Vision, not Perfection Builds a Monument

Podcast

20140731_103233Mount Rushmore stands as a monument to great and determined men, but it wasn’t Washington, Jefferson, Roosevelt or Lincoln who envisioned such a feat.  No, it was another man, unknown to most of us, who gave us something magnificent to look upon.  Listen in and discover how one very imperfect man saw this project into existence and learn how to get your big projects of the ground.

Saving a Wretch, Finding a Friend & the Will to Change the World

achievement, Blog Entries, character, freedom, virtue

John Newton, author of the profound Christian hymn Amazing Grace was indeed a “wretch” in need of saving in the year 1748, but it was physical liberation not spiritual he desired. Not yet 24 years of age, he had already experienced impressment in the navy, flogging and forced servitude after being shanghaied in Africa.  Ironically, after his physical liberation from slavery he turned back to the industry that had once shackled him and wallowed in the abhorrent slave trade eventually captaining several slave ship.  After years of participating in this inhumane business, searing pain and remorse opened John’s calloused heart.  He experienced healing through a miraculous conversion to Christianity and entered the ministry where he would have a profound influence on a young man named William Wilberforce.

Wilberforce experienced a dramatically different upbringing, enjoying the advantage of wealth, education and a charismatic, friendly personality.  In great contrast to Newton’s enslaved state in his mid-twenties, at the same age Wilberforce was enjoying the exhilaration of political success after winning his first term in British Parliament.  Wilberforce was the life of the party in social settings and was inclined towards pleasure seeking.  However, while traveling through Europe with his former schoolmaster, Isaac Milner, a shift from his hedonistic tendencies occurred.  He and Milner light heartedly discussed any topic, but when it came to religion Milner would grow serious and reverent.  William chided his friend for his sobriety, but even his whit and charm could not move him to levity on the subject.  Milner acknowledged that he could not  match his gift for debate and persuasion, but told William that when he wanted to engage in a serious discussion about the subject he would be ready.  These serious discussions came and Wilberforce quickly found himself at a spiritual crossroad.

Upon returning to London, he was perplexed by his emotions.  With out his friend Milner, who had returned to Cambridge, he was left to face them alone.  Understanding he needed a spiritual mentor his mind turned to John Newton, a clergyman he knew as a boy but hadn’t seen in some 15 years.  Newton, who had experienced radical personal change in his conversion to Christianity, stood ready to advise William not just on spiritual matters, but on the direction of his career.  He counseled him to stay in politics rather than turning to ministry so he could use his gifts, position and connections to change the world for good.  William left this meeting in peace knowing that he must discover God’s purpose for him.  As part of this process he consulted his good friend William Pitt who would soon become Prime Minister of England.  Pitt assured him either decision would not change their friendship, but he did urge him to stick with politics.  Wilberforce ultimately concluded, “My walk is a public one…my business is in the world… I must mix in the assemblies of men or quit the post which providence has assigned me.”

And what was the post which providence had assigned?  In his own words he wrote, “God almighty has placed before me two great objects, the suppression of the slave trade and the reformation of manners (or the moral conduct of society).”  This concise and clear mission statement would drive him through the most daunting opposition for the rest of his life.  To better appreciate the magnitude of this mission, one must realize that he was taking on a centuries old lucrative British industry.  Not only did many powerful people stand to lose greatly, but numerous jobs throughout the British Empire would be lost.  Powerful lobbies therefore stood in his way questioning why Britain should just hand the slave trade over to foreign countries that would perpetuate it anyway.

A man on a mission however does not count the odds, he proceeds with faith, but even Wilberforce with his phenomenal gift for debate and his skill at coalition building could not move this established industry and year after year his bill was rejected. Finally, in 1796 his jubilance at having the votes to end the trade was crushed in the very hour of the vote when he discovered that the critical moderate swing voters he needed had been lured away from the floor by the lobbies with nothing more than free opera tickets.  It failed by just 4 votes. Simple enticements for entertainment had kept the slave trade in operation.

In spite of these set backs and other challenges ranging from severe health problems, bouts with depression and physical exhaustion, Wilberforce pressed on.  He also endured vicious personal attacks which branded him as un-patriotic during the War with Napoleon.  For decades he withstood all this and steadily moved towards his goal with character, tenacity and the support of friends like Pitt, Milner, Newton, his wife and the dedicated members of the Clapham Circle.

Finally, after persevering for 20 years, the momentous day arrived when parliament was poised to pass the bill.  The atmosphere was charged with electricity as Wilberforce stood to deliver a moving speech.  As his final words went silent, thunderous applause erupted throughout the hall.  Sensing it was at last finished he dropped in his seat and wept openly.  As the tears flowed freely the applause grew louder and gave way to an unprecedented three cheers for Wilberforce.  The final vote was 283-16, a decisive victory and an overwhelming show of support.  Wilberforce who had been vilified, ridiculed and  slandered became a national hero because of his unshakable courage, perseverance and character which in the end elevated him above it all!

Today it is nearly impossible for us to perceive the deplorable conditions that accompanied the trafficking of 11 million plus slaves out of Africa or comprehend the conditions that caused millions to perish in the process.  Thankfully we don’t deal with this moral dilemma in the same way today among the governments of the world because inspired men like Wilberforce who surrounded himself with worthy friends chose to fight injustice in his day rather then deferring it to another generation.

Bishop Desmond Tutu said of William Wilberforce, “[He] shows us that one person can make a difference.  Few of us will be in Parliament as Wilberforce was, but all of us are part of community.  Each of us can find ways to serve each other…”  Today, the political landscape appears daunting and people clamor for change but doubt that leadership exists to bring it about.  Whatever concerns the reader may feel about our current condition, remember that legislative bodies have always been slow to act and have been overly preoccupied with intrigue, favor and special interest.  But, before this thought overwhelms you, think of Wilberforce and remember that it only takes one to create positive change in the world.  Are you one who will?

Lessons Learned From the 49ers, My Brother and John Adams

achievement, Education

Few childhood memories stand out more for me than experiencing the USFL Oakland Invaders football practice from the sidelines.  The crunch, pop and bang of colliding helmets and pads mixed with heavy grunts produced a sense of awe and excitement that deepened my enthusiasm for the game.  The bigger rush washed over me though when my brother put a sweaty arm around me after that practice and ruffled up my hair.  Messed up hair, dirt and grime were imperceptible in that moment—I was enjoying a piece of boy heaven.  All of this coupled with loyalty to my brother and the several NFL teams he played for, however, could not turn me from cheering for my San Francisco 49ers.  After all, the Dynasty created by Bill Walsh, Montana, Owens, Craig, Rice, Lott and others in the 80s was more than a fan could ask for.  In those days it didn’t matter how far behind they were, when Montana went under center I knew he could orchestrate a winning drive! Back then it was all about entertainment, but now I realize that incredible leadership, discipline and work ethic made both my brother’s achievements (later as an entrepreneur/founder of Max Muscle) and that incredible 49ers’ run possible.

A blog post by Dan Coyle, author of the Talent Code, points out that the creation of  winning organizations is not so much about selecting the most talented but rather the most determined.  The data he analyzed showed that in spite of intense measuring systems used in drafting professional athletes, success in selecting the next star performer seemed to be more luck than science.  For example, the NFL subjects prospective recruits to rigorous evaluations in the “combines” where they measure explosiveness, speed, agility, strength, etc. At the end of the day they know which players are literally, bigger, faster and stronger and they are generally the ones selected.  He observed however, that only 50% of these biggest/fastest athletes are still found in the league after four years.  So if they are the most dominate specimens, why are so many cut from NFL teams?  The author suggests that perhaps growth potential should be measured and not just current skills and ability.  A measurement of grit has proven to be a better predictor.  “Grit?” you say, “But how on earth can you measure that?”  Actually, there is a study, referenced in Coyle’s post, that does.  It suggests that the ability to see long term and take ownership of that vision is a better predictor of success than “raw talent.”

This doesn’t apply just to athletics.  A study of John Adam’s life, second president of the United States, reveals many personal weaknesses such as a quick temper and reoccurring feelings of inadequacy. As a young man, a journal entry uncovers how he overcame this.  He developed grit because of his ability to see long term and work towards change.  He wrote, “I am resolved to rise with the sun and to study Scriptures on Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday mornings, and to study some Latin author the other three mornings.  Noons and nights I intend to read English authors…. I will rouse up my mind and fix my attention [on improvement]…”  The next day he was frustrated because he slept in, but because he knew where he was headed, he kept moving towards his vision.  Now, at that exact moment in his life no one would have selected him to be president of the U.S., Chief Diplomat to Great Britain or delegate to the Continental Congress, but his life illustrates that success is realized by developing a personal growth mindset and pushing past setbacks.

So let’s get back to 1980, the year Coach Bill Walsh firmed up the foundation for the 49ers Dynasty.  He was coming off his first season as head coach with a 2-14 losing record and was in the middle of a seven game loosing streak. His combined record to that point made him the “loosing-est” coach in the league.  Then in a self-inflicted devastating loss to the Dolphins the next week, the 49ers slid to eight straight defeats.  Reflecting on that loss he wrote, “It was a horrible and numbing defeat, overwhelming for me because of its potential impact—a job I had worked for my entire adult life was in jeopardy…I stood on the sideline…emotionally gutted, wondering if I had the strength to get back to our locker room.”  Everything from that moment until the plane ride home is a faded blur for Walsh, but the deep depression and anguish that dragged him down to literal sobs as he sat in the darkness in his front row seat of their chartered plane burned an unforgettable memory that motivated him for years to come.  Contemplating resignation he recalls trying to describe his anguish, “Everything I had dreamed of professionally for a quarter of a century was in jeopardy just 18 months after being realized.  And yet there was something else going on inside me, a ‘voice’ from down deeper than the emotions, something stirring that I had learned over many years in football and, before that, growing up; namely, I must stand and fight again, stand and fight or it was all over.”

After that six hour long flight, he deplaned emotionally drained at 3:15 am and immediately went to work.  They won 3 of the next 5 games and went on to win San Francisco’s first Super Bowl the next season.  The Dynasty was born on the heels of defeat when a coach who had hit rock bottom turned to grit, determination and hard work to complete the turn-a-round from the worst team in the league to the best.

Anyone who has achieved great success, my brother Joe included, will tell you that defeat and frustration are inevitable, but victory goes to those who apply dedicated work to a clear vision of a desired outcome.  As a boy I took 49er wins for granted, failing to fully appreciate what Walsh and Montana went through to thrill me week in and week out.  I even took my brother’s business success for granted, not fully understanding the level of dedication it required. Later as a young adult, I took my freedoms for granted not understanding what a John Adams went through to persuade a nation to choose freedom over captivity.  Studying their lives and the principles they taught has helped me be more resolved to protect freedom and promote success principles every chance I get.

So whether you are an entrepreneur, parent, business leader or politician it turns out that it is not so much your apparent talent that determine success, but rather your grit.  So even if you are inadequate in a real or perceived way or someone else is a little faster, more eloquent or quicker on their feet, John Adams, Bill Walsh and Joe Wells demonstrate that it’s really not “raw talent” that is the greatest determinant of success, but rather determination itself.  So if you and our nation are to live free, get clear on your vision of excellence and keep moving towards it because success goes to the “gritty” not those who had it easy.