My colleagues and I are searching for a new faculty member in our Business Department.
After reviewing resumes, conducting interviews and witnessing teaching demonstrations of prospective candidates, my team and I come back to asking ourselves a basic question: "what really is a great teacher?"
I realize hundreds of titles have been written on this subject.
But based on the great teachers I have witnessed both as a student, and as an instructor, I believe a truly great teacher resembles a great COACH.
That's right--a COACH.
I heard an instructor at a four-year school credit his students' success to the fact that he "
"...gets them (his students) to do the things they don't want to do--but will thank him later on for making them do."
Sounds like a coach.
A coach does more than just explain the rules of a game . A good coach, a GREAT coach, a coach that consistently wins games does the following:
1. establishes the direction and strategy of the game 2. inspires his players to do their best--especially when those players don't believe they can 3. has the guts to be brutally honest--especially with players that don't WANT to do their best 4. enforces the rules of the game--in other words, no cheating, no shortcuts--ever.
Joe Newton, Joe Vigil, Tony Dungy, Vince Lombardi.
But the SAME APPROACH to winning.
An approach that applies to any leadership position.
And in raising kids.
Perhaps, instead of another leadership book written by another leadership guru, or another manual discussing the latest teaching theories to reach Generation X or Y....
Or another parenting book on raising an honor student...
Perhaps we aspiring executives, teachers, and parents should peruse the SPORTS section of the library.
And read about the great coaches.
The coaches that made a difference.
To their game.
And to their players.
So we can learn to be "coaches" that make a difference.
The Portland Marathon is one of my favorite races.
It's not just the flat terrain, 50-degree weather, and sea-level advantage that I like about the race.
It's the philosophy of the race organizers that I like.
The runner gets the "finisher" shirt only AFTER she finishes the race.
While most city marathons hand out the "finisher" shirt with the athlete's race bib the day before the event out of convenience and, I suspect, to make everyone feel good whether they finish the race or not, the Portland Marathon (which does NOT have a half-marathon option by the way) is pure "old school."
You get the "finisher" shirt when you...well....FINISH the marathon.
Only after the runner's bib has been tagged by the officials at the finish line does the athlete receive the "finisher" shirt.
This may sound petty.
But it sends a message.
A message that says...
You gotta earn it.
Towards the end of each semester in my Principles of Accounting I class, I have to remind my students that I don't GIVE grades to students.
They have to EARN their grades.
It's not that I am in the "winning is everything" camp.
But I have been a teacher and parent long enough to know something about human nature. A nature that says that things that are not earned are often not valued.
I have seen many a student fail in school despite endless parental support.
While the student who is a single parent, working evenings at two retail jobs, and taking care of aging parents earns academic honors.
Because finishing is seldom about brains.
And often about ambition.
You gotta earn it.
It's a concept that sounds cliche.
But a concept I believe it to be true.
Because it applies to more than just marathon running and Principles of Accounting.
It is at mile 20 that the marathon becomes a different race.
It is the physical and mental turning point--no BREAKING POINT--for many runners where exhaustion and self-doubt are at it's peak.
The point where where the athlete has to remind herself of the reason she STARTED the journey.
And remind herself of the reason to FINISH it.
This point in the marathon is known as hitting "the wall."
I think we experience "the wall" in nearly any endeavor.
Why should I continue with this difficult calculus class--or even continue with school?
Why should I continue with this business that is draining me mentally and financially?
Why should I keep working this second job to pay the mortgage when I am so exhausted?
It is at "the wall" where pure honesty occurs.
Honesty with ourselves.
The point where finishing what we started is predicated on coming up with a damn good reason to give more of ourselves when there is nothing left to give.
A big enough reason to help us dig really deep and find that reason that will transcend and carry us through the pain of those last few miles to victory.
This is not easy as I have seen many a runner hitch a ride home at mile 23.
But the experience of breaking through the wall ONCE provides us the strength to break through the wall AGAIN.
And in life.
I think Coach Vince Lombardi sums it up best:
"I firmly believe that any man's finest hour, the greatest fulfillment of all that he holds dear, is that moment when he has worked his heart out in a good cause and lies exhausted on the field of battle - victorious."
There are entire sections of bookstores that try and answer this question but I think the answer depends on an HONEST answer to two very specific questions:
1. Am I still CONTRIBUTING in a meaningful way?
2. Am I still RECEIVING in a meaningful way?
If the answer is "no" to both questions and every effort has been exhausted in trying to correct the situation, I think a course correction is the only solution.
We often stick with a job, a project, or even a diet or exercise plan out of COMFORT or GUILT. It's part of our daily routine despite the fact that we stopped adding and receiving value months or even years ago.
Each morning we get out of bed, make the coffee and feed ourselves the same lie we fed ourselves last week...or last year about why we need to keep at it when deep down we know the real truth.
The real truth is we cling to the COMFORT ZONE OF ROUTINE more than we cling to the UN-COMFORTABLE ZONE OF MOVING FORWARD.
Human beings are meant to move forward--like a boat.
Human beings are not meant to be stagnant in the marina so to speak. Just as a sailboat will collect barnacles and a rusty hull if left in the dock, so to will a human being atrophy and collect life's barnacles if not constantly challenged to contribute and press forward.
So I say we finally admit to the areas of our training and our lives that are collecting barnacles.
I do some occasional volunteer speaking for laid off workers at local workforce centers and networking groups.
I share job-seeking advice from my perspective as a former executive recruiter, hiring manager...
And layoff survivor.
In my presentation, I recommend that an individual should immediately do FOUR things after being laid off:
1. File for unemployment
2. Build a detailed budget to see where to cut costs
3. Create a weekly job search plan
4. SIGN UP FOR A DIFFICULT RACE
Indeed, I receive some quizzical looks on that last recommendation.
But then I relate my own painful layoff story.
And how the one thing that got me out of bed each morning to face more rejection letters and more lousy interviews, was a race I was training for.
A race I had signed up for just days before being laid off.
A 14.5 mile race up one of Colorado's "14ers" called The Mount Evans Ascent.
I recall how training for this challenging endeavor provided me four things when the job search was at it's darkest:
The race was in late June. I knew I had 12 weeks to plan and execute the proper training to accomplish the goal--at 14,000 feet. The task was big, challenging, but indeed workable if the goal was calendared out.
A Place to be Each Day.
Each day began with training. Each week the mileage grew. Knowing that race day was rapidly approaching, the fear of not finishing forced me to approach the daily training like going to a part-time job each morning.
Each week, I logged my mileage, speed, and body weight on a piece of paper I taped on the fridge. Nothing fancy to be sure but effective noetheless in providing positive feedback when I met my goal.
And giving me the swat on the butt on the days I slept in.
It was white-out conditions atop Mt. Evans on race day June 2009. But for my dad being at the top with with his cell phone camera, I would have had no photographic evidence I had finished.
The photographers went home early due to the storm.
But that day was a shining light.
A light in the dark job-search tunnel I had been traveling. A light because the things it provided (a goal, a place to be each day, performance feedback, and victory) are all the things that provide us an identity when we HAVE a job.
And are the things taken from us when we LOSE our job.
So how about this:
Whatever tunnel you are traveling through, there are a lot of variables you can NOT control or make better.
Maybe you can't make the job market better.
Or your boss better.
Or the economy better.
Or the price of gas better.
Signing up for that race.
And training for that race--that race that will really stretch you-- maybe even scare you...
Will make YOU better.
And that seems like all the reason in the world to keep going.