Lessons from “Bowerman and the men of Oregon”

Bill Bowerman; co-founder of Nike and legendary track coach for the University of Oregon told this story to the incoming freshman on his track team:

“Take a primitive organism, any weak, pitiful organism, say a freshman. Make it lift, jump, or run. Let it rest. What happens? A little miracle. It gets a little better.  It gets a little stronger or faster or more enduring. That’s all training is. Stress. Recover. Improve. You’d think any damn fool could do it, even… but inevitably you don’t. You work to hard and rest too little and get hurt. You yield to the temptations of a liberal education and burn the candle at both ends and get mono; you are poised to screw up, to over train, to fall in love, to flunk out, I see it in your faces..” Bowerman exclaimed

“We have no hard and fast training rules, the vicissitudes of life usually teach an intelligent person what he can handle. It does help to have someone wise in the way of candles to steady you as you grope toward the light. That would be me.” Said Bowerman

“But I regret to inform you, you cannot tell someone what is good for him, he won’t listen, he will not listen. First, you have to get his attention.”

“A farmer can’t get his mule to plow, can’t even get him to eat or drink and finally calls a mule skinner. Guy comes out, doesn’t even look at the mule. Goes to the barn and gets a two-by-four and hits the mule as hard as he can between the eyes. The farmer drags him off “that is supposed to get him to plow, that is supposed to get him to eat and drink!?” yelled the farmer. “I can see you don’t know a damn thing about mules” said the skinner…. “First you have to get his attention.”

In the hush that followed Bowerman’s grin was not far from fiendish. That was his allegory, his rationale, his fair warning, he was our mule skinner and all he would do to us-including kicking us off the team to make a point constituted the two-by-four he would use to crack open our mulish skulls.

Except taken from “Bowerman and the men of Oregon” by Kenny Moore

Getting the right team of talented individuals in place that believe in the mission and vision and then harnessing that potential by facilitating an outlet for the power it creates and re-enforcing it with positive feedback is critical but what do you do when you have someone that doesn’t buy into the program? What do you do when you make a bad hire or inherit a team that needs to be weeded out some? Knowing when to let go is critical. You need to give everyone an opportunity to be successful and buy into the mission and vision but as soon as you know that is not possible you need to cut ties immediately, the longer you keep a problem employee the more it drags down the team and the culture. Make a change and then learn from it so that it doesn’t happen again. When we do have to let someone go acknowledge that it is a failure on your part as the manager as much as it is on them, as the manager your job is to make those you manage successful so either you made a bad hire, or you made a good hire and then somewhere along the line they got off track and you were unable to get them back on track. View it as a failure on your part and you are much more likely to analyze those situations and learn from them so that you can hopefully prevent it from happening again.

“It had long since come to my attention that people of accomplishment rarely sat back and let things happen to them. They went out and happened to things.” – Eleanor Roosevelt

Be aggressive, go out and chase your dreams and you are much more likely to get them. Disciplined energy is an amazing thing.

“Nothing splendid has ever been achieved except by those who dared believe that something inside of them was superior to circumstance.” – Bruce Barton

You have to believe in yourself and what you are doing before you can expect anyone else to believe in you. An old proverb my Dad used to tell me was that whether you think you can or you can’t you are most probably right. Believe in yourself and in your goals and be willing to put in the work and things will start falling into place, it is Thomas Jefferson that used to say that the harder he worked the luckier he got.