Superbowl XLIX and the Orphanhood of Defeat

--What a stupid call!

--What was he thinking?

--Was he brain dead?

Just a few of the grace-filled and affirmative tweets that followed Pete Carroll's final offensive play call in the Super Bowl. Armchair quarterbacks or, to coin a phrase, "couch coaches" from Seattle to Key West knocked aside their beer and pretzels to scream at their TVs like mad men. The near unanimous opinion is that it was a terrible call. They may well have been right. I tend to think they were. It may very well have been a bonehead play call.

However, consider this. If that final pass had been a touchdown and not an interception, imagine what we would all be saying right now.


--Creative football.

--The genius surprise play of the decade.

--Perhaps the boldest gamble in Super Bowl history by the coach of the year!

All of which brings to mind an anonymous quote. "Victory has a thousand fathers. Defeat is an orphan."

I will not discuss the merits or demerits of Carroll's fateful and much maligned decision to call for a pass play. I leave that to sports casters and sports bars. This column is not about football but about leadership. If you're the leader/CEO/quarterback/coach/pastor, remember three things about high-pressure decision making.

In the mid-1950's, the inimitable Willie Nelson wrote a song called “The Party's Over.” He used it mainly as the closing song for a band he was with at the time. He did not record the song himself until 1966, at which time it sold, not like a blockbuster, but fairly well, peaking at number 24 on the country music chart. Who actually made the song world famous, however, was not a singer but a retired quarterback turned sports announcer.

Don Meredith, who had quarterbacked the Dallas Cowboys, became the third partner of the founding Monday Night Football triumvirate. The other two on that celebrated broadcast team were Howard Cosell and Frank Gifford. When the outcome of a Monday Night contest would become apparent, perhaps even a runaway, Meredith would begin to sing “The Party's Over.” It was an overnight sensation and it was always funny.

Here are some of the lyrics.

Turn out the lights.

The party's over.
They say that all good things must end.
Call it a night.
The party's over.

It's an easy song to sing from the broadcast booth at someone else's game. When you're down on the field, bloodied, playing your guts out and apparently headed toward defeat, it's not fun to sing and it's not funny.

I have read a zillion articles on visionary entrepreneurism, on when and how to launch a start-up. Such books are inspirational and motivational and nothing I say hereafter should detract from their benefit. I myself wrote a book called Launch Out Into The Deep and another called ReLaunch.

Less, much less in fact, has been written about when to turn out the lights. Everybody loves a party and starting a party is especially fun. The end of a party is not always so nice. By the end of the night, cleaning up, closing down, getting the hangers-on to go home, and turning off the lights is not very exciting.

From his perch in the broadcast booth, Don Meredith always seemed to discern the exact moment when, for all intents and purposes it was over, when the odds of a come-back were simply too overwhelming. What about in leadership? How do we know when to call it a night? Knowing when to go to a new leadership opportunity is actually much easier to know than when to leave one.

Here are some thoughts on heading for the exit.

Play at Your Own Risk

This may very well be the most controversial post ever on The Leaders' Notebook. I need my head examined for even commenting on this little, out-of-the-way story, especially when I know what I say will not sit well with some readers. My wife says, and of course she is right, that as far as needing my head examined goes, this post was superfluous proof. As they say… here goes, plunging right in up to my eyebrows where angels fear to tread.

The girls basketball team at Arroyo Valley High School recently defeated the Bloomington girls by a score of 161-2. Shocking? You betcha. I'm quite sure that such a loss falls squarely in the embarrassing category. I cannot begin to imagine how embarrassing. I had a small taste of it in high school. As a freshman quarterback I once steered my team to

World War II in Paris

Here are three leadership truths in which I fundamentally believe.

I. Who (what) you fight reveals your courage.
II. How you fight reveals your character.
III. For whom (what) you stand reveals your commitment.

If those three statements are true, and I submit to you they are absolutely true, choosing your battles well, fighting "right," and standing up for your friends become keys to leading well in a struggle. Therefore, in the face of a looming fight, leaders must always ask themselves three questions.

Bilie Holiday

I am haunted by the smoky notes of the late Billie Holiday. Hardly any voice in the jazz world reaches me as hers does. Of all her songs perhaps my favorite is All of Me. Other artists have covered the tune, including such disparate singers as Willie Nelson, Paul McCartney and even The Muppets, but no one can touch Billie Holiday. Here are a few lines of this famous jazz classic.

All of me.
Why not take all of me?
Can't you see
I'm no good without you?
You took the part that once was my heart,
So why not take all of me?

Paraphrasing only a bit, those simple lyrics ask one of the crucial questions of leadership: Why not all of you?

The Leader's Notebook will be on hiatus until the second week of January.
I sincerely hope you have a Merry Christmas and a Blessed New Year!

Storm Ship

The seas of human life, so lashed as they are by storms of crisis and controversy, are where real leaders do their duty. Happily-ever-aftering only happens in the movies. Real life, and therefore real leadership, is actually one storm after another punctuated by brief and very welcome periods of calm. Once a leader finds the maturity and experience to face that honestly, the stormy seasons become immensely less stressful.

Until that threshold is passed, every storm feels like the "big one," the once in a lifetime, storm of the century that just has to be lived over and "normality" will return. Such naive leaders spend way too much energy trying to figure out why this storm has come upon them. They agonize uselessly over imponderables. Why this storm at this time? Why me? Did I sail the wrong sea? Are the very elements conspiring against me? In other words, is this storm part of some


Causes, particularly causes that are "hot" at the moment, draw passionate supporters, as they should. What supporters of such causes, especially the most passionate among them, often encounter and fail to take as seriously as they aught, is the whole "poster child" problem. As I said in last week's Notebook, it is a flawed strategy to wrap a good cause around an unworthy story.

By plastering the wrong face on the posters, supporters damage their own cause. If the story, whatever the story is, turns out to be different from what was thought at first, the cause can get branded with the negative image. Some years ago, a famous rock star announced he had become a Christian, and many Christians went wild with excitement. Many enthusiastically, and without hesitation trumpeted his "conversion" and used the story in countless sermons. I advised


So much has been said about the dreadful state of affairs in Ferguson, MO that it’s a temptation to ignore the whole thing. One always hates to simply add to the ground noise. Furthermore, if I just let others write what they want and stay out of it, I stay clear of the controversy. I certainly don't need the kind of controversy which writing about Ferguson can generate, especially the accusations which I know are almost certain to come. On the other hand, I do feel that there are some things that I'm not hearing said, things which I believe need to be said by somebody. So… acknowledging the aforementioned risks, I am somewhat reluctantly wading in.

I hope I can somehow manage to deal with the leadership issues involved, and steer around the jagged rocks of racial conflict. That sounds a bit naive even to me even as I write it. Passions are enflamed now from coast to coast and hearing reasonable thought on Ferguson from any direction seems impossible. Here's the limited question I want to deal with. Are there any leadership lessons to be learned from this mess which could prove useful in other less riot-happy environs? I believe there are and here are three.

George Washington

I cannot urge you strongly enough to read the following Thanksgiving week edition of The Leader's Notebook. I do not offer this to you because I have written a masterpiece. In fact, I did not write it, save for this brief introduction. Indeed, it may be that you have, at some time in the past, already read this particular offering. If so, I urge you to read it again. Slowly. Thoughtfully. Let the profound spiritual truth of these three paragraphs bathe your spirit. Look carefully at the clean, economical language and consider how much thought and prayer went into its creation. A great leader, perhaps America's greatest leader and perhaps one of world history's greatest men, wrote it. It is worth reading aloud to your family around feast table.

Regard its humility, genuine gratitude and deep faith. The particular leader who wrote this knew God, believed all nations owe Him gratitude and enjoined his nation's people to be faithful in that duty. God grant us such leaders again. The author of this proclamation was President George Washington. He issued the following on Oct. 3, 1789. Happy Thanksgiving. God save the Republic.

Servant Leadership

The power of servant leadership lies not in position but in motive. The CEO of a massive corporation, holding great responsibility, may “wash his employees’ feet” by seeking their benefit in business. There is no conflict between a well-managed business making a profit for its stockholders and one making a good life for its employees. There is no room for exploitation in Jesus’ model of servant leadership.

The servant leader is still in authority even as Jesus was when He washed the disciples’ feet. No one in the room doubted

Capitol Bldg

I waited a week to comment on the mid-term elections because I wanted the emotional dust to settle a bit. The election was a tidal wave which swept in a Republican Senate, an increase in the Republican majority in the House of Representatives, stunning Republican gubernatorial victories in some surprising states and huge Republican gains in many state houses. Republican. Republican. Republican. Why? Of course, some of it, perhaps much of it was political. Perhaps the Republicans ran better candidates who ran better campaigns than their Democrat opponents. Perhaps the Republican ground game was more effective than the Democrats. In other words, maybe the Republicans just got out the vote and the Democrats failed to. Many in America did not vote. Maybe those non-voters were Democrats.

Let me be clear. I am a Republican and I was pleased beyond words with all those results. Having said that, however, I hasten to add this post is not about the politics in the election but the leadership behind the story. In other words, whether one cheers the results of the election or grieves over them, the question remains, are there clear and presiding leadership lessons in the election which transcends partisanship?

Bedfast Hero
Last week I spoke at a fundraiser in Arizona, at which I met a physician from South Texas. He shared with me one of the most inspiring stories I have ever heard. It seems that a young man passed away in a small town near where the doctor lived. The entire town, indeed many in that region state, honored him as a hero. A hero? He had not held a paying job in thirty years. He was not a sports star or a performer or even a religious leader. He was never elected to office, never made a speech that the doctor knew of and certainly never wrote a book. He was in fact a quadriplegic who lived the bulk of his years bedridden. He could speak and move the tips of his fingers on one hand. That's all. Why then a hero? Why the admiration and honor?

Words that Matter: Entropy

On The Leader's Notebook this week I am featuring a guest post. I may not do this often but every now and again, I may find something (or someone) I want to introduce to the Notebook's readers.

This week's guest is not only a business/leadership/marketing/management expert; he is also a personal friend and former colleague. Dr. Steve Greene has extensive experience in business and in business education. Dr. Greene was the dean of the college of business at ORU while I was the president of that university. Before his highly successful years at ORU, he provided excellent leadership at a multi-million dollar television company and a major restaurant chain. Today he is a blogger, publisher, speaker and a business consultant with an extensive clientele. Dr. Greene is also a member of the Board of Directors of Global Servants Inc.

Words that Matter
Guest blog by Dr. Steve Greene

Messy ClosetMy closet refuses to stay organized. Where's that tie hiding?

It's all about the Second Law of Thermodynamics. Loosely defined, the law holds that all matter moves toward disorganization.

The process of entropy is what we see in the science of life. Stuff falls apart. Organizations decline. Empires fall. Closets become a mess.

Entropy wreaks havoc on a business. Laws, such as gravity, can't take a joke. What goes up must come down. What is organized today goes poof someday.

Leadership in an Ebola World
Policy, Politics and Public Relations

Case study I:

A large Baptist church in the Southern USA faced a major crisis. The parents of a third grader came to the leadership of the church with the suspicion that the children's minister had molested their child on church property. They did not have solid proof and were not litigation-minded. They wanted help and they wanted to protect other children. After they left the room the church board and the pastor decided to wait until after the Christmas party (three weeks hence) to deal with it. They asked the parents not to go public, allowed the suspected molester to remain in place, and tried to "keep it quiet."

Of course, it did not stay quiet. The parents were outraged. The state ruled that the church's failure to report was criminal and a horrible civil-criminal case ensued.

Tragedy of the Secret Service
A Cautionary Tale of Internal Culture Collapse and Product Deterioration

Every organization, every church, business, company, restaurant and college has an internal culture. Some of these cultures are more distinctive, more readily discernible than others, but there is always a culture and sooner or later that culture will "show up" on the outside, in the way business gets done. The fully integrated, well-aligned organization knows and protects its culture. That culture can become so valued, so clearly articulated, first inwardly and then outwardly, that its "voice" becomes the major marketing instrument of the organization.

A case in point might well be the United States Marines. "The Few, The Proud, The Marines" has been perhaps its most enduring modern marketing slogan, but that expression of the Marine Corps culture did not begin in a creativity

Speed Limit

It is one thing to find success. It is quite another to handle it. Success has ruined at least as many as failure has. The athlete who thinks he is above the law, the starlet who flaunts her body and her addictions in public, and the arrogant CEO who parades his triumphs on talk shows have all forgotten how to stay successful. The key to that is modesty.

Most modern Americans understand the word modesty to have reference only to one’s manner of dress, and even then it is mostly used with regard to

Jerusalem Reservoir

Jebus was an impregnable fortress city, the fortified garrison capital of a warrior nation. The soldiers within its walls were not blind and lame, but even if they had been, they could have kept David out. They had a water supply, the high ground, fortifications; time was on their side, not favoring the Israelis living outside in tents.

It is notable that in both the Chronicles version of the fall of Jebus and in Samuel’s account, the significant word is nevertheless. (2 Sam. 5:7, 1 Chron. 11:5)

There are some wonderful lessons for life and leadership in David’s conquest of Jebus. The first is a word to every believer. With every new opportunity will come both change and challenge. David knew it. Hebron was acceptable for a while, but he foresaw the day when change would come. David waited on the divine moment and welcomed the change. He neither hurried nor hated it.

Stewart Ave

Recently, in a car service on the way to the Atlanta Airport, I found myself with a remarkably talkative driver named Carlisle. Evidently he fancied himself something of a tour guide and social commentator as well as a shuttle driver. Always impressed by folks who add the little extras, I turned off my cell phone and listened. He was jolly, knowledgeable and something of an asphalt philosopher.

"This street here that we on now is named Metropolitan Parkway. That's the new name. It didn't used to be named that. It used to be named Stewart Avenue and it was one of the worst places in Atlanta. Drugs, prostitution, crime; you name it, it was on Stewart Avenue."


A man on an airplane told me his organization was considering hiring on a "brand consultant." This interested me since branding and brand recovery is something I teach on at the National Institute of Christian Leadership. As we talked further, however, I realized that he had several words very confused: brand, logo and tag line. Since that conversation I have come to realize that many folks, even in some sophisticated businesses, suffer considerable confusion in this area. What my friend actually was hiring was a "logo design expert." It was not my job to define terms without being asked and our snippet of a conversation certainly did not afford us the time. What I couldn't help wondering was if the company he was consulting with was confused. Surely the consultants will clarify the terms in the course of the contract. For the purpose of today's Notebook: some brief definitions are in order.

Global Servants

Global Servants was founded by Dr. Mark Rutland in 1977 as a worldwide, nonprofit missions and ministry organization. He started this ministry with the desire to see lives changed by the power and truth of God’s Word. For more than a quarter of a century, the men and women of Global Servants have risen to the call and gone into the world to preach the good news and spread the love of God. READ MORE.