Wrestling and Business

kolat-islamov-single-leg-battleIf you’ve read any of my blogs in the past, you are aware that I am a former wrestler and my love for the sport did not die when my high school career ended.  I learned a lot from hanging around the wrestling room and actually being on the mat.  from time to time, I like to write about how the lessons I learned apply to what I do today.  My blogs are probably mostly a cathartic exercise for myself, but I’d like to think that there might be a lesson or two (alright one lesson) mixed in there.

I’m young-ish and I know I have a lot to learn about my field of work (marketing and advertising), but there are quite a few things that have become quite obvious in my not so tenured professional existence. In this blog I will talk about a few of them and those of you who couldn’t care less about wrestling can just skip over those parts.  Deal?

I’m a tactical person.  Maybe even to a fault.  I have the beginnings of a strategic mindset, but it still needs to be developed.  When you haven’t full developed a skill, you (me at least) tend to fall back on the things that you know that you’re good at and the things that need to be further developed get pushed aside.

What I’ve learned is this: You cannot continue to fallback to your comfort zone and you need to find ways to get the job done well, but push yourself to think about things differently.

A Story:

When I was younger, I was quite obvious that I would rarely be the stronger person in a wrestling match.  This was partly because I was too lazy to do the work I needed to do to gain strength.  Lesson learned.  Anyhow, because I wasn’t the strongest, I built my wrestling style so that I could use my leverage and hips to score a takedown every once in a while.  This worked on most opponents, but when it came to the big matches, I simply did not have the skills to win.


Sure, you can be successful by being good at a few things, but if you really want to be the best at your job, you have to evolve and you have to keep adding to your skill sets.

The outcome of your efforts has much more to do with your desire to finish a job well than it does with all of the events that lead up to the defining moment.

A Story:

Ask any amateur wrestler what practice was like and they will likely respond, “It was hell.”  Besides being “hell”, most practices are pretty much the same.  You drill takedowns, bottom position, top position, you go live and then you run.  Drilling is redundant and tedious, but it’s essential.  They say you perform how you practice and I would agree.  the problem with this is that practice and competition (performance as it relates to business) are two completely different mindsets.  One is a safe environment and the other can be terrifying.  When it’s one man against another in the middle of a gymnasium, you either love it or hate it.  It’s probably a healthy mix of both for most people, if it wasn’t why would they do the sport?  Anyhow, I used to practice and drill and drill and drill some more, but when it came to competition, I had a tough time finishing my takedowns.


Practice and preparation are key to opening up the door to opportunity.  The problem with opportunity is that you usually only have one chance to capitalize on it.  There are hundreds of setup moves in wrestling and a handful of ways to shoot a single leg, but if you aren’t willing to finish (see the job through), well, all of your efforts are for naught.  Whenever you take on a new project, make sure that you’re prepared for everything the project might present and be aware of the things that might occur out of nowhere.

 All the preparation is the world will never make up for a lack of desire to see a project through to the end.

There are plenty more “stories”, but this is long enough.  Leave a comment and let me know what else you think is important in order to build a foundation for success.

Without wax,



The Leadership Responsibility Litmus Test


Tom Brands on Responsibility

This is yet another wrestling blog that I will attempt to relate to leadership development.  Please take a second to watch the video posted above (hyperlink under the picture of Tom Brands, the Iowa Hawkeye Head Wrestling Coach.)  If you’re still somewhat engaged after that, please continue reading.

My blogs are usually long and drawn out, so, I will try to keep this one “shorter”.  In college wrestling, there are 10 weight classes.  Most matches are won by a point or two and for a decision win ( a win by less that 8 points) your team earns 3 team points.  I won’t go further into scoring, but hopefully you can see that matches are close and the outcome is determined by 10 head to head matches.  Last night, Friday, January 4 2013, the Iowa Hawkeyes won 7 out of 10 matches and won their dual against a tough Ohio State wrestling team by a score of 22-9.  You can do the math.

So what am I driving at here?  In the video interview, you see a fired up coach after a dominate performance by his team.  They won, he should be satisfied and hopeful about the future, right?  Wrong.  Even minutes after defeating one of the tougher teams in the Nation, coach Brands goes on to talk about everything they could have done better.  He mentions missed opportunities by his student-athletes, but most importantly, Brands says that he is responsible for what he considers a poor performance.

How easy is it for all of us to gloat and relax after we complete a successful task?  We meet our goals and we think, “Mission accomplished.”  On the flip-side of that, how easy is it for us to search for excuses when we fall a bit short of our intended outcomes?  Pretty easy.  It’s human nature for the most part.

What I want to drive home here are a couple things.  Intensity about what you do for a living is important.  Too much intensity can be unhealthy, but if you are not intense about what you do, this implies a lack of dedication to being the best you that you can be.

Performance standards.  We all have performance standards, but when we don’t meet them, how likely are we to be critical of ourselves like Brands is in the video above?  He could have easily said, “I’m an Olympic medalist, decorated NCAA wrestler and I have taught these wrestlers everything I know.  They just didn’t put it into action.”  When you think about it, after the last day of practice, a wrestling match’s outcome is completely out of control of the coach.  It’s not like in football where bad play calling can determine the outcome of a game.  Brands is a leader and a good one at that.  Leadership is not about beng always being right.  It is about putting people in places where they can be successful and overseeing the process.  It’s about intervening to offer assistance when needed, but what is most important is the willingness to accept when you may have failed to do all of the things you needed to do to give your team an opportunity to succeed.

If you take the wrestling aspect out of the equation and just look at the thoughts, ideas and standards that Brands mentions, I think we all can learn a lot about the characteristics of effective leaders.  Sometimes, accepting responsibility for a poor performance is the best thing a leader can do because it shows your colleagues that you have just as much skin in the game as they do.

Be passionate about what you do.  If you’re in the credit union industry and you’re reading this, you have a lot to be passionate about.  Passion leads to a healthy level of intensity and intensity breeds a level of self responsibility.  All of these things are related to each other.

What are some other characteristics of effective leadership that you can think of?

Without wax,


There Are Only Two Types of Opportunities

Wrestling and OpportunityI write this blog post under the assumption that the world will not be ending in 18 days.  If the world indeed does end later this month, this blog will be of little or no use to you.

Typically, I blog about credit unions and marketing, but I’d like to take a more macro approach here.  It has recently dawned on me that there are essentially only two types of opportunities that any of use will ever face:

There are only two types of opportunities in this world, the ones we make and the ones we take.

I’m sure someone much smarter than I has said this before, so, I’m not claiming the above as my own, but I think it holds true.  I “competed” in athletics growing up and I am still a passionate fan of folkstyle (not Hulk Hogan) wrestling.  I’m going to use some wrestling analogies  here, but if you’d like, think about your favorite sport and how things might be similar.

There is no professional wrestling league.  Typically, the most elite wrestlers start training at a very young age and their parents spend tons of money in the hopes that their son or daughter (yes, there are some really tough female wrestlers) will receive a scholarship for college.  To me, most of these young athletes have no choice initially in participating in the sport.  Many times, their parents might be pushing them to do something that the child doesn’t really want to do.  If you know anything about wrestling, you know that it is a brutal sport.  It takes a toll on the athlete mentally and physically.  When a competitor steps on the mat to wrestle, it is just him and his opponent.  I digress.  In every young athlete’s life, they eventually make a decision to buy-in or opt out.  This typically happens around junior high.  I think this holds true across all sports.

When the athlete buys-in, they start along a path of creating opportunities.  They put in the extra time drilling moves (think about long hours at home when you’re working on your business budget.)  They run a little bit longer than their teammates (think about that colleague that is always willing to go the extra mile.  Maybe that’s you.)  In either case, they are making a decision to create future opportunities.

All of us know that to achieve success, we need to have a plan, clearly defined (and measurable) goals and a strategy for how we will go about accomplishing the small goals to reach the larger ones.  Without a plan, our efforts can easily become disjointed.  Without small goals, we can become disheartened.  If you’ve ever watched a soccer match, you know that it takes a whole bunch of running back and forth just to setup a halfway decent chance to get a shot on goal.  The same holds true in wrestling.  In the NCAA or Olympic ranks, one score most often determines the outcome of the match.

So how does all of this relate to opportunity?  (I’m so glad I asked.)  I firmly believe that until I realized that if I want something, I am going to have to establish steps to making what I want even remotely possible.  The flip-side of that coin is that once I feel that I may have created an opportunity, then I have to be bold enough to sieze it.

We live in a competitive world.  People get into arguing matches on Facebook about college football games (guilty).  Sometimes I wonder why some of us don’t take that tenacity to succeed with us to the office.  I’m talking about the mindset that failure is not an option.  Nobody is going to outwork me.  I’m going to be the best version of myself today and everyday.  There will be a time that I will be a bit uneasy and have to take a risk to seize the opportunity.  In the end, if I do a lot of work to create or setup a shot (as we would say in wrestling), if I am not willing to commit 100% to taking the opportunity, all of my past efforts were in vain.

There will always be setbacks along the road and we all have different definitions of success.  Setbacks are just different opportunities.  How we rebound from a setback or loss will always say more about our internal drive to succeed than an easy life absent of any and all adversity.

This is already way to0 long.   Bottom line is this: You are the only one who can create opportunities for yourself.  You alone are also the only person that can take advantage of the opportunities that you create.  With a margin of error that is so slim, none of us can afford to be paralyzed by fear.  Sometimes, a moment of hesitation leads to a lifetime of dissatisfaction.

Without wax,