apart?”
The writers of the HBR piece, noting that 25% of CEO departures are involuntary, conducted a ten-year study called the CEO-genome project. The resulting data disputes the frequent assumption that a successful CEO is most likely to be a tall, extroverted visionary with an Ivy League education and an astronomical IQ. In fact, the key finding was that, “successful chief executives tend to demonstrate four specific behaviors” and that most high-performance CEOs excel in more than one of these four behaviors. Those with a poor leadership profile rarely do so.
The Four Behaviors
Deciding with speed and conviction
High-performing CEOs “make decisions earlier, faster, and with greater conviction…even amid ambiguity, with incomplete information, and in unfamiliar domains.” In fact, leaders who were indecisive were much more likely to be fired than those who simply made one bad decision.
Engaging for Impact
Once a decision has been made, the CEO must get people “aligned around the goal of value creation.” Per the study, CEOs with a results orientation were “75% more successful in the role.” And while good leaders do solicit information and ideas, they must also be willing to engage in conflict and ultimately, chart a clear course—giving “everyone a voice but not a vote.”
The authors’ analysis shows that leaders who excel at adapting “are 6.7 times more likely to succeed.” Equally, the ability to adapt requires an ability to think long-term and anticipate change.
Project data indicates that reliability is paramount. “A stunning 94% of the strong CEO candidates we analyzed scored high on consistently following through on their commitments.” The writers also note that reliable results require the ability to effectively organize, plan, systematize and build a strong team.
I think anyone can benefit by practicing these four behaviors. After all, imagine an indecisive military leader, a football quarterback who can’t adapt to moment-by-moment shifts on the field, or any leader in business who doesn’t engage and motivate his or her team. I hope you will find this information as useful as I have.
Botelho, Elena Lytkina; Powell, Kim Rosenkoetter; Kincade, Stephen; Wang, Dina, “What Sets Successful CEOs Apart,” Leadership Transitions, Harvard Business Review, https://hbr.org/2017/05/what-sets-successful-ceos-apart
— CNBC (@CNBC) May 20, 2019
The question arose after reading an article in The New Yorker by Douglas Starr, professor emeritus of science journalism at Boston University. (1) Although the article was written with regard to how the concept of swarm intelligence might apply to guiding a response to the current pandemic, Starr prompted me to consider how it might apply to sports and even more broadly.
First, a definition: swarm intelligence is the “phenomenon in which groups of animals act in concert” or when people “come together to create a synergy that magnifies their individual capabilities.” It differs from cooperation, in which people work together in a structured way to achieve a specific goal. Starr notes that, “…it’s an emotional and reactive behavior, not a plan that can be written out on a flowchart.” It’s the unified action of soldiers in battle, or the way that a basketball team can seem to move as one.
I drew from Starr’s article 5 essential elements of “swarm intelligence:”
- Unity of purpose
- Adoption of a spirit of generosity
- “Stay in your lane”
- “Check your ego at the door,” decline to seek credit or assign blame
- Interpersonal trust and respect
In an interesting way, retired college football coach Urban Myers’ in a recent Twitter post, refutes the idea that “bad players” are the cause of poor team performance. According to Myer, you have to “look under the hood,” where you will discover:
- Trust issues – between players and coach or among the players
- Dysfunctional environment – e.g., high performance expectations, but a lack of discipline and hard work
- Selfishness – a lack of generosity and mutual support among players
For both journalist and coach, exceptional performance as a team or in Starr’s case, a task force, requires a shared sense of purpose, a spirit of generosity and an environment of trust and respect. These values are at work whatever your game.
Powerful words from Urban Meyer🎯 pic.twitter.com/aybObRUbuY
— CoachTube.com (@thecoachtube) November 14, 2020
Over the years I’ve learned a couple of useful facts about cutting weight. Once the food you eat leaves the stomach, it passes into the large and small intestine, which are approximately 25 feet long. Generally, it takes steak three days, chicken two days and fish one day to travel through our gastrointestinal tract (GI). Take those time frames into consideration as you get closer to competition day. Since your intestines are a membrane, proper hydration is necessary. Be sure to drink plenty of water and get in some pool or tub time.
I blend half of my favorite cereal along with Fiber One Cereal, Original Bran. It makes a great late-night snack instead of a midnight burger run. Also, consider cutting out fiber the night before a competition.
Intestinal health appears to be important to one’s overall health, resistance to disease and response to treatment. Recently, I read a study stating that cancer patients with good gut bacteria were more receptive to immunotherapy treatments.
If you had 15 minutes with a Nobel Laureate, what would you ask?
— The Nobel Prize (@NobelPrize) March 7, 2019
“The organization will let you work on whatever you want to work on. You just have to make sure you are working on things only you can work on… Certainly true if you are going through a period of tremendous scrutiny or big changes… You have to set time aside to make sure you know where you are.” Qualcomm CEO Steve Mollenkopf, minute 22.
Mr. Mollenkopk’s words had a big impact on me as an entrepreneur as there are no shortage of items that need attention. His comments bring clarity to how to prioritize tasks to determine what needs should be delegated versus owned. End goal is efficiency as to avoid burnout as one scales mountains.
Louis Gerstner’s book Who Says Elephants Can’t Dance is a fascinating account of the former IBM CEO’s historic turnaround of the tech giant. One lesson I took away from the book (available on Audible.com) was that Gerstner initially made no major decisions, but rather spent time talking with different divisions. One when he had a clear idea of IBM’s needs across the organization, did Gerstner develop an overarching strategy that served to right the ship. This collaborative approach relates to author Steven Kotler’s statement in Stealing Fire about the kind of leader Google was seeking in a CEO: someone able “…to let go of his ego, merge with the team…” Stealing Fire by Steven Kotler and Jamie Wheal is available on Audible.com.
How Google used Burning Man to find a CEO who was familiar with group flow pic.twitter.com/saUgEX2q2r
— Business Insider (@businessinsider) January 19, 2019
“They also make the very clever shift away from seeing those in their industry as competitors and rather see them as rivals. A competitor is someone you want to beat. And the obsession again is too much on the finite. What are the metrics, how are we going to get ahead of them? A rival is someone who’s strengths reveals to you your weaknesses. So to see those in your industry and admire where they are better than you, instead of trying to beat them, you look at where your weaknesses are, and improve. It’s constant improvement.” -Simon Sinek
Finite and Infinite Games by James Carse is a very interesting book and available on Audible. The Infinite Game by Simon Sinek is scheduled to be released June 6, 2019. Can’t wait!
Success demands not believing the hype, or lack thereof, tunnel vision, GRIT and resilience. Each level becomes ever the more challenging but the formula remains the same: Just do the work.
Just downloaded Barking Up The Wrong Tree by Eric Barker on Audible.com.
The average GPA of college millionaires is 2.9 — find out why pic.twitter.com/HSpkveZHqS
— Business Insider (@businessinsider) December 13, 2018
A recent conversation with a friend about acid reflux brought up a 2004 email from my father. Below content from his email is the framework in which I think about the food I eat. While the average pH value of yogurt is about 4, which is somewhat acidic, a drinkable yogurt from Trader Joe’s always settles my stomach.
“Strong alkaline food: Grape, tea, Seaweed.
Medium alkaline food: Yellow bean, tomato, pumpkin, strawberry, lemon,
spinach, banana, & egg white.
Weak alkaline food: Red bean, apple, onion, tofu, green color
Strong acidic food: Egg (yellow portion), cheese, persimmon.
Medium acidic food: Bacon, pork, beef, margarine, bread, wheat,
chicken & fish.
Weak acidic food: Rice, peanut, beer, clam, oil fries.
85% of cancer patients have acidic body fluid (pH< 7.4). Best acidic foods: alkaline foods ratio is 1:3”