A successful person is an average person, focused

I love golf – both playing and watching the pros – so you can imagine my delight when my wife Carol Ann surprised me for my birthday with a trip to watch the Ryder Cup in Glasgow, Scotland, in late September.  What a memorable experience, one that’s been on my bucket list for a long time.  The only thing that would have made it better would have been a USA team victory!

Along with the spectacular scenery and outstanding golf, the thing that struck me most was the focus of all the players.

It’s easy to have focus when everything is going well, but great athletes keep their focus when they are staring at defeat.  A sure way to fail is to lose focus.

rydercupI remember when my close friend Lou Holtz was asked to speak to the American team at the 2008 Ryder Cup by then-captain Paul Azinger.  Holtz told the players to remember the word WIN.  WIN stands for What’s Important Now?

Holtz told them to evaluate the past but focus on the future.  If you just made a bogey, what’s important now?  Your next tee shot.   If you make a birdie, what’s important now?  Your next tee shot.  You play one shot at a time and stay focused.

He finished by telling the players to enjoy the competition … enjoy what you are doing, but stay focused.  That team won, the last time the U.S. team brought home the Ryder Cup.

I watched Holtz do the same with all of his football teams at Minnesota, Notre Dame and South Carolina.  As Holtz said, think only about the next play or point, not what just happened.  You can only focus on what will happen next.  Don’t look back.  Don’t complain.  If you maintain your focus on the future, anything can happen.

Years ago when I played golf for the University of Minnesota, my coach, Les Bolstad, drove home the point about focus.  I remember practicing and getting ready for the NCAA Golf Championship Tournament at Purdue University.  Les told me to focus on each shot as if it was going to be my last.  I would say to myself, “This is the last drive I’m ever going to hit, so it better be good.  This is the last putt that I’m ever going to make, and so on.”

I’ve carried that philosophy through to my work life.  “This is the last speech I’m ever going to give, so it better be good.  This is the last book I’m ever going to write … This is the last acquisition I’m ever going to make …. ”

It takes that kind of focus to succeed.  I’m convinced that one of the top reasons that keeps people from getting what they want is lack of focus.  People who focus on what they want to achieve, prosper.  Those who don’t, struggle.

Forbes Magazine recently did a story on the nine habits of productive people.  One of them was on focus, specifically using your morning to focus on yourself.  The article stated that:

It’s a big productivity killer to start your mornings by checking your email and your calendar. This allows others to dictate what you accomplish.  Start your day out right by ignoring your emails and having a good breakfast, reading the news, meditating, or working out.  This will ensure you’ve got the necessary fuel for a productive day.

I couldn’t agree more.  I make my to-do list every morning by working backwards:  What do I need to accomplish by the end of the day?  By the end of the week?  The end of the month?  That tells me where to focus.

Is your work team focused on the right goals?  The Change Management website offers this simple test:  Ask everyone in your group what the organization’s mission is, how it affects their jobs, and how they contribute to it.

If a significant percentage can’t provide a persuasive answer, you need to either communicate your mission more consistently and effectively, or change it so people understand their roles better.  A business can’t succeed without a common focus.

A martial arts student approached his teacher with a question.  “I’d like to improve my knowledge of the martial arts.  In addition to learning from you, I’d like to study with another teacher in order to learn another style.  What do you think of this idea?”

The master answered, “The hunter who chases two rabbits catches neither one.”


Mackay’s Moral:  Stay focused on one thing.  Trying to get everything will get you nothing.

Make a commitment to succeed

If you want to excel at anything in life you need to be committed.  If you only want to be good enough to get by, then a commitment to excellence is not necessary.  If you are committed to a cause, you don’t need to tell anyone.  They can tell from your actions.

I often wonder how people can be happy or at peace with themselves if they don’t make a commitment to something, whether it be succeeding at work or improving at a skill.  How do you reconcile expecting desired results without giving an honest effort to be the best you can be?

I know that if you go into any endeavor and say you will give it a try to see if it works, your half-hearted effort will probably fail.

Alan Page, NFL Hall of Fame defensive tackle and Minnesota Supreme Court justice, said:  “I grew up with the sense that if you’re going to do something in life, do your best.  When I was growing up, I didn’t know what I wanted to be, what I would do, but I do remember being told, ‘If you’re going to be a garbage man, be the best garbage man you can be.’  That stuck.  If it’s important to you and you want to be successful, there is only one person you can look at as being responsible for success or failure.  That’s you.”

harvey34Wanting something and actually making a commitment to getting it are two different things.  Your goals may be big and worthy, but do you have the passion to see them through? Success starts with a road map and a strategy, that’s just the beginning.  You must be prepared to seeing the action plan through – making a commitment to get to the finish line.

To determine whether you are honestly prepared to make a commitment, Rosabeth Moss Kanter of the Harvard Business School suggests testing yourself with these questions:

  • Do you feel strongly about the importance of your goal – why it’s necessary to achieve?
  • Does your idea match your values and beliefs?
  • Is this something you’ve dreamed about for a long time?
  • Is your goal vital to the future of people you care about?
  • Does your goal get you excited when you think about it and share it with others?
  • Is it realistic? Are you sincerely convinced that your goal can be achieved?
  • Are you willing to put your credibility on the line for it?
  • Can you make your goal the primary focus of your activities?
  • Are you willing to devote your personal time — evenings, weekends, vacations — to bring your goal to reality?
  • Will you be able to reject criticism and negativity?
  • Are you committed to the long term as you work toward your goal?

If you can answer yes to those questions, your chances for success improve dramatically.  It’s the difference between wanting and succeeding.

NBA star LeBron James, four-time league MVP, NBA champion and Olympic gold medalist, has made a commitment to playing his best and in being a good citizen both on and off the court.

James sums it up this way:  “Commitment is a big part of what I am and what I believe.  How committed are you to winning?  How committed are you to being a good friend?  To being trustworthy?  To being successful?  How committed are you to being a good father, a good teammate, a good role model?  There’s that moment every morning when you look in the mirror:  Are you committed, or are you not?”

If you still doubt the importance of commitment, consider this story.

At 6:50 p.m. as evening fell in Mexico City in 1968, John Stephen Akwari of Tanzania painfully hobbled into the Olympic stadium – the last man to finish the punishing marathon race.  The victory ceremony for the winning runner was long over and the stadium was almost empty as Akwari – his leg bloody and bandaged – struggled to circle the track to cross the finish line.

Watching from a distance was Bud Greenspan, a documentary filmmaker famous for his Olympic movies.  Intrigued, Greenspan walked over to the exhausted Akwari and asked why he had continued the grueling run to the finish line.

The young man from Tanzania did not have to search for an answer.  He said:  “My country did not send me 9,000 miles to start the race.  They sent me 9,000 miles to finish the race.”


Mackay’s Moral:  Commit or quit … it’s up to you.

And the moral of the story is …

I’ve been writing this nationally syndicated column for 21 years now, and it seems that the Mackay’s Morals I create for each one really stick with the readers.  Every three years, I dedicate a whole column to some of my most memorable morals:

  • No one is as important as all of us.
  • Gratitude should be a continuous attitude.
  • Killing time isn’t murder, it’s suicide. 
  • Hidden talents don’t have to be huge, but the results can be.
  • Open a book … open your mind.
  • Life is a lot easier if you always play by the rules.
  • We all have to grow up, but we never have to get old.
  • Corporate integrity begins with personal integrity.
  • We is a little word that sends a big message.
  • People don’t care how much you know about them … once they realize how much you care about them.
  • The most successful managers aim at making themselves unnecessary to their staff.
  • Critical thinking is critical to success.
  • harveygraduationcap 1The only person who can put limits on your imagination is you.
  • It’s not enough to know what.  You must also know how.
  • Your mind is your most powerful ally in developing confidence.
  • If you go the extra mile, you will almost always beat the competition.
  • Doing the right thing is never the wrong thing to do.
  • There is one thing more contagious than enthusiasm, and that is the lack of enthusiasm.
  • A student of life considers the world a classroom.
  • People are judged by the company they keep.  Companies are judged by the people they keep.
  • If seeing is believing, visualizing is achieving.
  • Creativity, not necessity, is the true mother of invention.
  • They say a word to the wise is sufficient, but I say a word from the wise is a gift!
  • If you don’t climb the mountain, you can’t see the view.
  • There is no such thing as a final offer.
  • An old dog can learn new tricks, and a new dog can learn old tricks.
  • Failure is not falling down but staying down.
  • Customer service is not a department, it’s everyone’s job.
  • Saying you’re sorry and showing you’re sorry are not the same thing.
  • Exercise your brain so your memory doesn’t get flabby.
  • An ounce of commitment is worth pounds of promises.
  • Most people strive to be better off, but few strive to be better.
  • If you want to make your mark, sharpen your skills.
  • Everyone wants to win, but most people are not willing to prepare to win.
  • The fool asks the wise for advice, but the wise ask the experienced.
  • Pride is the stone over which many people stumble.
  • Control your life or it will control you.
  • The hardest part of the sale is selling yourself to your customer.
  • Entrepreneurship is living a few years of your life like most people won’t, so that you can spend the rest of your life like most people can’t.
  • To get what you’ve never had, you must do what you’ve never done.
  • You’ll never lose credibility if you share the credit.
  • Happiness can be thought, taught and caught – but not bought.
  • Failure isn’t final unless you say it is.
  • People aren’t strangers if you’ve already met them.  The trick is to meet them before you need their help.
  • We may not be able to predict the future, but we can prepare for it.
  • A plan isn’t a plan until you have a backup plan.
  • Taking your time can sometimes be the best use of your time.
  • If a business knows what’s good for it, it knows what’s good for a customer.
  • You can’t get ahead if you don’t get started.
  • Worrying casts a dark shadow that blocks any glimmer of hope.
  • The best way to sound like you know what you’re talking about is to know what you’re talking about.
  • Stay on your toes or fall flat on your face.
  • You’ll never reach your goal if you don’t have one.
  • Start every day/year with a healthy dose of vitamin C – Creativity.
  • Taking care of employees is taking care of business.
  • Lots of people start, but few people finish.


Mackay’s Moral: (one more time) The smarter I get, the more I realize I’m not finished learning.

Lessons learned from animals – Part 2

About a month ago my column featured useful lessons learned from animals.  It certainly touched a nerve, as I received tremendous response from people who told me about what they had learned from their dogs, cats and pets of all descriptions.

Over the years I’ve used a lot of animal analogies because 1) life lessons come from many sources, and 2) you don’t have to name names.   Here is round two.

Personal growth:  The Japanese carp is commonly known as the koi.  If you keep it in a small fish bowl, it will only grow to be two or three inches long.  Place the koi in a larger tank or small pond and it will reach six to 10 inches.  Put it in a large pond and it may get as long as a foot and a half.  And when placed in a huge lake where it can really stretch out, it has the potential to reach sizes up to three feet.  The size of the fish is in direct relation to the size of the pond.

Relate that growth to people.  Our growth is determined by the size of our world – not the earth’s measurable dimensions, but the mental, emotional, spiritual and physical opportunities we expose ourselves to.

Lesson:  Unless we expand who we are, we’ll never have more than what we have now.

Teamwork vs. ego:  The danger of excessive pride or an excessive ego is evident in the story of the hitchhiking frog.

A frog asked two geese to take him south with them.  At first they resisted; they didn’t see how it could be done.  But the frog suggested that the two geese hold a stick in their beaks which he could hold on to with his mouth.

So off they flew.  People marveled at this demonstration of creative teamwork.  That is, until someone asked:  “Who was so clever to discover such a fine way to travel?”

Whereupon the frog opened his mouth and said, “It was I,” and plummeted to the earth.

Lesson:  If you want to take the credit, you also have to take the lumps.


Inability to let go:  An expedition of scientists was on a mission to capture a particular species of monkeys in the jungles of Africa.  It was important that the monkeys be brought back alive and unharmed.

Using their knowledge of monkey behavior, the scientists devised a trap consisting of a small jar with a long, narrow neck with a handful of nuts placed inside.  Several of these jars were staked out, while the scientists returned to their camp, confident of catching the monkeys.

Scenting the nuts in the bottle, a monkey would thrust his paw into the long neck of the jar and take a fistful of nuts.  But when he tried to withdraw the prize, he discovered that his clenched fist would not pass through the narrow neck of the bottle. So he was trapped in the anchored bottle, unable to escape with his treasure, and yet unwilling to let it go.  When the scientists returned, they easily took the monkeys captive.

Lesson:   Sometimes letting go means a much greater gain.

Competitiveness:  Have you noticed how many dead squirrels you see on the roadside in summer and how few you see during the winter?

In summer, nuts are plentiful, and it’s easy for even the slowest squirrel to survive.  The squirrels get fat and lazy and cars pick them off one by one.

In winter, things are just the opposite.  Nuts are few and far between and they must hustle to survive.  The fat and lazy squirrels have all gone to their maker.  The survivors are sleek, fast, and smart.  Few cars catch them unaware.

Lesson:  Businesses that become complacent and stop trying their hardest leave themselves vulnerable to business predators that soon put an end to their wellbeing.

Danger of Greed:  An old method of catching wild turkeys can be an excellent lesson to all of us.  To trap the turkeys, corn was scattered on the ground.  Then a net was stretched about two feet high over the grain.  When the wild turkeys sensed that no human was near, they would approach the corn and lower their heads to eat it.

When they became full and tried to leave, they lifted their heads and were immediately caught in the net.

Lesson: Don’t fall into the trap of something for nothing.


Mackay’s Moral:  Be kind to animals – they teach us great lessons. 

Don’t let false assumptions cloud your thinking

One afternoon, a woman noticed two small boys on the front step of a house.  They were in their school uniforms carrying their backpacks and she assumed were going home after school.  They were on their tip-toes trying to reach the doorbell with a stick.

“Poor little lads, they can’t get in,” she thought.  So she marched up the path, reached over the boys and gave the bell a long, firm push.

The surprised boys turned around and screamed, “Quick, run!” and promptly disappeared over the garden wall.

We’ve all had incidents where we misread the situation or falsely assumed that what we saw represented all the facts.  Then we realize we were wrong or at least judged prematurely.

While it’s not necessarily difficult to rethink your original assessment, when it comes to your business, it can be very costly.  You never want your customers to have to assume or guess that they know about all your products or services.  You must be specific, informative and user-friendly. To make sure your messaging is working in your favor, consider these following questions.

Do your customers have any idea what your business offers?  So often, business names don’t provide clues about the nature of a product or service.  If that’s your situation, you must find ways to present your business so that customers can find you.  An organization with a name like “Jones and Associates” could be a law firm, a real estate company, house painters, or a dozen other businesses.  You can’t assume that your name is synonymous with your service.  Make sure your Internet presence reflects the range of your services.

Do your customers know what your products and services can do for them?  Spell it out.  Even a product as basic as an envelope does more than move mail.  At MackayMitchell Envelope Company we offer more than 100 varieties of envelopes – for direct mail (four-color process), photos, invitations, tickets, return mail, embossing, self-seal, and so on.  If you have a specialized product that would benefit your customer, don’t assume that they know that such an item even exists.


Do your customers know how your products actually work?  Think “user-friendly” every minute.  Make sure your instruction manuals and training courses actually anticipate customer needs.  Don’t assume that every customer is tech-savvy or aware of options that would better serve their needs.

While you are rethinking ways to keep your customers from making false assumptions about your business, you can also reprogram your thinking so you can avoid making false assumptions.  Here are some ideas to consider:

  • Your first assumption may be false.  Make sure you have the facts before you make a judgment.
  • Give other people’s ideas a chance.  Another perspective can be extremely useful in making an accurate assessment.
  • Learn to separate facts from opinions.  Facts are provable, objective and clear.  Logic prevails rather than personal bias.
  • Think about how assumptions you make could change with circumstances.  For example, can you assume that costs will remain the same?  That would affect your bottom line, and potentially your success.
  • Are all the assumptions in your business plan reasonable?  Are you open to trying new things to improve your performance?
  • Don’t assume that today’s customer will be tomorrow’s customer.  Plan for changes and be willing to change plans.  As needs change and businesses come and go you must be prepared to alter your thinking and marketing to adapt to the times.

Resetting your mindset is never simple.  We all come equipped with viewpoints and perceptions that color our thinking.  But we can retrain our brains to see a bigger picture which in the long run will prevent jumping to the wrong conclusion.  Here’s a great illustration of the result of a false assumption.

Two service technicians working for the gas company conducted an ongoing rivalry to break up the monotony of their jobs.  One day, as they went around to the back of a house to read the meter, the woman who owned the house idly watched them from her kitchen window.

When they finished their business, the two technicians decided to race back to the truck – and so burst into a run.  As they reached their vehicle, they were surprised to see the woman of the house close on their heels.

“What’s wrong?” one asked.

She panted, “When two gas company men run from my house, I figure it’s time for me to run, too.”


Mackay’s Moral:  Don’t presume what you assume is correct.