Archive for February, 2010

Gold, Silver and Incredible Team Work

February 25th, 2010 by Tom Steitz

Bill Demong wins gold, Johnny Spillane silverAfter twenty two years, gold and silver on the same day.  Words can not capture it.  Four medals for the Nordic Combined in 10 days – after zero in the previous eighty-six years.

When I spoke to Billy Demong’s mom right after the race she reminded me of the time I sat her down and said that as a coach to her son “I am going to put you through the wildest emotional roller coaster you could possibly imagine.”  She then pointed out to me that I had also told her it was possible some day her son could win Olympic gold.

Today was perhaps the finest example of team work I have ever seen at the Olympics.  Bill Demong took gold and Johnny Spillane took silver in large part because Todd Lodwick led a pack of ten very strong skiers who were set to try to ski Billy and Johnny down.  Todd sacrificed his own medal chances by putting the brakes on that pack several times, by surging to the front and then slowing the pack down.  As Todd came into the stadium in a possible race for fourth, he then coasted in high-fiving the spectators in the crowd on his way to crossing the finish line.  Talk about commitment to the greater good!!

I don’t know if there is a gold bullet, but if there is I’ll find it and add it to my growing collection of “silver bullets” to commemorate this incredible day.

More to come…

Second Silver Medal Just as Sweet for U.S. Nordic Combined

February 24th, 2010 by Tom Steitz

U.S. Nordic Combined Team wins SilverAnother history-making moment for the U.S. Nordic Combined Team: A silver medal in the team relay competition on Tuesday.

There is an overwhelming sense of pride and accomplishment among the team today.  The world seems right.

To me, it serves as confirmation that when a group focuses on being a team and builds a foundation of trust, commitment to the greater good, and mutual accountability, they can become the very best in the world.

The Nordic Combined athletes have a new look of pride in their eyes I have never seen before.  They’ve been nicknamed the “band of brothers,” and have literally have spent more than 3,000 days together living out of the same cramped hotel rooms, sleeping on each others shoulders during long and sometimes cold bus rides, and enduring the hardships of traveling and competing in more than a dozen countries every year for more than a decade.  There were no shortcuts in earning this medal.

Attending an Olympic medal ceremony and being awarded a medal in front of the crowds has to be one of the most emotional experiences there is in any lifetime.  I am so incredibly proud of the U.S. Nordic Combined Team for making it to that podium.

The U.S. Olympic team is on a roll, and seems determined to make this Olympics one for the record books!  A lot of athletes’ competitions are over now, yet they all continue to show up at other events and cheer and support the entire U.S. delegation.

The people in Vancouver and the streets are becoming more energetic every day.  Olympic fever is building, and I can feel it pulse as I walk down the streets of Vancouver and Whistler.

All of Canada is holding its breath, watching and hoping for the men’s hockey team.  Hockey is a religion here.  After Canada’s loss to the USA the other night, I found myself riding Vancouver’s subway and it suddenly occurred to me wearing a bright (and very visible) Team USA Olympic uniform might not be the smartest move down in the subway filled with hundreds of Canadian fans.  No one said anything even the least bit rude, and I was never concerned for safety – although perhaps not the most thoughtful move on my part, looking back on it!

Ultimately, the theme of the Olympics, “Go World,” continues to shine through.  It is reassuring to see the youth of the world come together for the fiercest and most hard-fought athletic competitions on the planet and do it in peace and harmony for 18 days.  Where else can you bring so many countries together for one event and feel good about the future of mankind?  It truly is remarkable.

And, yes, if you were wondering, I’ve added another Silver Bullet can to my medal collection.

Remembering Who Makes the Olympics: The Athletes

February 21st, 2010 by Tom Steitz

Shaun WhiteTeam USA has the momentum going here in Vancouver, and a lot of the talk amongst other nations is, “What is the USA having for breakfast?”

My experience tells me that once this tide starts to rise, it is only going to continue to improve.  Nothing breeds success like success.

I am a “ski” guy, but this Olympics has converted me to become the newest fan of snowboarder Shaun White.  Back-to-back gold medals, what an achievement!  Even more inspiring is what he’s been doing with his tremendous earning power and celebrity – promoting good causes and charities for kids.  Shaun tells his own story of being about 9 or 10 years old and standing in line for an autograph from one of his boyhood heroes, only to be turned away after standing in lines for what seemed like forever because the autograph party was closing.  Shaun said, “That will never be me.  I will never be that person to a little kid.  I will do anything for kids.  That incident scared me and made me aware of the power of fame and I will not abuse it.”

Another great Team USA athlete is Bode Miller.  Two events and two medals – such an achievement, and yet Bode is reserved, mild-mannered, humble and appreciative.  Seems like becoming a father and the maturity of added years are agreeing with the superstar.

I had breakfast Friday morning with an old friend, Picabo Street.  You’ll recall Picabo captured the gold at the 1998 Olympics, but shortly after suffered devastating injuries that put her in rehabilitation for two years.  We discussed the ups and downs of the Olympics over the years.  No one could possibly be more amped about Team USA’s performance this year than her.

Picabo shared the perspective with me that it seems the U.S. Olympic Committee (USOC) and US Ski Team have finally placed the focus and attention on the athletes, which is were it belongs.  This triggered a bit of a corporate parallel – Olympic athletes are like the “customers” of the USOC.  In the business world, large companies will sometimes make the mistake of getting caught up in their own greatness, forgetting that success cannot come without their customers – or their employees.  What Picabo and I are noticing is that the USOC seems to be recovering from this mistake, and has returned attention to their number one customer – the athletes.  And guess what the result is?  Team USA is having a great year.

For some athletes the best is yet to come.  We are about halfway through these Olympic games, and there is a lot of action ahead. Most people I talk to seem to believe we are going to see the most successful Olympics in U.S. history.

One thing is for sure – the city of Vancouver is alive!  The streets here are absolutely jammed, there is zero room on the sidewalks, and the crowds and partying goes on until the sun comes up every day.  In fact, the noise is quite a factor for those of us living in downtown Vancouver and trying to sleep.

It truly is a world party being held in Vancouver and tens of thousands of fans are taking it in.  The experience is unforgettable.

BusinessWeek Features Tom Steitz and 3 Peaks Leadership

February 18th, 2010 by Bridgette Christiansen

I am pleased to report Tom Steitz and 3 Peaks Leadership were featured by BusinessWeek’s ‘Management IQ’ this week: “Business Coach Returns to Olympic Roots.”

I invite you to read the article, and post your thoughts and comments.  In this piece, Tom draws the parallels between coaching an Olympic athletic team, and coaching executive business teams.

“Building an Olympic team,” Steitz says, “is as complex in execution as any of the business plans I’ve seen in the Fortune 500.”  He goes on to outline a few key moves in building a successful team:  Letting go of what doesn’t work, setting goals, and building a sense of togetherness.

It’s been quite a week the U.S. Nordic Combined team, as Tom has reported from Vancouver.  If you haven’t already, read about Tom’s experience following Sunday’s silver medal win by Johnny Spillane, and his reflections on a former team member, Ryan Heckman, recently featured in The Wall Street Journal story, “Athletes Turn Torchbearers After the Olympics.”

These stories have great lessons we all can take away.  Winning an Olympic medal is never a standalone event.  It’s the result of years of training, building the right culture, sustaining forward momentum, and supporting each other and the team. Successful business leaders take the same approach.

Stay tuned for more news from Vancouver as the U.S. Nordic Combined team prepares for next week’s team competition on February 23!

A Leader Among Us Can Make All the Difference

February 17th, 2010 by Tom Steitz

Some of you may have seen yesterday’s Wall Street Journal that looked at Olympic athletes of years past and highlighted what they have done and are doing today.  I was please to see former Nordic Combined Skier Ryan Heckman among them.

While Ryan never took home an Olympic medal, he took away – and gave – much more to the Nordic Combined team. He emerged as a leader when we needed it most; in fact, if there’s one athlete I credit with the turnaround that started more than two decades ago, it’s Ryan.

Ryan joined the U.S. team within the first few years that I took over and he was a game changer.  Many executives hear me talk about the importance of cultural fit and finding the right talent to embody the organization and culture.  Ryan did that for us.  While many athletes before him were satisfied with just making the national team, Ryan pushed himself and others for peak performance to be the best possible.  It wasn’t just about being on the team…or even being a national champion (Ryan was multiple national champion in two different disciplines).  Nor was it enough to just make the Olympic team. (Ryan was the youngest Olympian at the 1992 Olympics.)  He wanted the U.S. team to be the best in the world. He lived it.  And, he led it.

Ryan was never the biggest or strongest athlete; in fact, he was the exact opposite, but his beliefs and commitment made him a giant and a true visionary.  He was not afraid to call out unproductive behaviors of either myself and/or his teammates even when it was not the popular thing to do.  He was often ostracized or given the “freeze out” by those athletes who held to the culture of old.

He never expected any more from anyone than he expected from himself.  He gave it all physically and emotionally and was welcomed being judged and evaluated on results and performance based metrics. I learned a lot from his spirit.

When a leader is going to attempt to change an overall culture in an organization, you need an athlete or employee in the corporate setting to model and showcase the desired behaviors.  The leader then needs to hope and pray the executive and/or athlete gets the results to demonstrate how the new culture can drive and produce.  I was lucky enough to have that in Ryan.

It is tough emotionally on these types of employees/athletes who forge ahead into unknown and often unaccepted waters.  Yet, without this kind of franchise player or exemplary executive, real sustained culture change is very difficult to attain.

A leader cannot change the culture until you have a believer to follow. The current Nordic Combined team has three guys in the top six (Todd, Bill and Johnny), who are reaping the benefits of the door that Ryan opened.

Thanks Ryan for all your contributions over the years.

Before I sign off, I’ll let you all in on a little secret: if the Nordic Combined team does great things in the team event next week, it will have very little do with the physical training or technical competence; it will be because of the culture created in this team years ago.

Latest News on U.S. Nordic Combined’s Silver Medal

February 16th, 2010 by Bridgette Christiansen

In case you missed it, some great stories have appeared since Sunday about the U.S. Nordic Combined team member Johnny Spillane bringing home the team’s first-ever Olympic medal.  Tom Steitz is quoted in many of them:

National Public Radio – All Things Considered host Melissa Block took some time on Monday to interview Tom Steitz.  Listen to the interview, and Tom’s first hand description of the emotion and celebration at the finish line.

Mercury News – “Bill Marolt, U.S. skiing chief executive, recalled why he gave the Nordic combined team support so many years ago, “They had a coach (Tom Steitz) who had a plan and a couple young kids performing OK,” said Marolt.  “He sat down with me, ‘If we do these things, we’ll have success.’ I liked his plan and his passion.”

Sports Illustrated – “Former coach Tom Steitz remembers a meet in Norway in 1989 in which he discovered that the event organizers hadn’t provided the Americans with the usual heated huts and waxing facilities to prepare them for the competition. “They said it didn’t matter because we weren’t going to come close to winning anyway,” Steitz says. “They told us to go wax in the parking lot.”

Associated Press – “After 86 years of trying, we are actually legitimate,” said former U.S. coach Tom Steitz, who maintains close ties to the American team. “How do you boil up 86 years of frustration? You don’t. Everybody starts crying. We are all going to sit around tonight and drink champagne and touch the medal.”

You can read Tom’s personal account of the moments following Johnny’s history-making win in his blog entry posted earlier today.

Congratulations Tom, Johnny, and the entire U.S. Nordic Combined team!