March Madness concluded this weekend with the NCAA Basketball Final Four. The saying during tournament play is "Survive and Advance." That's also good life advice. How do champions survive, advance and become champions? Many would say it happens on the court in the previous rounds. Others would say they earn their way into the tournament during their conference tournaments. I'm telling you their victories happened way before that. Your success also happens way before it actually manifests itself too. You go there in your mind first and then you go there physically.
Years ago, legendary North Carolina State basketball coach Jim Valvano would devote the first day of practice every season to doing something very unorthodox, maybe even downright weird by most standards. There were no basketballs, no drills, no scrimmaging; just a ladder, and a pair of scissors. Valvano would have his players practice cutting down the nets, to simulate what they would do when they won the national championship. Not if - when. What is the benefit of practicing this? He wanted his players to paint a picture in their minds of seeing themselves as winners and to believe in themselves even if no one else did. It's not enough to tell your team to "visualize it"; you've got to actually commit to practicing it in a hands on way to make it real. They even filmed it and would watch replays of it throughout the season.
In 1983 his team turned this preseason vision into reality six months later when they won the NCAA Championship. They were 50 to 1 underdogs, but aren't we all?
His belief in his team was instilled in him by his family, specifically his father. When he became a college head coach Valvano told his dad he was going to win a national championship. While he was home visiting his parents, Valvano's dad called him up to the bedroom to show him a suitcase. He explained to his son that his bag was packed, he was ready for the day his son would go to and win the national championships. He would be there, his bag was already packed.
This is perhaps the greatest gift we can give people we lead, the gift of belief.
When anyone achieves great success, you can rest assured they had to overcome great adversity. Our trials make our triumphs that much sweeter. You might be really far away from your goal but creating a shared vision gives your team a very vivid memory to carry with them and focus their mind on triumph during their trials.
I was recently reminded of this when I interviewed the band Parmalee. Parmalee is a family band consisting of brothers Matt and Scott Thomas, cousin Barry Knox and longtime friend Josh McSwain. They grew up about an hour down route 64 from NC State's campus in Parmele, N.C. (Population: 276) What are the odds of a family band making it from Parmele to the heights of fame in Nashville? To quote Parmalee bassist, Barry Knox "probably less than a five percent chance". Five percent is also the same odds their drummer Scott Thomas was given to survive September of 2010.
In September 2010, Parmalee was involved in an attempted robbery and shootout on its RV outside a club they had just played. The incident came on the eve of Parmalee traveling to Nashville for a showcase with Stoney Creek Records. Scott was shot three times and was airlifted to a hospital in Charlotte, NC. He was given a 5% chance of life by doctors, but miraculously survived after spending 35 days in the hospital, 10 of which he spent in a coma.
When I asked them about going through this adversity they all framed it as focusing on the 5% chance of survival not the 95% chance of death. Why? Because they maintained their belief and vision which enabled them to always bet on themselves in spite of the evidence. Your people need you to believe in them and have high expectations too. Why? Because when others believe in you, it becomes harder for you to doubt yourself.
"I think we've always looked at it from the stadium backward.
We always thought big, and it's really cool to be able to get onstage now and see the amount of people, and be able to have that energy."
At one point the band's credit card debt was over $100,000. Matt Thomas commented that his debt was at a whopping 36% interest rate. They didn't give up, maintained their belief and kept plugging away. Scott did indeed recover, the band made it to Nashville, landed a contract with Stoney Creek and now have a number one hit and two top ten songs to their credit. The lead single, "Roots" from their upcoming sophomore album will impact Country radio on Monday, May 2. Parmalee didn't survive and advance because they're simply over-achievers, they've won because they're first and foremost over-believers.
Can you maintain belief in spite of the current evidence? Your belief may not run the world but it sure does run your world.
P.S. If you're a new reader or seeing this for the first time, Coach Randall (the main character from my book Seeds of Success) is running for president and just received this glowing endorsement from Al Gore. :-)