Former Miami Dolphins Coach Don Shula won the most games in NFL history — 328. He had a natural ability to lead and motivate others by identifying players’ talents and honing those skills to beat the competition. He played to his people’s strengths, a philosophy which helped him win two Super Bowls and guide his 1972 team to the only perfect season in NFL history.
Coach Shula had a 24-hour rule. The team had 24 hours to celebrate victory or to mourn defeat. For 24 hours, players could ride the high of a win and swap stories about the greatest plays. For 24 hours, players could lament a loss and be in a funk. After that, time was up. Everyone had to move on, to prepare for the next game, the next opponent, the next competition, the next goal.
Shula’s 24-hour rule is a good one to follow in business and life. If you sign a big deal or watch your investments soar one day — go ahead and celebrate it for 24 hours. Savor the moment. If you lose a valuable client or have a tough conversation with a friend or family, mourn it for a short while. Then get back to work.
If you let a defeat get you down, you’ll never get back into the ring. If you let a win blow up your ego, you’ll become arrogant and succumb to hubris, in the words of Jim Collins in “How the Mighty Fall” and “Why Some Companies Never Give In.” You’ll become insulated by your successes and focused on entitlement, losing sight of what got you to success to begin with.
If you dwell in a state of celebration or mourning, if you are overtaken by success or failure, you’ll become disconnected from the knowledge, skills and hard work that yields success. You can control the process; you can control how you do your work, who you help. You can’t control what happens tomorrow in China. You can’t control next week’s interest rates. You can’t control war in the Middle East. There are many things in life you can’t control.
You can control your work ethic and how you take care of investors, how you treat your family, how you package your goods, how you provide your services, and how you take care of customers’ problems. Work on the process: the things you have the ability to control and improve.
It’s OK to revel in victory for a short time — like Shula’s 24 hours. It’s perfectly acceptable to be down in the dumps after a loss, but no longer than a day or two. Then take control, work toward improvement, continue learning and find more ways to help others. Avoid getting sucked into the emotion of situations or you will be ineffective in all aspects of life.
Success comes from continual improvement of the process. Celebrate a little, mourn if you must, then proceed with gusto. ●
Umberto Fedeli is president and CEO at The Fedeli Group