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From Complacency to High-Performance

#changemanagement #culturematters #engagement #focus #goalsetting #highperformance #hope #keynotespeaker #leadership #leadingchange #motivation Jan 23, 2024

In 2024, I have chosen to focus solely on the alignment of my time to my purpose

Helping individuals and organizations achieve excellence.

My first passion project will be to serve as a high-performance consultant for the men’s soccer team at my alma mater, Graceland University, located in Lamoni, Iowa. This past weekend, I began that journey by leading a kick-off retreat. Since winning the NAIA National Championship in 2006, the team has struggled. In the last few years, they have had a losing record and not made the playoffs. The team morale was low. The university administration was concerned about retention and the student experience. Disengaged players were not delivering their best and were frustrated with losing. The current head coach invited me back as a consultant to help mentor him and the team. He is committed to rebuild a culture of excellence. Many of the organizations and teams I’ve been asked to lead or deliver a keynote to are in similar positions as this team—a culture of complacency has developed over time.

Here are a few ‘Aha’ moments from the weekend that I wanted to share:


  1. You are more likely to create behavior change when you develop a sense of URGENCY. Everyone needs to clearly understand what the consequences are if we continue the status quo. In this instance, I made it clear to everyone that the fall varsity squad would be chosen in 10 weeks’ time after my first involvement during Spring Season. Folks who could not meet our new standards would not be moving forward with the program.  
  1. You need a critical mass and a COALITION in order to move the needle on change. In Kotters’ book, Leading Change, he talks about a significant coalition that extends beyond the executive sponsor. It must include the very top of the organization, the vice presidents, the managers and five to 15 people within the organization to help drive the change you want to incur. I had to convince enough of an internal critical mass to believe in me, themselves and the methods proposed to be willing to help drive change in order to overcome the inertia of maintaining mediocrity. Arriving with the acumen of having led the previous championship team got folks in the door. Demonstrating that I was prepared and delivered on what was promised in the weekend agenda by having materials prepared, sticking to timelines, listening to and including players’ input, and delivering feedback transparently kept them listening.
  2. You have to paint a clear VISION of what achievement will look like. We spent time doing the creative writing exercise, ‘Above the Fold,’ where players imagined the headlines of their hometown newspapers upon returning home three years from now. We need to be able to share this vison in a clear and articulate manner that builds hope and optimism for folks, so they feel excited to be a part of the process.
  3. I needed to demonstrate that this vision was ACHIEVABLE under the present circumstances the team pointed to as obstacles. An exercise used to illustrate that was a SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) analysis. Together, we identified key limitations that were impacting the team’s ability to achieve excellence. Initially they believed three of the four presented obstacles were things beyond their control. This reminded me of the time I was a new Athletic Director at Toronto Metropolitan University (TMU). During my onboarding interviews with the coaches, common themes arose about why there was a losing culture: a) we didn’t have a Physical Education department, so we couldn’t attract the best athletes or b) we didn’t have great facilities, so we couldn’t train like our peer institutions. Sometimes when trying to drive change, individuals within the organizations will point to many obstacles which are only in their head and not the real source of their complacency or their inability to achieve the new vision. To demonstrate this, I took over as a volunteer soccer coach with no increase in that budget, zero compensation and without any soccer field on our campus. Within 3 years, the men’s soccer team won the conference championship and became nationally ranked. Once the other coaches could see those circumstances were not actually barriers to excelling, they were all able to raise their own teams to national rankings. In fact, three different TMU sport teams went on to win national championships within the decade. High performers focus on what is within their control. 
  4. The path to success needs to be clear and MEASURABLE. When we were setting goals, it was clear that the team members all want to be champions. We didn’t list that as our goal, however. We talked instead about the process. What would it take to make the playoffs next year? Comparing our stats to those who made it gave us the data: two more wins, five more goals, and four more shots per game. These are small, achievable targets that keep people motivated and incentivized on their way.


The soccer team I met with this weekend was fixated on obstacles and their past failures. They had given up hope and stopped believing in their ability to achieve excellence at Graceland. They had no clear, measurable, performance standards to serve as a map and checklist for change. My first goals were to communicate the sense of urgency, work with the team to build a plan that identified the barriers and the solutions to excellence, build a coalition of leaders, managers and teammates to drive change, and make sure the plan was not so big and overwhelming that folks could not see results soon or have a chance to celebrate a few victories along the way. By inspiring confidence, the members and coaches are willing to take risks and can weather a few early setbacks.

As I head home from this workshop, I realize I’m going to be working harder than ever in the pursuit of excellence, but it feels exhilarating instead of daunting and draining because I’m fulfilling my purpose. 

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