Orrin Woodward LIFE Leadership Team

Winner of the 2011 Independent Association of Business Top Leader Award; Orrin Woodward shares his leadership secrets.

Lou Holtz – Goal Setting Success

Posted by Orrin Woodward on December 1, 2010

How does a young man from a broken home, his parents having separated while he was in college, having no wealth or contacts, become one of the all time greats in his field?  Even more impressive, add on a lisp, an undersized physique, and low self-esteem, to make Lou Holtz’s rise to success in football, one of the most inspiring stories in America.  Proving, yet again, that it isn’t where you start, but where you (and your team) finish that counts.  I highly recommend Lou Holtz’s autobiography, Wins, Losses, and Lessons, a thought provoking read, teaching how to overcome life’s challenges through the power of goals and attitude. I will have Lou share in his own words many times in the foregoing article, as he explains the secrets of his lifetime success. Lou speaks to audiences across the country, sharing how goal setting and a positive attitude helped in transforming his life:

“I’ve been amazed at how many people have wanted to talk about my list over the years. I can’t believe more people don’t have a similar list of goals. Some of them are personal things-like ones pertaining to being a father or those of a financial nature. They’re just something to shoot for-to experience. That’s why I say to our athletes and my children – be a participant, don’t be a spectator. Do things. Just decide what you want to do and then ask the question, ‘What’s important now?’ Now what do I have to do to accomplish such and such? And that will tell you the action you have to take. It’s not a wish list, it’s a set of things I wanted to accomplish and it really hasn’t changed that much.”

Lou went from a fired assistant coach in 1967, to the College Football Hall of Fame, forty years later, but his success foundation was laid years earlier, as a young boy growing up on the Pennsylvania/Ohio border.  The Holtz family was poor, in fact, Lou said his family needed a raise to qualify as poor.  But, like the Biblical admonition, that money doesn’t answer all things, money cannot buy love. Many people, seeking a life of ease, want to avoid challenges, but young Lou learned early, from his challenges, growing to persevere and succeed, no matter what.  Lou discusses his childhood from his autobiography:

“Yes, we were poor, but we always had one another. Unlike some of today’s young people, I never suffered from depression, never needed therapy, never contemplated injuring myself or others, and never fretted over all the things I didn’t have.  I was a happy, normal kid, because I knew God and my family loved me.  That was all that mattered. Today, we live in an age and a place that makes the lost city of El Dorado look like a slum, but too many people’s riches leave them empty. They buy more and more things, attend more parties, eat at more fine restaurants, lease all the right cars, and max out credit cards in the hopes of filling some void.  Unfortunately, material goods are never a substitute for a family’s love.  I never had that problem. We never had any material goods, but I had lots of people who loved me.”

No one in the Holtz clan went to college, not his dad, who quit school in the third grade, nor his mom, even though she had graduated valedictorian of her high school class.  When Lou’s high school coach visited his parents, suggesting that Lou should attend college and become a coach, the Holtz family didn’t know how to respond.  Lacking the funds and the grades necessary to attend, Lou thought the idea ludicrous.  But thanks to a familial love, his mom accepted a night job to help in financing college, that, along with Lou signing up for the ROTC, allowed him to enroll at Kent State.  Many times, life seems to be a series of random events, but, after the passing of time, the events weave together, creating patterns out of the perceived chaos.  In Lou’s case, a key turning point, came shortly before leaving for college, transforming an unmotivated youth into a determined young man.  It occurred at a local grocery store, as Lou was picking up several items, he happened to hear two ladies in a conversation in the aisle one over from him.  Lou tells the story:

“Mrs Hoback said, “I can’t believe Anne Marie Holtz is wasting her money sending that boy, Lou, to college.”

Mrs Toft then said, “I know what you mean. She took a night job and everything. It’s such a waste.”

They didn’t know I’d overheard them, since I was one aisle over, but those comments cut me deeply and burned inside me throughout my freshman year.  I knew that my mother was sacrificing for me, but to have her friends, the people in my town, think that I was not worth the effort, that I was bound to fail, turned my wounded feelings into something quite different.  My ‘want’ to do well became a fiery determination. I would do whatever it took to pass, especially as a freshman, a year when the adjustment to college life can take its toll.”

Did you notice that Lou turned this rejection into energy?  This is a crucial point when setting goals, since many will laugh at you and your goals, at least if you set big goals.  The more they laugh, the more determined you need to become, to finish what you start.  Lou did complete college, moving into a coaching career, leading us up to another breakthrough moment in his life – being fired, in 1967, as an assistant coach at South Carolina.  When the head coach left for another post, all the assistant coaches were left in the lurch, losing their coaching positions. Since Lou had just bought a house, moving to South Carolina for the now lost job, the available funds were as low as his available opportunities.  Beth, his wife, in a gesture of confidence and goodwill, bought him the classic book, The Magic of Thinking Big, by David Schwarz.  Lou devoured the book, and, like every hungry student, followed the instructions explained, writing out his goals.  Lou captured 107 written goals, some of them crazy at the time, since fired assistant coaches don’t live in the same stratosphere as his list demanded.  But that’s exactly the point, a fired assistant coach cannot achieve this, but any man or woman with a dream, a goal and commitment can, simply because, they will develop into the person necessary to fulfill their goals and dreams.  Lou shares again:

“I’ve always felt it was extremely important to set goals for yourself. After the 1967 season, our entire staff was fired at South Carolina where I was an assistant. My wife bought me a book entitled The Magic of Thinking Big by David Schwartz. So I sat down and made a list of all the things I still wanted to accomplish in life, and there were 107 of them. Some of them involved traveling, some of them were a little crazy, some I’ll never reach – I don’t know if I’m ever going to learn a foreign language. I’m not going to be a scratch golfer. Some of them have happened, like appearing on The Tonight Show and being invited for dinner at the White House. But my life changed after I made that list. I think I’ve accomplished 95 of them. My wife disagreed about the list, though. She thought I should have added something about getting a job.”

Lou’s life is a model of the ups and downs that happen in everybody’s life, regardless of one’s goals and attitudes.  But, in order to accomplish goals, one must accept responsibility for the results, whether good and the bad in nature.  In fact, you only lose in life, when you blame someone else for your results.  Lou refused to make excuses, building his life around personal responsibility.  Lou teaches:

“Life provides all of us with a series of choices. The choices we make determine how successful we are.  When you acknowledge that you and only your are responsible and accountable for the choices you make, and when you refuse to blame others for the choices you have made, you have in your hands the blueprint for success. When you allow others to choose your path so that you can then blame someone else when things don’t go your way, you are fooling no one and cheating no one but yourself.  When you accept the fact that you are in your present condition, good or bad, because of the choices you have made, you will then find yourself capable of changing your situation by making better choices.  No one but you determines your success in life. Making the right choices paves your way.”

Think about all of the sports fans, who love watching successful coaches lead their teams, cheering them on when they win, exhorting them when the game is close, or even booing them when they fail, not living up to expectations.  I wonder how many of these fans, fans who expect nothing less than excellence from their favorite teams, have the same high expectations for their occupational teams, ie, their work or business teams?  High achievement requires disciplined thinking, thus the goal setting, personal responsibility and work ethic genre taught by Holtz and all other winning coaches.  But, why is it, that many of these same fans, fans that pay good money to see excellence during the sporting event, will, in their own professional lives, live with mediocrity, seeming to ignore the success standards and principles, that they demand of their favorite sports teams?  Have you ever thought about this paradox?   Why do fans, who love excellence in competitive sports, enough to pay for the right to experience it real time, will not apply the same excellence in their own competitive professions, even though others are paying for the right to experience it real time.  Don’t the customers or employers have the same right to witness excellence in the workplace that fans at the sporting event have?  As a leadership consultant, I have shared success principles across America for over eighteen years, with many in attendance taking the information and thriving; while others, believing that success principles are not for them, remain oblivious to their own dismal results. Imagine the quality of products and services across the world, if everyone took their professional excellence, as seriously, as they did their professional sports.  Success principles apply to all, regardless of race, creed, color or age, since all of us must compete to bring out the excellence within us, demanding more from ourselves to produce a personal best performance, satisfying the high demands of our customer and employers.  In the same way, professional sports teams must demand more from themselves, producing their personal best performances night after night, satisfying the high demands of their fans.

Lou Holtz went on to set many coaching records, some perhaps never to be broken.  For example, he helped four separate schools finish in the Top 10 rankings, a feat never before accomplished.  Sadly, even with achievments of this caliber, he still received his share of criticism.  All great achievers must have a thick skin, as most people view life as a huge game called King of the Hill.  Do you remember playing King of the Hill when you were a kid, a game where one person or group of people, battle to get to the top of the hill, by knocking off those currently on top?  The new King reaches the top, only to be knocked off by another group still climbing upward.  Since criticism is the easiest way to knock someone off the mountaintop, requiring no effort, no courage, and no results, most non-achievers try this method against the champions in life.  It’s a common fact, that the smallest minds with the smallest ideas will always criticize the biggest minds with the biggest ideas.  Here is Lou’s perspective on critics:

“The only people who aren’t going to be criticized are those who do absolutely nothing. And the critics, the people who just observe, are never on the inside, never really had to make decisions that affect people’s lives. It’s easy for people on the outside to stand back and constantly second guess. I welcome all the suggestions in the world from people who have been involved in doing something … but somebody who has never done anything except observe and criticize, I don’t weigh that at all. I think when you get near the end of your life, you don’t regret what you’ve done … and I don’t regret anything I’ve done. The things I regret are the things I didn’t do. Maybe I didn’t spend as much time with my family or wasn’t as patient with coaches and players as I’d like to. But the higher up you go and the more things you try to accomplish, the more people try to find fault. There are so many things in life that are not fair. You work all your life to do something and people try to tear you down. You can’t control it or do anything about it. When you look at the options of dealing with criticism, there’s really only one option – to pray to God that you have the courage and the strength that you won’t become bitter and move on with your life.”

Wise advice from a modern sage of success.  Lou’s life is an inspiration to anyone who is ready to make the success leap. Your life will change direction, only when, like the captain of a ship, you seize the helm by settting goals. Perhaps its time to take goal setting seriously.  Dust off that paper where you once wrote your goals.  Better yet, start with a fresh piece of paper, and dare to dream bigger. Goal setting works, reading Lou Holtz’s life story leaves no doubt about it, but until it’s applied to your life, it’s has no power to transform.  God Bless, Orrin Woodward

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