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Lessons from Batman: Enter the cave

Posted on December 31, 2016 at 9:55 AM Comments comments (0)

“The cave you fear to enter holds the treasure you seek.” - Joseph Campbell


 

As a young boy I always admired athletes. Growing up in a small seaport town with a strong history of winning sports teams bread the idea in me that good athletes are on a higher level than the rest of the population. As I have since grown up and crossed paths with countless astonishing athletes; some world class fantastic and admirable people and others with piss poor ethics, I have come to reality that athletes are just people.


 

Regardless of this, as a child something clicked in me to chase this ideal of an athlete. I wanted to be one of those people that the neighbors spoke of highly or was welcomed warmly when walking into big family get togethers. Unfortunately, anyone who knew me growing up knows being an athlete was the furthest thing reality. I still remember to this day having a relative who once told me, “you better not smoke kid, because you’re so slow now that you won't even be able to move.”


 

Anyway, there is a belief that people in adulthood chase certain career paths based upon their childhood experiences. According to this belief, it is the poor child who grows up to enter finance, the bullied kid who becomes a police officer, or the loner who becomes a teacher. If these are true or not I do not know or care, but for me i’m sure being an un-athletic piece of lard played highly into my career choice as a human performance enhancement coach. There is something to me about improving the human body as well as the mind. Early on I learned the benefits of joining a sports team and improving my physical well-being, but it wasn’t until I owned a strength and conditioning studio that I realized many of my closest athletes thanked me for the confidence they have grown over their time training. It was not their physical accomplishments which made them proud, but their ability to dedicate to and accomplish something that seemed beyond their reach. Perhaps there is a part of me seeking a nurturing role as my parents were not around very much throughout my life and know I am attempting to bandage that missing element of childhood. I don’t know the answer to that question, what I do know is there is something about making people physically and mentally stronger that brings joy to my life.


 

It’s funny, with the recent popularity in superhero movies you hear a lot of talk about who is the best superhero and many people answer, Batman. Personally, I don’t like Batman. Think about it, he’s a forty year old man that still has not gotten over his parent’s death. Martha, Martha, Martha… It’s a tragedy I get it, losing both parents myself I understand it is tough, but there is something odd to me about mixing a symbol of strength with a character who is not strong enough to get over the one problem that has been bothering him for literally his entire adult life. Man up Batman and join the rest of the adult population with real life problems.


 

When I think of Batman, I see a man who has fears that he does not want to face. Yes, the character faces cosmic super villains, but in his world that occurrence is somewhat normal. What’s also happening in his world is everyday other people are going through horrifying experiences brought about by these cosmic level evils and they seem fine without billion dollar gadgets. Yet, Batman is sulking alone in his cave night after night.


 

Here is the thing, there is something Batman is not facing that the finance expert, police officer, teacher, and chubby kid that was me have all come to face and that is our fears. There were obstacles in all four of these instances that stood in between these individuals and what they desired and their fears did not stand in their way. All of our lives have a dark scary cave which haunts our dreams, yet we all know that the treasures we desire lie within that cave. The real world does not have cosmic level super villains lurking in the caves, nor does it have Batman to save you from the darkness. What it does have is choice. We are all given a choice to become the person we most desire or live in a life of regret. Unlike Batman’s world, the real world does not have a superhero to swoop down and save you. It has you, you are your savior.


 

Years ago during high school cross country we were lined up at a tree to start our next interval at the local park where the ocean meets a rocky beach and my legs were beginning to feel heavy after the half dozen 1200 meter repeats my coach had already instructed us to perform. While waiting on the line, coach could tell we needed a little pick-me-up so he said to us, “God helps those who helps themselves.” I don’t know what it was about that statement that hit me so hard, but I questioned it thinking, if God helps those who help themselves, then aren’t we really doing the work? From that moment I realized no one is your savior and if something in your life is not the way you want it, then you better make a change.


 

I entered the cave on that day, shuffling my feet through the darkness with my hands in front of me feeling around for who knows what, but eventually I found it. My treasure, the ability to see what it is I want and chase it down. There is a famous saying, “every day the lion and gazelle wake up and every day they both must run to survive.” For the most part, there are no super heroes and villains in this world, just people with different perspectives and their perspective is not necessarily to stop you from your dreams but to reach theirs. With that said, what you desire may also be the treasure they chase. The key is not in hating the other, but becoming the “faster runner.” The lion is not evil for eating the gazelle, just as the gazelle is not cruel for denying the lion of his meal. It is simply a matter of perspective. They both have a cave of fears before them and the winner is the one who is willing to enter.


Stay active, 


Chris Johnson

www.ImproveWithChris.com 

On Being Brave & Bold

Posted on December 22, 2016 at 1:35 PM Comments comments (1)

Very rarely do I meet anyone who does not desire to improve their life. Even the people who claim everything is great and simply want to keep it status quo have something they wish they could do better. Yet, how often do you see people getting out of the rut and truly changing their lives. Unfortunately, not as often as we would like. Yes, people join groups and sign up for programs so they can claim they are making a difference, but how often do they actually take the action necessary to make a change? Here is a better question, do they realize why they are not changing? The answer lies in being brave and bold.


 

Brave and bold are the two elements of greatness. Wherever your passion takes you, bravery and boldness allow you to excel in that area. Bravery is resilience, it is never quitting. The young researchers putting in hours in the lab or the tired infantry solider spending weeks in the field in the rain both display strength and endurance to take them to their goals. There is a certain level of grit and focus with bravery that makes one unloveable from their path. Abraham Lincoln displayed bravery through his stoic behavior as he dealt with his depression as a young man and turned it into a source of strength as he dredged through the long and tough civil war. Or the Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan who discovered the western sea and became the first European to cross the pacific ocean. There are accounts of Magellan enduring hunger longer than other men. His ability to travel so far being more comfortable than his pears allowed him to discover places no one before him had been. The same goes for Vincent Van Gough who was rumored to have gone crazy as a result of eating paints as food because he was so dedicated to art that he was counting primarily on his paintings for food, which at the time never sold.


 

Boldness is the other side of the coin. Boldness is audacity, it’s powerfully shocking the situation. Where bravery is the ability to hold on and keep digging away at your dreams, boldness is the voice in your head that tells you to go against the odds and go for your dreams in the first place. Great reaches are not made through the same recurring actions day after day. Greatness is achieved when something breaks the status quo and challenges the norm enough to urge you to want more. It shocks and surprises you, catching you off guard and grabbing your attention. Theodore Roosevelt was one of those men. Plagued with asthma as a young boy, he was determined to do great things and pushed the boundaries of what was currently accepted of a young sick boy in his day. Future president Roosevelt traveled to Maine to train with outdoorsman and earn his place as a naturalist and adventurer. Often outperforming other New York natives during climbs up Mount Katahdin.


 

Great things are not accomplished through mediocre efforts. Greatness in achieved only through the boldness to believe and the bravery to hang on. We forget that in our everyday life. There is a belief that things naturally improve with time. Or if we do not talk about problems, they do not exist. How many times have you had someone passionately try to convince you they are trying to do better but you know they are not being brave and bold in their actions yet you please them by saying “good job.” This is a problem that needs to be challenged and it is brave and bold leaders responsibility to show these individuals the way to greatness.


 

People are not always naturally born great. Steve Jobs in the early 1990’s was not nearly as charismatic as he was in the early 2000’s. However, leaders showed him how to be great and he worked on the skill, becoming one of the most charismatic leaders of our century. Be the mentor that sparks greatness in people, be brave and bold. Show people that regardless of their background it is only their beliefs that hod them back. Beliefs that they cannot do something or are not supposed to do something. Show these people that anything is possible when they are brave and bold enough to go for it.


Stay active, 


Chris Johnson

www.ImproveWithChris.com 

 

Sports Digest Article Highlight: Intervention - Sports as a Mechanism for Behavior Change

Posted on November 22, 2016 at 12:50 AM Comments comments (0)

Sports play a much greater role in our development than we give them credit.  Please check out this short piece I wrote in the Sports Digest to learn more. Intervention: Sports as a Mechanism for Behavior Change.  Thank you!


Stay active, 


Chris Johnson

www.ImproveWithChris.com 



What it Means To Be Alpha: Serotonin, the leadership chemical

Posted on November 16, 2016 at 8:30 PM Comments comments (0)

It seems that everyone in today’s society wants to be an Alpha (fe)male. They see a picture of a wolf with a quote about being a lonely wolf at the top or a cowardly sheep at the bottom then race to their friends section on Facebook and start deleting everyone…well, not quite but they definitely attempt to justify why no one wants to sit next to them at the cafe.


 

Regardless, Alphas are top dog, they get what they want and bow down to no one, right? Well, no. Simon Sinek made a great point about Alphas that evolution has trained people to treat Alphas better than the rest of us. With a little help from Serotonin, people are trained to recognize status. Prehistorically, this meant to give Alphas the first meal, make sure they were full, and ensure they got plenty of sleep. In return, these Alphas were expected to stand up for us during times of danger. When all hell breaks loose, followers are cashing in their chips in hopes that the Alpha steps up to the plate and keeps them safe.


 

These Alphas were our first leaders. They were given special perks in exchange for safety. We as followers trust in these leader hopefuls that when push came to shove, they shoved harder than the other guy and they did so to protect their pack.


 

 

Where this scenarios goes wrong is when Alphas are not leaders. Today’s society trades special perks to our leaders in hope that they will take care of us by providing safe environments such as was provided to our ancestors. However, the modern marketplace makes it far too easy to replace or frighten employees into thinking they may lose their job if they do not perform to par. It is this same negative environment that stomps creativity and halts progress in an organization and it can all be traced back to poor leadership.


 

Leadership is something to be trusted in individuals who have shown us some means of providing us with safety. Safety in our creativity, safety in our workplace, and safety in our overall well-being. When leaders fail to provide positive environments they fail to live up to their title as Alpha and should thus be treated appropriately.


 

Leaders are expected to drop their comforts at a moments notice for their followers, it is why followers place faith in them. Mr. Sinek said, “if you’re not willing to give up your perks when it matters, then you’re not cut to be a leader.” Leaders need to understand there is more to being top dog than a title and perks. It’s a privilege that has been trusted and passed down for countless generations to us. It is our responsibility as leaders and followers to ensure the leaders of tomorrow live up to their ancestors by understanding the responsibility of being Alpha prior to taking on that role. It’s not just their life that is being affected by the manner in which Alphas choose to live, but those who follow them into history.


Stay active, 


Chris Johnson

www.ImproveWithChris.com 

 

Why We Follow Our Leaders: Trust, Symbols, and Purpose

Posted on November 13, 2016 at 1:45 PM Comments comments (0)

Leaders are such because they are the ones who venture into the unknown. They go first and take the risk, leading those who choose to follow into unknown territory. What is it that followers see in leaders which allows them to put their faith in another individual? People it turns out have an innate tendency to form communities. Stretching back as far as the dawn of the cognitive revolution roughly 70,000 years ago people started imagining reality which allow them to form small bands. These bands were held together by values and beliefs deemed significant by a leader. Everyone who believed in the bands beliefs and values were welcomed into the group.


 

Grouping together allowed trust and cooperation amongst people which enabled growth as a community. Since people were not wasting time in conflicts with each other it allowed them to grow. It is the safety in numbers from other groups that appealed to these people. They felt trust in their leaders to protect them from danger.


 

It is this trust in leaders that gives them their power. Authentic leaders today like the ancestors of our past painted a picture of why people should join their band and participate in their cause. People see when leaders put the interest of their people before themselves. they trust their leaders to take care of them first. Evolution has made community building a fundamental human goal. We understand every individual in a group has certain strengths and weaknesses and by banding together it amplifies those individuals strengths. Similar to how members of a musical band don’t disregard or block-out each other with their musical instruments but blend together to create something more inspiring, human nature calls for us to work together in teams blending our skills, knowledge, and talents towards something greater.


 

Society sometimes stirs a desire to please everyone, but when we do this we are attempting to please people rather than be our authentic selves. It is our authentic self which draws people to us. Although you will make enemies by standing up for your beliefs, your followers will have more trust in you for fully committing to your cause. When we believe in something and stand behind it, people follow us. It’s when we claim to care about something but do not take action towards it that people see through our inauthenticity and stop following us. It’s a basic principle of looking out for our fellow band member. If I cannot trust you to stand behind your beliefs, how am I supposed to stand behind you when it comes to leading me into the unknown?


 

Stand strong, dead reckon, and blaze the trail. If you follow your beliefs and values genuinely looking out for those who share your cause, you will brand yourself as a leader in your endeavor. It is then that you become a symbol for your cause. People create lifestyles out of brands such as Jeep, Crossfit, and Apple and sacrifice their life for brands such as liberty justice. What they all share is a trust in a belief that the symbol will grant them purpose. Leaders are those who place trust through authenticity in those symbols and carve they way for others to follow.


Stay active, 


Chris Johnson

www.ImproveWithChris.com 

The OODA Loop: An essential part of victory

Posted on October 1, 2016 at 10:25 AM Comments comments (0)

My college cross country coach would always remind us, if we are not moving forward, we are moving backwards. He had a great point, we always have to be aware of where we are, what’s going on around us, and what we need to do to improve the situation.



 

John Boyd was an American military strategist in the mid-late 20th century who is perhaps one of the must underrated figures in military history had a similar belief. Boyd thought by understanding our environment, taking into account everything related to the situation, deciding upon the best way to engage the situation, and acting effectively on it, all conflicts can be won. He referred to this method of making decisions as the OODA loop.


 

OODA stands for observe, orient, decide, act. It’s commonly shown in undergrad business course and military schools as a way to understand the market and military strategy, yet the depth behind why it is so value is often lost.


 

By understanding what the OODA loop is and how it truly works we gain a better understanding of how it is applicable to every decision we make and should be constantly occurring in the back of our minds with every task we do.


 

Boyd thought that the military used too many doctrines which can often transform with time into dogma. He felt people who rely on a doctrine for everything tend to forget there are other means of thinking. John felt people need to have an understanding of numerous ways of accomplishing task as well as disciplines that appear to be separate such as math, psychology, economics, physics, thermodynamics, game theory, and biology but can be pieced together providing a novel approach to an idea.


 

By piecing together different schools of thought it provides an outlook other people often overlook. This is extremely useful not only in the military but business, sports, and life.


 

The more intradependent skills and disciplines we can link together the more effective our orienting process (more on this later).


 

He also felt people never have a firm understanding of what is going on. That regardless of how hard we try, we will never see the whole picture because as we adjust the frame one way we lose sight of something else and the more we focus on one thing the blurrier something else becomes.


 

Boyd explained this using three theories:

 

  1. Godel’s Incompleteness Theorems: Any model of the world is incomplete and thus must always be refined.
  2. Eisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle: As we learn more about one area, more unknowns appear in another area.
  3. Second Law of Thermodynamics: Entropy of an isolated system increases with time.

 


What all this means is for a unit to prevail it must admit it works in a constantly evolving system that as more is learned, doors open to other unknown areas and the more energy we focus on one area the less energy we have to spend on another area. The only way we can understand where to place our energy and find the answers is by taking in new information from our surrounding environment and if we deny ourselves exposure to our environment, we are doomed to fail.


 

Back to the OODA loop. We start be observing ourselves with our surrounding environment. When we do this we take into account the unfolding circumstances of the situation, our guidance from above as well as our followers below, and taking in any information.


 

Once we successfully observe the situation, we can then orient ourselves by analyzing the information we have recently gathered and play out scenarios that we will later act upon. It is important to highlight that everyone will orient themselves differently based upon their culture, genetics, and past experiences. People with the same information make different choices all the time. Who we are impacts every decision we make. This is why it is important to always be learning and taking into account different cultures and disciplines.


 

Once we orient ourselves it is time to make a decision. Again, decision making takes into account all of the character traits mentioned above, but it is important to note that decisions do not always undergo the decision making process. Sometimes the decision making process is skipped when dealing with well rehearsed or impulsive split second decisions such as grabbing a child who is chasing a ball into oncoming traffic. It’s a decision we know to make so well that thinking would hinder us so our mind instinctively skips the decision step and go straight to acting.


 

This can best be described as what Colonel Jeff Cooper is referring to in his color code conditions of awareness. Colonel Cooper developed a four color system of awareness ranging from white, yellow, orange, to red. Overtime however, the system evolved into a five step process with condition black being a primeval state of awareness where only the now matters. During this stage the mind and body act upon instinct. There is no internal voice, concern for safety or outcome, and no sense of time. There is simply this instant. Since time is not a concern, there is no past experience to think about or future to worry about and therefore judgments are impossible and lacking the ability to judge an outcome, we cannot create a hierarchy of needs and thus nothing holds value. Without value nothing matters and if nothing matters fear cannot exist. This lack of fear along with reactive action rather than logical reasoning is condition black. It’s seeing, realizing, understanding or orienting, observing, acting.

 


Condition black is our most primitive animal brain survival instinct we have. It puts aside the amygdala portion of our brain associated with processing emotions and fear. Our Amygdala is connected to our sensory cortices (sight, hearing, etc.) as well as memory and the ability to recognize. By shutting down the amygdala we shut down our fear process and thus keep a more “awake” mind. We rely upon our neocortex decision making side of the brain that is responsible for logic and conscious decisions. Condition black allows us to react, no emotion, just acting out what we know.


 

Which brings up, rehearsal. A company commander does not simply send a platoon of soldiers out to accomplish a mission after giving a five minute brief. Depending on the mission, briefs can last hours and soldiers are shown sand models, overlay, and sometimes even act out their warrior task (individual skills) and battle drills (group skills) that they have practice repeatedly prior to their briefing. By rehearsing repeatedly the skills and drills become second nature to the solider so they can recall them automatically when the need arises.

 


Acting is what happens either instinctively during decision black or more regularly after we go through the decision making process and decide upon the best scenario. Acting is the most important step in the OODA Loop. Regardless of how well we observe, orient, and decide, if we do not act upon those prior steps it is all wasted.


 

The OODA Loop is used continuously in every action we make. We naturally use it for every decision we make and intertwine a variety of loops at once we just don’t realize it because like someone who has been riding a bicycle their entire lives it works in our sub-conscience. With that said, understanding the OODA Loop gives us an advantage during stressful high pressure decisions which all leaders encounter at some point or another. When the race is on and the stakes are high, the winner is the individual who can properly execute the OODA Loop the quickest.


Stay active, 


Chris Johnson

www.ImproveWithChris.com 

 

The Duality of Choice: How leaders make hard decisions

Posted on September 18, 2016 at 7:35 PM Comments comments (0)

Throughout our day we are constantly reminded of the duality of life. From physical forces such as north and south on a magnet to symbolic representations such as the symbol ying and yang. Even our emotions are described to us as opposites, love and hate, happy and sad. Leadership is no different. Leaders are constantly challenged by the duality of life. Every day leaders are presented with challenging decisions regarding the constant battle between expansion and sustainment.


 Effective leaders are those that understand there is a balancing act going on behind stage. Just as it is sometimes necessary to pull something closer, other times it can be equally as valuable to push things away. When presented with the choice to push or pull, leaders must use a systematic reasoning process to make their choice. Although intuition has its place, by learning a proper decision making process, it allows two things. First, it gives leaders a straight forward method to make their choice and second after using the method for some time, intuition will begin utilizing the process as second nature when split second decisions are necessary.

 

Decision making goes hand in hand with problem solving. Whereas problem solving involves identifying the problem and solving it; these problems usually consisting of unknowns or inductive reasoning. (See Chris’ Five Steps to Accurate Problem Solving). Decision making is choosing the best scenario for a given situation, these scenarios involve more deductive reasoning. Think of problem solving as identifying the unknown and decision making as choosing the best known.

 

When faced with a decision, I find it valuable to proceed through the following steps:

 

  1. Gather all known information.
  2. Seek additional outside information.
  3. Compile all information.
  4. Develop multiple scenarios.
  5. Simulate and analyze scenarios.
  6. Choose the best scenario.

 

The first step in the decision making process is gathering all known information. This is most easily done by sitting with a pen and paper and writing everything you know about the decision topic. I prefer pen and paper over a laptop or phone app because it is easier to circle hot topics, link correlating topics, draw and image, and see an overall picture or map of how the information is related.

 

Once everything you know about the topic is gathered, it is time to search for additional outside information. Gathering outside information is important because it allows you to see other perspectives on the topic. By speaking with domain experts, reading peer-reviewed literature, and viewing professional videos such as TED Talks (make sure videos come from a reliable source) it gives you insight into areas you may not have thought to examine or had any previous interest.


After gathering outside information, it is time to compile all of your information in an organized database. The structure of the database depends on you and what you are deciding upon. It is more important the data is formalized in a manner you find helpful than to follow a standardized structure.

 

The fourth step is developing multiple scenarios based upon all the gathered information. This step is important because we as humans have the tendency to see the world through a specific lens based upon our past experiences and beliefs. By developing multiple scenarios, is forces us to create options we would not regularly see.


Upon creating the options, we must simulate the scenarios and analyze the possible outcomes. Sometimes simulations can be done with models or computers and other times they must be done in our minds, but regardless a simulation of all the different scenarios must be played out and analyzed for strength, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats (S.W.O.T. analysis) to determine which one best suits the given situation.


Finally, the best scenario has to be chosen and acted upon. Remember, when choosing and acting upon a scenario, it is better to act upon a good plan today than a perfect plan tomorrow. Perhaps one scenario will solve all of your team’s problems, but the resources and time it will take to accomplish is way beyond acceptable. If that is the case, that scenario is not the best choice. The scenario that can be acted upon in an appropriate and effective timeline is the best scenario even if it doesn’t solve every last problem.

 

By going through each of these decision making steps, it ensures a clearly thought out plan is being employed. Once a decision is made, it can lead to the next decision. This is referred to as decision mapping. Decision mapping is when A causes B and the resulting B leads to the ability for C to happen which allows for D to occur. Chess is a prime example of decision mapping. Chess Masters plan out future moves based upon the most likely scenarios that will play out prior to that move. They will even map out moves for alternate scenarios that may play out.

 

When planning a bouldering route (rock climbing without gear that originated on boulders). Climbers don’t head up and grab on to whatever spot their hand lands on. They take into account their fitness, the type of rock, recent and current weather, angles, and many other factors before each move. They use decision mapping to play out different routes in their head before attempting them then choose they best route and best approach to solve the puzzle. They follow a systematic decision making process overtime they approach that rock.

 

By following a formal decision making process such as the one mentioned above, it provides you as a leader with a method for making rational decisions opposed to emotional decisions. Choices will always be presented to leaders and by following the above decision making process, you can be confident in the decision you make.

 

Another duality of life is the constant struggle of expansion and sustainment. Sun Tzu the infamous ancient Chinese General in his famous writing The Art of War mentioned this when he spoke of setting up a strong defense before engaging in offensive. Sun Tzu believed you must fortify your current position before attempting to gain new territory because it is worse to lose what you have already won than possibly gaining more. Leaders should always secure their resources prior to attempting to gain additional resources. With this said, leaders must have a solid understanding of expansion and sustainment, meaning when it is best to focus on strengthening what you already possess (sustainment) and when it is best to gain new territory (expansion).


Expansion and sustainment is a balancing act. Understanding your situation is how you understand which move to make. The key is remembering to safeguard what you possess and ensure you have a surplus of resources prior to spending resources attempting to further your reach. People fail when they attempt to do everything at once. They spread themselves too thin, rather than focusing on excellence in one area, achieving excellence, setting up a solid plan for sustainment, then expanding to the next area.


Deciding when to expand or sustain is a principal decision leaders constantly undergo. It are the small decisions leaders make when decision mapping that results in better outcomes concerning expansion or sustainment.

 

With this in mind, leaders have to understand society always presents dualities. One group of people will feel one way and another will feel differently. It’s the way societies grow. In the United States we are torn between freedom and equality. We all believe in freedom and equality but freedom grants us the ability to be different and equality means all the same. There are always two options (even when you think you don’t, remember doing nothing is an option) it’s important to realize this and weigh every decision rationally with a core belief that the little decisions we make today dictate the large choices they are faced with tomorrow.


Stay active, 


Chris

www.ImproveWithChris.com 

 

Being a Survivor is Being a Leader

Posted on September 17, 2016 at 9:05 PM Comments comments (0)

President George Washington is arguably the United States most well-known leader. As a great leader we know him from the revolutionary war, the French Indian War, a cherry tree, and the dollar bill. Little is known about Washington as a survivor. As a young man, George Washington was an explorer when gentlemen of his caliber were not exploring the wilderness. Although he started his career surviving battles that seem based more upon folklore than fact, he went on to lead the forefront of bringing a presidential democracy to a society that has only known kings. Exploring unknown territory with a fearless personality, Mr. Washington was an adventurer and survivor. Our first president was also a survivor in the sense that he did not come from money yet became the most famous man in America by his early twenties and eventually crafted modern the American presidency. Records of Washington show him questioning his abilities as America's first president, but the survivor in him gave him the ability to accomplish task that immortalized him as America's greatest leader.


 

Andrew Jackson was also a man that would never quit. Losing his siblings and becoming an orphan as a teenager, Mr. Jackson was alone in the world yet worked his way up from the bottom of the social hierarchy by challenging men to duals. Some records even claim he challenged nearly 100 men. After losing his first presidential election to Monroe, the survivor in Jackson learned that power and practically was the art behind the modern politics campaign. using this knowledge, Jackson made himself publicly visible and gained popularity by boosting his wartime success in New Orleans which lead to the end of any British rule over America. Mr. Jackson spite the death of his wife Rebecca from a heart attack during the election went on to dominate the election and become not only the president but a living example of the ability to leap from the bottom to the top of the social-sphere. President Jackson was not only a survivor but a prime example of a great leader.


 

 

When the word leader is said, we commonly think of business persons, military leaders, and perhaps, religious leaders, but we rarely think of them as survivors. Think about the characteristics of a leader and compare them to a survivor. Survivors are strong, enduring, can keep a positive attitude when things are looking grim, can convince themselves and others that anything is possible, and keep a clear and focused mind when stressed beyond belief. These are the same characteristics I would use to describe a leader. However, we seldom look to survivors as our examples of great leaders.


 

Living in our modern world, most of us will never have to endure the struggles of survival that our ancestors faced a millennia ago, our survivors are of expeditions gone wrong, life threatening disease, and war. These individuals are living role models of a leader. Yet we forget to study them when attempting to learn about effective leadership.


 

We live in a society where people love reading books and enjoy binge watching shows about survival in the wilderness, natural disasters, and zombie apocalypse. All of which are entertaining and some providing us with excellent survival skills and knowledge. But almost entirely avoiding the most important aspect of survival, the mental game. In the book Deep Survival, Lawrence Gonzales, talks about the mental aspect of survival and however well trained you may be in survival craftsmanship, it is your mental game during a survival situation that makes all the difference.  Although going into every situation with the tools to be successful is a tremendous advantage, survivors are not only able to get out of bad situations using no tools at all.


 

The best survivors are the ones that analyze every situation they get themselves into and prepare for an array of scenarios that could play out. I am not saying prepare for a zombie apocalypse during your next family camping trip, but be prepared for getting lost, a bad storm, or injury.


 

By being prepared for every realistic possibility, it gives you the tools you need to survive. This same mindset is essential for leadership. Leaders must analyze every possible scenario and prepare themselves and their team for the situation. When preparing for a mission, the U.S. Military doesn't assume everything is going to go smoothly, they prepare their troops for the worst, while hoping for the best.


 

Survivors also make it through by keeping a clear lens when things go bad and realizing their situation has changed so they can no longer act as they behaved before. When lost in the woods, survivors need to set a new bearing and head in a direction based upon their new known location. If they continue trying to get out without a new bearing they will continue to be lost until they luckily run into help or something terrible happens. By realizing they are lost, they can establish a new bearing and they are no longer lost. They can then adjust to the new situation and get out.


 

Sometimes surviving isn’t a matter of war or wilderness exploration. John Quincy Adams, our nation's sixth president was often reminded by his parents that as a man of privilege (his father was President John Adams) if he did not achieve national recognition and excellence, they would consider him a failure. John Quincy Adams eventually became president in what is considered a failed presidency. With that said, Mr. Adams was the first and to this day only president to become a member of congress after his presidency. Accomplishing much more as a congressman than as a president. John Quincy Adams is the story of a survivor who in a sense failed at greatness but learned from the mistakes he made and went on to accomplish astonishing things during his 18 years in congress which he was a member of until the day he died. Collapsing giving a speech and dying two days later in the congress building. He showed that when things don't go your way, examine where you are and what you have for resources (in his case gained political status) and carve out a new path.


 

Corporate America is the same way. When I was working on a small technology project for adventure enthusiast, we worked tirelessly for over a year on a great idea only to be beaten to the market by an almost identical product. Instead of aimlessly trying to move forward with a product that already exist, I realized we had an amazing team and a second project that we could work on with known interest in the market but no known competition, so we reset our bearing and head in a new direction.


 

Survivors constantly remind themselves that things are not that bad. By keeping a positive mindset it allows them to focus on one thing, survival. When we focus on all the bad stuff that could happen our minds get wrapped up in everything that could go wrong. Just like when you are driving and you start looking at the side of the road then notice yourself drifting in that direction, the same thing happens with survival. If you start worrying about the bad, you you fixate on it happening and it will, but if you focus on the good, it keeps you on track for success. There are so many bad things that could go wrong, but success is only one thing. Focus on that one thing.


 

 

There was once a man confronted with constant bombardment as his values were tested. He was appointed in charge of a major organization and presented a choice. Continue moving the mammoth machine that is this organization forward or conduct a progressive and unpopular change. Well, long story short, he chose to move forward with the change which resulted in him not being very popular during his time in charge. He wanted to be remembered for doing what he believed was the right thing and was a firm believer in legacy over evanescent popularity.


 

Well, Mr. Abraham Lincoln wanted to leave the world a better place than how he entered it and that is exactly what happened when he made the choice to follow his values and do what is right. He accomplished this by focusing on the positive. He understood what had to be done and focused on the light that brightened America's future.


 

Finally, survivors never give up. When you quit early, you lose early and survival is not a game that you want to throw in the towel. Just as unexpected events caused disasters, unexpected events can get you out. The longer you are surviving, the better your chance of overall survival. It’s a game of endurance and strength. In other words, don’t quit today because you don’t know what tomorrow brings.


 

When Sir Ernest Shackleton' ship the Endurance became trapped in a pack of ice while attempting the cross Antarctica from sea to sea, he never quit. Sir Shackleton led his men on a 720 nautical mile journey to Elephant island and eventually civilization on the island of South Georgia without the loss of a single life. This is not only a story of survival and endurance (no pun intended) but of outstanding leadership. Shackleton was able to drive his team forward under the harshest conditions by staying positive and cultivating a culture of survival amongst his men.


 

After attempting to climb Mount Everest and failing, Sir Edmund Hilary famously said, “Mount Everest, you beat me the first time, but I'll beat you the next time because you've grown all you are going to grow...but I'm still growing.” Sir Edmund Hilary went on to conquer Mount Everest, becoming the first man to reach its summit. He later went on to become the first person to reach both poles. After failing, he became stronger and accomplish amazing feats, being forever known as the first person to climb Mount Everest and reach both poles.


 

Obstacles, hardship, and disaster call for a deeper sense of being in a person, this being is a survivor, which more often than not is the same stuff we look for in our leaders. Some people believe hardship holds you back in life, I'm a firm believer that hardship is what fuels the fire people need to do amazing things. Learning about leadership in a book is one thing, acting it out is the only way a leader leads, and when survival is at stake, you better start acting.


Stay active, 


Chris Johnson

www.ImproveWithChris.com 

 

What is Coaching Theory?

Posted on August 6, 2016 at 4:55 PM Comments comments (0)

Coaching theory is a systematic process for leaders to coach their teams to victory regardless if its a sports, corporate, or family team. All managers need a plan to succeed, but truly effective leaders encompass an evolving methodology which adapts to their changing situation.


 

Coaching theory involves four features that a leader must continuously develop if they wish to constantly improve themselves as a leader. The features are:

 


  1. Possess a clear vision
  2. Understand their climate
  3. Develop strong attributes
  4. Utilize an effective methodology


 

Before any of the other four leader features can be acted upon, an effective leader must know where they want to go with their team. By developing a clear vision of where the leader plans on taking the team, it keeps them on track as they develop the three remaining features of leadership.


 

Once a clear vision of where a leader intends to take their team is established, they must obtain a firm understanding of their climate. A leader’s climate is the combination of two things; situation and culture. The situation is the combination of environment and time. Environment being the place in which the team is operating. In the sports world this can be a league, in business it is a market, and for families it is the stage of family (pre-children, young children, adult children, no children, etc). Time is the time in which everything is occurring as well as how much time the team has to operate. In other words, what is going on in the team’s environment as well how much time does the team have to reach their goal.


 

A team’s culture is who they are or how the team identifies themselves as such. Culture is a direct reflection of a team’s leader and their situation. It’s how the team operates. A team’s culture is set by its core and bond. Core is a team’s focus and bond is the strength holding a team together as they drive towards that core. When a team has a strong bond towards their core, they possess a positively motivated culture.


 

After identifying the climate, a leader can identify the attributes they need to reach their vision in the given climate. Every leader’s attributes for success are going to be slightly different depending on a leader’s vision and climate. Even if two leaders have the same vision, the chances of them operating under identical circumstances are slim to none. Only after recognizing where a leader wants to go and what they have to work with can they begin the development process. The development process is how a leader develops their leadership skills and team (more on the development process later).


 

The final feature of leadership is an effective methodology. Choosing an effective coaching methodology that fits a leader’s vision, climate, and leadership attributes is the art behind the science. There are countless books, journals, and clinics that teach coaching methodologies. With that said, the best coaching methodology for a given team depends on so many variables that only a competent coach (one that knows their vision, climate, and attributes) can identify which methodology is best for their team.


 

Going along with the four features of a leader is the development process. Effective leaders are always working towards developing themselves as such as well as their team. The development process entails:


 

  1. Learning
  2. Observing
  3. Acting
  4. Sustaining


 

Learning is simply the process of gathering as much knowledge and skill that one can on the team’s area of operations. This includes formal education such as school, informal education like reading peer-reviewed journals, and experience gathered from working with a mentor or prior experience that can be applied to the new climate.


 

Observing is noticing opportunities when they arise. Opportunities only occur when people understand the area in which they are operating so they can identify where their strengths and weaknesses align and strategically move themselves towards their strengths and away from their weaknesses.


 

Acting is simply action taken towards those opportunities or away from their weaknesses. It is one thing to see an opportunity and an entirely different thing to take action towards it. Nothing is worse than the “woulda, coulda, shoulda.” This is when we look back and say “I would have done that, I could have done that, and I should have done that.” By acting on our opportunities (or realizing when not to act, which is equally as valuable) we move forward in our development.


 

Sustaining is what we do when we get where we want to be. The best part about sustainment is not only acting towards maintaining our new improved position, but we are now in a new “area” physically and mentally that allows us to start the development process again and take us to new heights. Once a team has reached their goal two things happened, they either adjourn or set new standards and a higher goal. Adjourning is easy, if there is no need for a team it will naturally adjourn with time, but to keep a team motivated, they must set new standards and new goals to take through the development process.


 

Overall, coaching theory is an adaptable system for leaders to coach their teams towards victory entailing features that a leader should possess as well as a process to improve upon those features. Coaching theory is a cycle of identifying success and prospering on that success in a continuous cycle of growth. It is applicable for any team regardless of size or focus and is based upon learnable characteristics which allow anyone to improve. With that said, the next time you are in charge of a team, try identifying the leadership features associated with that team and yourself and take the team through the development process and see opportunities for success that you never knew existed.


Stay active, 


Chris Johnson

www.ImproveWithChris.com 

 

Research Basics: What is research and why is it important for coaches?

Posted on July 28, 2016 at 5:05 PM Comments comments (0)

I am a firm believer that nine times out of ten science proves what coaching discovers. Generally speaking, I have always noticed a trend in research where areas gaining in popularity with coaches become the focus of research after the fact. Although the two worlds (coaching and scientific research) should be left to their respective professionals, it doesn’t hurt for coaches to have a little background on what research is and how it is conducted on a basic level. Even if it’s not the coaches job to prove why something works or does not work, it is their responsibility to be able to systematically differentiate between effective and appropriate training methods and understanding the research that makes it possible.

 

Research is “a systematic process of discovery and advancement of human knowledge (Graton & Jones, 2010).”  Research Methods and Design in Sport Management by Andrew, Pedersen, and McEvoy mention research can be classified according to five perspectives: 

 

1 The application  of the research study (pure or applied research and basic research).

2 The researcher’s objectives in undertaking the study (exploratory, descriptive, explanatory, or predictive).

3 The type of information sought (qualitative, quantitative, or mixed-methods research). 

4 The presence of data (theoretical or empirical research).

5 The data source analyzed (primary or secondary research).

 

When it comes to the application of the research study, there are two main focuses.  Either the research is applied, which can also be referred to as pure research and is performed to solve a specific problem using more formal procedures and methods or the research is basic, which is conducted to gain a better understanding of a theoretical concept.  Applied research is used in sports management for topics such as discovering why alcohol sales may be dropping at major league game events.  Basic research could involve conducting a survey on what motivates students to attend their university sporting events.

 

The researcher’s objectives in undertaking the study can be one of four methods, exploratory, descriptive, explanatory, or predictive.  Exploratory is used to explore a topic and gain basic knowledge on it.  Exploratory is used to help identify a hypothesis rather than solve one.  An example is conducting a focus group to identify what fitness club members enjoy most about their experience at the fitness club.  Descriptive research objectives focus on what is happening rather than why it is happening.  Descriptive research could be conducted by providing surveys or interviews to determine out of the fitness club members mentioned earlier, if they chose classes as their most enjoyable experience at the fitness club, descriptive research would conduct a study to determine what classes.  Explanatory research is the next progression.  Explanatory research hopes to answer why something is occurring.  With our fitness club member example, this may involve conducting interviews asking why people prefer certain classes?  What is it that the classes they enjoy provide that the other classes do not.  Finally, there is predictive research which is conducted when people are interested in predicting the future outcome of an event.  This may be predicting what new classes to add to a fitness studio class schedule.  

 

The type of information sought depends on the purpose of  the  study, how variables are  measured, and how information is analyzed.  There are three labels for information sought: qualitative, quantitative, and mixed-methods research.  Qualitative information attempts to describe a problem abstractly.  An example would be developing a historical analysis of events that lead to the popularity of baseball in America.  Quantitative research involve strict instrumental-based methods and questions as well as measuring tools.  Quantitative research may be interested in quantifying relationship between variables such as early morning exercise and exercise program adherence.  Mixed-methods research is exactly as it sounds.  Involving both abstract and strictly measured data that results in a conclusion involving both qualitative and quantitative data.  Examples of mixed-method research in sports management are rare, but important to the field.  They would involve linking two variables such as are morning exercisers who as a result adhere to fitness programs for more than six months more or less likely to be happier when with their families?

 

The presentation of data can be given in one of two ways.  Theoretical which involves gathering and analyzing past research to come to new conclusions such as my paper on Gamification in Adventure and Wilderness Sports: A literature review of game-based mechanic’s ability to increase attraction, engagement, and retention in outdoor sports.  The research was a review of literature from multiple disciplines that allowed me to come to novel conclusions on the topic.  Empirical research on the other hand collects new data to form new ideas and theories.  An example of empirical research is hosting interviews asking questions regarding sports participation and stress to determine which sports help reduce stress most and why.  

Finally, the data source analyzed is a significant perspective of research.  Data can either be primary or secondary.  Primary research collects original data where secondary research does not collect original data but rather infers from past data.  For instance, primary research is conducting a survey on satisfaction at a gym and secondary research would be analyzing existing research on sports motivation to determine which motivation methods work best for high school athletes.  

 

In the end, all five perspectives of research mentioned in the book are equally important to research.  A choice must be made by the researcher on how to use each perspective.  With that said, there is no right or wrong answer since every adjustment to the research provides new ideas and theories for sports management.  


 

Research design is vital to a successful outcome of a research project. If careful care is not given to initial research design, it can be very difficult to salvage an accurate and meaningful research project down the road. Knowing this, it is important to follow the steps of conducting research. Although these steps are presented in a specific order, they can be moved around or bounced back and forth. These researching steps are, select a problem of interest, conduct a thorough literature review on that problem, create a theoretical or conceptual framework aligned with the research problem, identify research questions uncovered from the prior steps to address weaknesses in literature review, identify new variables based upon these discoveries, and establish a hypothesis. As long as researchers follow these steps as they are further outlined in detail below, they will enter their research with a strong hypothesis.


When it comes to selecting a problem of interest, there are numerous sources ranging from reading existing literature, social concerns, popular issues, personal characteristics, brainstorming, professors, and practitioners. By reading existing literature in the field that interest you, it exposes you to ideas and topics you may not have known about or did not fully understands value. Existing literature is a great way to expand your knowledge on a subject while searching for holes that show problems for research. Social concerns are difficult because there is little research on them. With that said, there is also plenty of room for new theories and ideas. Although social concerns may involve more deep thought to create novel theories, they can open up new areas for research that you could be on the forefront. Popular ideas are similar to social concerns. Most popular ideas are popular because they are receiving new attention on social concerns that people are expressing interest. Popular ideas can gain the researcher a lot of attention in a field. Personal characteristics are important because they take into account your personal interest. If a researcher is going to spend months to years on a project, it should be something that interest them. When thinking about a research problem, think about what topics are of interest to you. Brainstorming is a good way to branch from what is known into the unknown and discover problems that otherwise may never have been discovered. There is power in numbers and sharing concerns and interest about a topic can unearth important problems that otherwise may never have been discovered. Professors are always a great source for identifying problems because professors are familiar with the research process. Although they may not know about your specific topic of interest, they understand the process of conducting research better than anyone else. Finally, practitioners. Even though practitioners may not have the research background of professors, they are also the best subject matter experts. By asking them questions, a lot can be discovered regarding a topic. By exploring some if not all of these sources of finding a problem of interest, it allows researchers to investigate potential topics from multiple angles until they find a problem that interest them the most.


Once a problem of interest is selected, a thorough research review must be conducted to determine what is already known on the subject. A literature review ensures the problem has not already been solved. If that is the case, adjustments can be made to the problem to make it novel. For instance, if the original problem was, “what is the best way to motivate high school soccer players?” But that problem has already been asked, the problem can be changed to, “what is the best way to motivate college soccer players?” By doing this, you are providing new insight to a topic that has already shown interest. During this stage, information is gathered to later identify weaknesses and variables and connect those variable to form novel relationship between the data.


After conducting a thorough research review, a theoretical or conceptual framework must be developed. Theoretical frameworks are based upon ideas previously established in literature, whereas a conceptual framework entails creating original ideas by linking concepts from the literature. Knowing this, it is important to remember the two terms are often incorrectly used interchangeably. A conceptual framework is composed of five steps to review literature. These steps are:


Identify the relevant concepts in the study.

Relevant concepts must be defined.

Variables must be operationalized (i.e. the researcher needs to clearly define how each variable will be measured).

Identify moderating and mediating variables in the study (Moderating variables change the relationship between two variables and mediating variables explain the relationship between two other variables).

Identify the proposed relationship between each of the variables.


Now that all of the variables have been identified, it is a good time to identify a possible research question. Research questions are generally composed of two types of variables. The first being independent variables which are the ones manipulated in the research, and the other being dependent variables which are the ones that are changed as a result of the independent variables manipulation. Dependent variables are the answers we are attempting to find when we combine two knowns to discover the unknown. When determining which question will provide the most value and is worth conducting months if not years of research, the researcher should take into account the following concerns:


Does it address gaps or weakness?

Is the question clear and concise?

Is it too broad or too narrow?

Can the question be answered logistically, in a reasonable manner?

Can I access the subjects or information necessary to answer the research question?

Are the potential answers to the question interesting and important?

Asking these questions is valuable to the researcher to ensure they are conducting valuable research.


Upon determining the best question to answer, it is time to develop a hypothesis. A hypothesis is a relationship between concepts based upon prior research. Graton and Jones (2004) note four characteristics of a good hypothesis:


It must be able to explain findings and relationships that arise from data collection.

Admit empirical testing by means of data analysis.

It should require very few assumptions and be valid under numerous circumstances.

A good hypothesis presents better explanatory power than their alternatives.

If the hypothesis possesses all four of these characteristics, it is worthy of being sought out.

 

Stay active, 


Chris Johnson

www.ImproveWithChris.com 

 

Reference

 

Andrew, D.P., Pedersen, P.M., & McEvoy, C.D. (2011). Research methods and design in sport management. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.

 

Gratton, C., & Jones, I. (2010). Research methods for sports studies  (2nd ed.). New York: Routledge.

 

Johnson, C.P. (2016).  Gamification in Adventure and Wilderness Sports: A literature review of game-based mechanic’s ability to increase attraction, engagement, and retention in outdoor sports. The Sports Journal.

 

 


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