I was walking toward Coach Weidenbach’s office when I saw Michael Brown coming off the ice. He had a big grin on his face. I threw him a friendly wave, all the while marveling at his height (6’ 7” without skates and he’s a FRESHMAN). He waved back and then bellowed, “You’re too old!” I wasn’t sure I heard him right. “Pardon me?” I said. He smiled and eagerly repeated, “You’re too old!” Then it dawned on me – he was investing in my success! I burst out laughing and thanked him. Before you dismiss us as crazy, read on.
Great teams have inside jokes. They say things and then roar with laughter while the rest of us try to figure out what’s so funny. It’s an investment in bonding and team chemistry. I’ll give a corporate example in a moment. But let’s go back to the “you’re too old!” thing.
It all started in January, after I saw an unusual example of inspiration from the New England Patriots. As you know, Quarterback Tom Brady is no spring chicken (he and I have much in common!) This year, New England won the Superbowl with their 41-year-old QB being egged on by one of the toughest receivers of all time, Julian Edelman. I believe Edelman is certifiably nuts. If I saw him in a dark ally, I would die.
Tom Brady (a former 7th string quarterback at the University of Michigan, but I digress) had just thrown a touchdown and had returned to the sidelines.
One would expect the team to come over and congratulate him, and Edelman did that in his own loving way, shouting “Great ***** Ball!” about two inches from Brady’s face. And just in case Brady didn’t hear him the first time, he repeats it.
Brady nods and says, “Thanks, baby!”
Edelman removes his helmet and paces back and forth in front of Brady, glaring at him.
Then he gets in Brady’s face and yells, “You’re too ****** old!”
Edelman begins to walk away, changes his mind, turns and screams, “YOU’RE TOO OLD!”
Brady continues to nod as if he had just received the loveliest compliment ever.
What was Edelman doing? He was investing in the success of Brady and the team by stoking the fires of resentment created by the sports world’s relentless questioning of Brady about his age.
All year, Brady politely responded to journalists in press conferences. “I feel good. The team looks good, etc.” Beneath that calm outer shell was a raging volcano of competitive fire that was waiting for the right time to emerge. Edelman understood it and used it.
You can watch the 18 second video by clicking here:
WHAT FIRES YOU UP?
When I met with this year’s Cranbrook Varsity Hockey team in January, we watched this video. Then, we went around the room and each player (with the exception of one player who felt he’d get more out of positive reinforcement than the approach used by Edelman, which I totally respected and admired him for) listed what would fire them up. Some examples included:
“You’re too slow.”
“You’re too tall.”
“You’re too weak!”
“You’re too small!”
“You’re too afraid!”
When they got to me, I said, “I want you to tell me that I’m too old!”
That’s why when Michael Brown shouted at me (it was a month later and I’d forgotten about it!), I laughed and thanked him. I still smile every time I think about it.
The reality is that there are those who may believe that I do not have much to offer because of my sex, my age, my skin color, my hair cut, my green eyes, or my country of origin. They are making assumptions. And if that’s the case, then they’re NOT ready for Destination Unstoppable. They’re setting fake limits on me, which means they are likely doing the same thing to their players or coaches as well. That’s okay. It doesn’t make them bad people. It just means they’re not ready for what I have to offer. And I move on without minding in the least.
This “inside joke” story also applies to the corporate world. A team that has inside jokes is having fun.
I remember in the 1990’s when I was part of a tech team faced with an enormous opportunity. It would have transformed the automotive world. The problem was this: we weren’t even invited to bid. You sure can’t be the belle of the ball if you’re not invited to the dance!
To try to turn the situation around, I worked with a local team and a group from France. One of the leaders from the U.S., who frankly didn’t understand the project very well, kept insisting, “We’re in the driver’s seat!” We were not in the driver’s seat, the passenger’s seat or the back seat or even in the back of the station wagon! We were running full speed behind everyone else shouting, “Wait for us!”
When the Frenchmen heard the phrase for the first time, they turned to me and said, “What does that mean?” I explained that “We’re in the driver’s seat!” meant we had the competition and the client right where we wanted them! They laughed uproariously. “Really?” one of them kept repeating. “That’s what it means?”
“That’s what it means!” I declared.
From that moment on, whenever there was a setback – and there were many – we would proclaim, “We’re in the driver’s seat now!” After a good laugh, and with renewed energy, we’d attack the latest roadblock.
Here’s the funny thing. We almost won. In fact, after months of hard work, we were in the driver’s seat! Then, when all we had to do was show up and shut up at the final meeting, one of the French executives undermined the entire 11-month effort by refusing to work with a 3rd party company (at the client’s request.) He stood up and said, “I’d rather lose than work with Company X!” His ego got the better of him. We lost. The client picked the second place competitor who agreed to work with the 3rd party company.
Shortly thereafter, I left to pursue my own business. For me, it was probably for the best. If we had won, I absolutely would have had to stay. As it was, it gave me freedom to leave.
The bottom line is this: keep those fun-loving fires alive for your team, and they will thank you for it.
And if you see me on the street, you know what to say, right?
Note: The photo at the top is one I took from Garden of the Gods which I’ve been visiting during my multiple trips to Colorado Springs. Those rocks are pretty darn old… and oh so amazing!