This Is One Of The Best Commencement Speeches EVER

Well, this is an insta-classic.

U.S. Navy admiral and University of Texas, Austin, alumnus William H. McRaven returned to his alma mater last week to give seniors 10 lessons from basic SEAL training when he spoke at the school’s commencement.

McRaven, the commander of the U.S. Special Operations Command who organized the raid that killed Osama bin Laden, stressed the importance of making your bed every morning, taking on obstacles headfirst, and realizing that it’s OK to be a “sugar cookie.”

All of his lessons were supported by personal stories from McRaven’s many years as a Navy SEAL.  You need to watch the 20 minute video to grasp the magnitude of his words, but here’s the list of his 10 lessons.

If you want to change the world, start off by making your bed.

If you want to change the world, find someone to help you paddle.

If you want to change the world, measure a person by the size of their heart, not the size of their flippers.

If you want to change the world get over being a sugar cookie and keep moving forward.

If you want to change the world, don’t be afraid of the circuses.

If you want to change the world sometimes you have to slide down the obstacle head first.

If you want to change the world, don’t back down from the sharks.

If you want to change the world, you must be your very best in the darkest moment.

If you want to change the world, start singing when you’re up to your neck in mud.

If you want to change the world don’t ever, ever ring the bell.

 

The Old Wise Man And The Eager Young Chap

“….But I thought it would be easier than this. It’s really hard.  It’s tough and I don’t know what I am doing.  What am I supposed to do?”

A long time ago in a far away land an old wise man and an eager young chap were taking a walk and talking about life.  The young chap was eager to do great things in the world but seemed to stumble each time he pushed forward.  Desperate and in despair, he sought out the wisdom of the old village elder in hopes to find his answer.

SadhuThe elder – being the oldest and wisest man in the village – had heard such worries before and was no stranger to these youthful cries.

“Young chap, I sense you need to understand something very important about this life.”

“Huh, what’s that?” The eager boy snuffed and wiped his head to push his hair out of his face.

“What you don’t realize is your most pressing and worrisome issues are everyone else’s least pressing and worrisome issues.  They are yours and yours alone to figure out.  No one can tell you what to do, you need to discover the answers yourself.”

“Wait, what do you mean?  You don’t care about me and my problems?”

“I didn’t say that, young man, but I do think you need to look deeper.”

Confused, the young boy lowered his head and looked down towards the ground.

“Do you know what I am struggling with right now, just as you have come to me with your hardships?”

“No I don’t, what?” the young chap whispered.

“I have lived a long time, many years more than you have.  I fear my time on this earth is coming to an end very quickly, and although I have lived a blessed life I am having a hard time letting go of life.  I love my family, my community and all the great experiences I have encountered.  Even as you notice me struggling to walk up this path, my heart is as young as yours and desires exactly what your young heart does.  I cannot let go of life but will be forced to very soon and this troubles me.  And because of that I live each minute as if it is my last – just as this moment is the most important thing to me right now – and I choose to not have a care in the world.  I put my entire heart and youthful energy into experiencing everything about this moment so as to take in as much as I can before I go.  I turn my biggest fear into my greatest strength.  And in that way, I fully live and discover things I would normally have not.”

“I sense you aren’t doing that, are you my young chap?”

A long silence fell over the old wise man and the young chap.

After a while, the young chap responded.  “No… ummm, I’m not.  I think I’m scared.  I think I’m scared of what others would think about me if I lived without any limits or cares as to what they thought.  What if I fail?  What will they think then?”

The old wise man stopped, turned and looked the young chap in the face with his piercing blue eyes and said “Son, never forget this lesson, it is you who cares the most about if you succeed or not.  It is you who is holding yourself back.  And if this is true for you it is true for the rest of the world.   No one cares but only about themselves.  You must go forth and do everything you dare dream of with little worry about what the rest of the world thinks.  They are too busy searching for their own village elder to help them figure out why they are struggling…  just like you.”

And with that, the wise old man vanished through a small path between two trees and was gone.

Smiling and a bit fazed the young chap scratched his chin, thought about the wise words for a moment and with a renewed look of determination walked the other way.

Building Confidence

My last post talked about the confidence the Seahawks portrayed throughout their Championship season.  In it, I pointed out founders need to embody a confidence about themselves if they want others to follow.

But how do you do embody confidence?

And how do you build it stronger, especially when you are just starting out?

Find, understand and polish your vision

The first step in developing your confidence is to figure out who you really are and why you are doing what you do.  This comes in the form of identifying your vision – the reason for your businesses existence – and putting it in terms others can relate to.  One must ask themselves questions like “why does the world need my idea?” “what is the problem I am solving?”  “what is it that if I gave it to people, and then took it away, they would break down my door and demand back?”  These questions will help define your vision for a better world.

This is especially hard to for technical people since they think more in technical/functional terms, which most laymen don’t understand.  Most people can’t grasp “we are creating a device smaller than a desktop PC, specific to telephony, but can also access hypertext protocol and other applications for utility.”

But, people easily understand “connect with people across the world  from the palm of your hand.”

Get comfortable at rejection

The only way to get a yes is to get through a no first.  Think of the most confident people in your own life, and know they have been rejected more times than most.  A prerequisite to a strong confidence is the ability to take a no, to be rejected and be shot down by others around them.

How do you do that?

Put yourself out there, take investor meetings and allow them to critique your concept and vision.  Ask the smartest people you know to join your startup.  When these people say no, ask why?  Using these inputs, you will learn how to adjust on the fly and what you should change in your approach.

Rejection challenges one’s constitution.  It makes them look in the mirror, take account and look deeper as to why they are doing what they do.

It’s important because like exercise, these negative experiences put the individual into a position to either learn from it and get even stronger in their confidence, or face the reality they need to leave their vision  altogether and go a different direction.  Which road will be taken?  Either way, they are progressing toward a position of more confidence.

Bring more people along with you

Armed with a vision and the strength built up from taking no’s along the way, it’s now time to find others to join you in your pursuit.  Nothing builds more confidence as much as the feeling of people jumping onboard and joining you in your vision.  It’s the social proof principle, meaning the more people that join you, the more other people will want to join you.

The first few hires are always the most challenging, since people will ask themselves “why isn’t anyone else on the team?”  But once you have a team behind you (even a small team) you will feel invincible.  The confidence that comes with teammates standing behind you and convincing others to join their cause is indescribable.  Soon enough you will find yourself actually having to turn away people because they don’t quite fit the profile of who you are looking for.

It all starts with confidence.

Confidence begins when a person knows who they are and where they are going.  They determine that by identifying something in the world they want to change.  Once they can explain it clearly, others will understand and will want to join.  At that point, they will feel unstoppable.

I told You So

RG3I hate to say it but I will.

I told you so.

You may remember almost a year ago I wrote about The Washington Redskins and the failure of their team leadership when dealing with Robert Griffin III and his knee injuries.  During that post, I detailed their game against the Seattle Seahawks in which the Redskins – wanting to win and advance in the NFL playoffs – kept playing their highly talented rookie quarterback even though his was visibly hurt, risking his future at the same time.  One specific part of the article I will share again:

RG3 went down, and the future of the franchise lay on the ground to the disappointment of the silent stadium full of Redskins fans. Although the injury is not career threatening at this point, it’s arguable if RG3 will actually be able to play at the level he was before the injury.

So whose fault is it?

Not RG3′s. The problem is the person involved is not thinking clearly or wisely at the moment. They are focused on themselves, considering only the moment and the short term, not the long term. They do not understand the long-term ramifications of their actions. Even though RG3 said he could still play the responsibility to make the right decision ultimately falls on the coach, the leader of the team. He should be realistic enough to make the right decision.

Well, I told you so.

This year, The Washington Redskins – once favorites to win their division and challenge for the Super Bowl – are 3-10.  They will not even be making the playoffs and their coach is under intense scrutiny. Their quarterback RG3 has looked awful this year and it seems he still isn’t fully health, hasn’t regained his speed and quickness from before the ACL injury.

CBS reports Coach Shanahan is contemplating shutting RG3 down for the rest of the year so he can get healthy and concentrate on next year.

Though Griffin hasn’t been nearly as good in his second season as he was when he was a rookie, Shanahan said this isn’t an instance where he’s benching his quarterback because of performance issues. Instead, he’d do it to keep Griffin healthy going into the offseason.

Hmm, maybe something he should thought of last year before he chose to risk his future investment.

The point here is to not make fun of a struggling team (ha, the Seahawks are league leading 11-2) nor pick on an injured player.  It’s to review a huge leadership lesson from a year ago and look at it from the framework of what has transpired.

As I predicted last year, keeping Griffin in the game risked not only that season but they ended up losing the next one (that being this season).  It was a risk and they took it.

The thing is, as a leader our decisions have major consequences.  Sometimes the most drastic affect the immediate, such as the choice of throwing the ball to the wrong team as to cause an interception.  But sometimes – and often most times – our decisions have consequences we cannot see or aren’t even aware of yet.  They are long term consequences.

That last statement is the hardest part of Leadership.  Being a Leader is all about taking risks – albeit calculated and well thought out risks.  During a time of decision, you must be able to inuit enough about the future to understand the long term consequences of the choices right in front of you.  And unfortunately, maximizing for the immediate usually comes with a huge price tag in the future.

In this case, it might even be a shortened career of one of the most gifted quarterbacks to come out of college.

It’s tough to watch a highly talented athlete struggle like how RG3 is currently.  But it’s even harder to be in the leadership role and faced with difficult decisions.  Next time you find yourself in a challenging conundrum ask yourself what would you think about each choice a year from now.  Almost always, the one you will think higher of a year down the road is the choice you need to make today.

Better take time to think about the future now rather than mentally replaying the past and wishing you made a different decision.

The Value of Youth Sports In Startup Founder Success

A few recent conversations have turned towards youth sports participation and the valuable life lessons they provide.  One in particular stood out to me – youth sports participation is one of the best training grounds for a startup founder.

How would I know?  I was a competitive athlete pretty much since the time I could run, competed up until college and still remain athletic and competitive today.

soccer1Although I didn’t necessarily know it at the time, as I was playing youth soccer, basketball and baseball I was adequately preparing myself for a life long battle in the business world.  Learning to cope with immense challenge and competition is paramount to a person’s ability to achieve success.

I am so grateful for the experience and for my parents not forcing me into any specific activity, but rather allowing me to participate in a number of sports so that I could further develop my athletic ability, maximize my leadership skills and mature enough to determine which sport I more fully wanted to pursue.

It turned out it was Soccer, and it’s crazy to think back and imagine me as an 8 year old running around in a grassy field on an early Saturday morning thinking I’m just having fun when in actuality I was taking in and absorbing lessons which would help me in my life 20, 30 and 40 years down the line.

Below are just a few ways youth sports help develop a young energetic child into a strong willed startup founder.  I thank John Cook of GeekWire for the conversation that sparked these thoughts.

Teamwork

One of the first things you learn as a young athlete is how to play as a team and how to become the best teammate possible.  No soccer team can win with one person trying to play alone – teams must be able to depend on their offensive players, their defensive players and ultimately their goalie to perform to their best ability.  Players must be willing to step up and take the shot, yet at the same time be able to support and assist their other teammates if the organization is going to function properly.  This requires youth to understand which is which, and the appropriate timing of each decision.

Companies are the same way, they aren’t built by one person. Startup teams must be well rounded, supportive and willing to do whatever it takes to achieve success – for all members of the team.  That, or the team won’t exist.

Leadership

Even at the earliest of ages sports teams will vote on a player to become captain, basically naming the leader of the team.  I believe this is the single best thing we (should continue to) do for our youth.  Captains are usually the more talented of players, have wide ranging experience and are outgoing and not shy in their ways with others.  But most importantly they are willing to take on responsibility.  They must lead the team, delegate when appropriate and stand up for a teammate if something goes wrong.

I believe giving responsibility as early as possible is one of the best ways to develop great leaders.

Imagine the lessons a 10 year old is learning as they lead their team during youth competition.  He/she is learning the basic tenants of team leadership, things they can apply to almost any endeavor.  In short, they are the on-field CEO and the success or failure of the team will rest (at least somewhat) on their young shoulders.

I cover startup leadership quite a bit so if you are a regular reader you will know my basic thoughts on the subject.  Simply put, startup CEO’s need to take full responsibility for their organization from day one.  They must wear the captain’s band on their sleeve in plain view so everyone knows where the buck stops.  This is not for their ego; it’s for efficient and effective organizational structure.  Why should an employee ask 3 people a question when really they should go directly to the decision maker to get the best and quickest response?  If employees in a startup don’t know who the decision maker actually is, whatever startup they are a part of ain’t gonna be around very long.

Failing

I get it, losing is not why we play the game.   Go visit a sports park on a weekend and watch how kids react to losing nowadays.  Yet losing in sports – just as in life – happens.  It actually happens a lot.  Learning to fail gracefully is a huge lesson any person, especially for someone thinking about starting their own company.

Why am I telling you failing is good for children?  Failing, maybe even getting injured  in the process, and then getting back up and trying again shows young athletes that if you do not quit then each new day is a new opportunity to win.  Losing teaches children not everything in life is guaranteed.  In fact, it teaches us more often than not things will not go as originally planned.  Sometimes shit hits the fan and you need to retreat and regroup to determine your next move.  There’s your basic “strategic thinking” lesson in action, a skill founders must employ A LOT.  Losing teaches youth hard work is required to experience success against your competitors.

This is essentially the experience of any early stage founder.  Startups fail most of the time.  Using lessons from our youth we can realize we just need to get back up and try it again, and hopefully we learn something in the process.

Enduring Hard Work

Finally, part of learning from failing is gaining the endurance to last long enough so we can experience success.  I distinctly remember our training sessions during soccer season.  They sucked.  Even if we weren’t going to be the best in the state of Washington (which we were 3 out of 4 years) we were definitely going to be the most in shape.  Coach made it very clear we would be the team with the best endurance around.

So we ran.  A lot.  We ran until we dropped, and then we ran some more.  We learned to embrace hard work and earn our success.  We learned anything worth winning was worth enduring tough challenges and the hardest of practices.  It was our standard and we embraced it wholeheartedly.  We spoke it.  We lived it.  We practiced it and we played it.  No wonder we won the state championship 3 out of 4 years I was on the team.  It was in our our DNA and our blood.

Startup founders need to take ownership of their future.  They simply need to determine where they are going, commit to a standard and uphold it no matter the cost.  They need to bleed confidence to the point where their success is inevitable.  They need to work harder than their competition.  This doesn’t mean work the most hours as humanly possible, that would be as dumb as our soccer coach running us until we all pulled hamstrings, eliminating us from competition completely.  Startups must figure out how to work harder but also work smarter.   Determining and following quality performance standards will do wonders to founders and their startup teams.

Youth sports are fun but they are also incredibly valuable to our society.  If you are a parent I would encourage you to place your children in a positive environment where they can develop leadership and success skills as early as possible.

Just like you.

The Best Example Of Leadership I Have Ever Heard Comes From Bill Campbell

This is one of the best examples of leadership I have ever heard, given from Bill Campbell.  He was/is an executive coach to individuals such as Steve Jobs, the Google Founders (and many more) as well as Chairman of the board at Intuit.

A man asks a question late in the interview around how leaders should traverse the unstable landscape between political issues within their company.  Bill’s answer is spot on.

“As a CEO, your job is to break ties within the company, and if you cannot see where the ties are within your organization – then you shouldn’t be there.  You need to get to the bottom of it ASAP.”

Watch the clip at the 56:00 mark and if you have time watch the entire hour long interview.

How To Lead A Volunteer Army Into Uncharted Territory

You may have heard the description of founding a company is like leading a volunteer army.  I couldn’t agree more and want to dive deeper into the analogy to see if we can pull out some nuggets.

It’s true, most startups are formed by individuals who are passionate about their idea.  But, the fact is passion does not actually get the work done and they cannot do it all on their own.  They will need to attract other talented individuals who fill gaps in their skills to join the cause if they want to see it succeed.

Interestingly, this is where leadership comes into play.   Leadership is simply defined as influence – nothing more, nothing less.  A true leader has influence over others in their decisions and actions, resulting in the followers taking action based on the input and example from the leader.

Said another way, the founder’s ability to influence others to join him in his pursuits will solely determine if those people will actually join, and in the end will determine the outcome of the startup.  Early in the startup phase it’s quite likely  there is no capital available to pay each person’s salary.  Thus, people will need to volunteer their time and efforts for the cause and making it even more challenging for a founder to attract the right people.

So how (and more importantly why) will others volunteer for a desolate and untested startup, one that might even be in its idea phase?  What does it take to attract, influence and retain the talent required to succeed in your startup?

George Washington statue

Looking back into the history of the United States we can study great leaders and learn how they were able to lead a volunteer army.  George Washington is the epitome of the leader – strong, confident and influential.  He was the perfect leader for our country at a time where the talent he needed to attract were pretty much all volunteers.  Here’s a bit on Washington from Wikipedia:

Although Washington never gained the commission in the British army he yearned for, in these years the young man gained valuable military, political, and leadership skills. He closely observed British military tactics, gaining a keen insight into their strengths and weaknesses that proved invaluable during the Revolution. He demonstrated his toughness and courage in the most difficult situations, including disasters and retreats. He developed a command presence—given his size, strength, stamina, and bravery in battle, he appeared to soldiers to be a natural leader and they followed him without question.

Washington learned to organize, train, drill, and discipline his companies and regiments. From his observations, readings and conversations with professional officers, he learned the basics of battlefield tactics, as well as a good understanding of problems of organization and logistics.  He gained an understanding of overall strategy, especially in locating strategic geographical points.

As you can see, George Washington was exactly what the American colonies were looking for in someone to lead them to freedom.  He was strong in stature and in character.  He was knowledgeable in the tactics required for success in warfare.  He studied relentlessly – on his own men, on the competition, on the geography, and on organizational principles.  He didn’t let politics get in the way of his purpose, which was to win the war and emancipate the new country towards their new found freedom.

Washington was a true leader.  Drilling down a bit further, you can see Washington basically had three roles during the war:

First, he was the predominant leader and man in charge of the American forces.  In 1775–77, and again in 1781 he led his men against the main British forces. Although he lost many of his battles, he never surrendered his army during the war, and he continued to fight the British relentlessly until the war’s end.  He plotted the overall strategy of the war, in cooperation with Congress.

Second, he was charged with organizing and training the army. He recruited regulars and assigned Baron and General Friedrich von Steuben, a veteran of the Prussian general staff, to train them.  Eventually, he found capable officers, like General Nathanael Greene and his chief-of-staff Alexander Hamilton. The American officers never equaled their opponents in tactics and maneuver, and consequently they lost most of the pitched battles. The great successes resulted from innovative strategy , at Boston (1776), Saratoga (1777) and Yorktown (1781), came from trapping the British far from base with much larger numbers of troops.

Third, and most important, Washington was the embodiment of armed resistance to the Crown—the representative man of the Revolution. His enormous stature and political skills kept Congress, the army, the French, the militias, and the states all pointed toward a common goal. By voluntarily stepping down and disbanding his army when the war was won, he permanently established the principle of civilian supremacy in military affairs. And yet his constant reiteration of the point that well-disciplined professional soldiers counted for twice as much as erratic amateurs helped overcome the ideological distrust of a standing army.

Sounds like a CEO and leader to me.  Although there are many others, here are 3 principles to keep in mind as you lead your volunteer army.

Unprecedented

The idea must be moving, unprecedented and important to the individuals involved.  No one wants to sacrifice for something we already see everyday.  People want to be part of something big, amazing and unique.  Many years down the road people simply want to be able to say to their friends “yeah, I was there at the beginning and we started it”

The main reason George Washington was able to attract volunteers to join the cause was because they were fighting for their own freedom and literally making history at the same time.

Dedication

A leader must be as dedicated – perhaps the most dedicated – to the cause if they are going to be an effective leader.  Followers will always be more influenced when leaders lead by example.  People don’t care much about what you say but will look more intently on what you do.  Dedication means working harder than others.  Dedication means fighting all the way to the end.  It means not leaving your co-founders the instant you sense things will be harder than you initially thought.  Simply put, a leader will attract and retain talent when the talent doesn’t even question the leader’s dedication.

Washington lead by example and publicly displayed his dedication to the cause of independence.  It is clear no one under him questioned or doubted his dedication, and in the end, by not giving up on the war Washington and the colonies were able to squeak out an unthinkable victory and changing history forever.

Empathy

Empathy is the ability to understand and  feel how others are feeling.  It’s the ability to “walk a mile in their shoes” and “see from their perspective.”  Being an empathic leader helps you understand what others in your organization are thinking, feeling and doing.

Why is this important?  Well, people hate to be told what to do when the person who is barking orders has no idea what is actually going on in the individuals life.  It shows lack of perspective and lack of reality.  Instead, if the person giving the orders actually understood the reality of the other person, they can then amend their orders with more realistic expectations.  The leader will know what is possible and what isn’t.  They will be able to adjust the deliverables, understand appropriate timeframes, delegate important responsibilities, and find others to do the job in the end if that is what’s needed.

A clueless leader is an ineffective leader.

George Washington knew exactly what his troops were going through because he was right there with them.  He spoke to them and often dined with them.  He traveled with them and camped with them.   He “walked many the miles in their shoes” so in the end he empathetically understood their reality and intuitively knew what they were capable of.

Leadership is truly an art, not a science.  It takes courage, strength and dedication.  It also takes someone willing to walk the extra mile with their followers so they fully understand who they are dealing with.