Lou Holtz’s 3 Rules of Life

“Everybody needs four things in life:  Something to do, someone to love, someone to believe in and something to hope for.”

I wish I had said that, but it was my very close friend Lou Holtz.  I recently invited Lou to speak to a professional group I am mentoring and he was his usual outstanding self.  It’s no wonder that the Washington Speakers Bureau calls Lou one of the best speakers in the world.

I’ve heard Lou speak a hundred times, and he still amazes me with his practical, down-to-earth, plain and simple advice.

For example, we have all kinds of rules and laws.  We’ve got federal laws, state laws, corporate laws, bylaws … you name it.  Holtz simplifies things by following three simple rules.

Rule #1 – Do right.  “Just do the right thing,” Lou says.  “We’ve all done dumb things and wish we hadn’t done them, but you can’t go through life with an albatross around your neck saying, ‘I made a mistake.’  Say you’re sorry, make amends and move on.”

He added:  “I think it’s wrong to be bitter.  We all have a reason to be bitter.  We’ve all had injustices done to us by society, by a spouse, by a friend, but you can’t go through life being bitter.  We’re always blaming someone else.  Wherever we are it’s because of the choices we make.”

Rule #2 – Do everything to the best of your ability with the time allotted.  Lou says:  “Not everybody will be an All-American.  Not everybody will be first team.  Not everybody will be great.  But everybody can do the best they can with the time allotted.”

Rule #3 – Show people you care.  I have seen this rule in action many times.  Lou is constantly asking people, “How can I help you?  How can I assist you?”  And he means it.  He has a deep-down burning desire to help people.

Lou Holtz says he can get by with only three rules because the people you meet have three basic questions.

The first question:  Can I trust you?

“Without trust, there is no relationship,” Lou said.  “Without trust, you don’t have a chance.  People have to trust you.  They have to trust your product.  The only way you can ever get trust is if both sides do the right thing.”

The second question:  Are you committed to excellence?

Lou explained that “When you call on a customer, you send a message that you are committed to certain standards.  How much do you know about your company and what opportunities your company offers to satisfy people’s needs?  The only way that can ever be answered is if you do everything to the best of your ability.”

The third question:  Do you care about me?

Holtz said:  “Do you care about me and what happens if your product doesn’t do what it’s intended to do?  Caring about people is not making their life easy.  Caring about people is not being their friend.  Caring about people is enabling them to be successful.”

A few years ago I was asked to help raise money for a Lou Holtz statue at Notre Dame.  On the pedestal, his players had chosen three words – Trust, Commitment, Love.  Those words represent Lou’s core values.

If people follow these three simple rules, their self-confidence grows.  They don’t worry when the phone rings.  They have no doubt about what they are doing.  They lift everyone up in their organization.  These three rules help hold organizations together.

Holtz then finished with this exercise.  He asked us to pick two people.  Pick someone you love, admire and respect.  Then take someone you’ve got a problem with.  Ask these three questions about both people.  Just a simple yes or no.

“I guarantee you, the person you admire and respect, you said yes to all three questions,” Holtz said.  “The person you’ve got a problem with, you pinpointed a problem.  Either you can’t trust them, they aren’t committed, or they don’t care.”

When you have a problem with someone who falls into these three categories you have to decide if you can change it or live with it.  If you can’t do either, your only other choice – and probably the right choice – is to divorce yourself from the problem or the individual.

I never said it was easy.

Mackay’s Moral:  Life is a lot easier if you always play by the rules.

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