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Joe Battista: The Margin of Excellence

by on January 17, 2013 6:36 AM

Over the years I have been asked to speak to groups as far ranging as corporate executives at Nationwide, to the American Hockey Coaches Association National Convention, to the Lion Ambassadors retreat and all the way to my son’s third grade class. A common topic I choose has to do with leadership. I want to share a portion of one of these speeches that I call the “Margin of Excellence.”

What is the "Margin of Excellence?”

Simply stated, “At the Margin”, what will you, as a leader, do to be a difference maker? “At the Margin”, what are you, as a supervisor, coach, or administrator, willing to do to be a difference maker?

William Jennings Bryan says, “Destiny is not a matter of chance, it is a matter of choice; not a thing to be waited for; but a thing to be achieved.”

I am a firm believer that sooner or later in life you must stand for something and you must be willing to take a stand.

So how do you develop the skills necessary to be prepared “at the margin”?

• Be a “Courageous” Leader

• Surround yourself with “Great” people

• Never Stop Learning

• Go “Above and Beyond”

• Follow the “Golden Rule”

• Have an “Attitude of Gratitude”

Be a “Courageous” Leader

It’s easy to lead when all is well. The mark of a true leader is one who can make the tough calls at the most critical times. A courageous leader understands the short term and long term ramifications at stake. They can quickly analyze the circumstances so that they have accounted for the various factors necessary to make a timely decision. They take action and aren’t afraid to make mistakes realizing that if they are heading in the wrong direction their egos will not get in the way and they will re-evaluate and adapt. They understand that “perfect is sometimes the enemy of done” and that a decision made in a timely manner is better than the perfect decision acted upon too late.

“Am I therefore your enemy, because I tell you the truth?” - Galatians 4:16

Will you have the courage to make the tough calls at the right moments? Will you look a colleague or a family member in the eye and tell them what they do not want to hear but knowing that it is for their own good or for their professional development?

My favorite plaque in my office is from the "Citizenship in a Republic” Speech at Sorbonne,

Paris, April 23, 1910 by former President and “rough rider” Theodore Roosevelt. I refer to it as “The Man in the Arena” speech.

"It is not the critic who counts: not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs and comes up short again and again, because there is no effort without error or shortcoming, but who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, who spends himself for a worthy cause; Who, at the best, knows, in the end, the triumph of high achievement, ...and who, at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly, … so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who knew neither victory nor defeat.“

Questions you need to ask before you make decisions:

Is it morally correct?

Is it ethically correct ?

Is it legal?

Is it safe?

Is it the right thing to do?

Does it pass the “Front Page Test”?

Surround yourself with “Great” people

People are not your most important asset. The right people are! “Get the right people, in the right seat, on the right bus”, - “Good to Great,” by Jim Collins

I like to ask my audience “How many ACHA national championships did I win at Penn State?" People who paid attention to my introduction may remember hearing the number or the years and think they have it figured out. After a number of guesses someone will ultimately say zero, and they of course would be spot on. I will quickly say, “How many ACHA national championships has the Penn State ice Hockey “team” won? The answer is six. Why didn’t “I” win six championships? Because “I” didn’t score a goal, make a save, or block a shot. The players did.

A hockey puck in my office has a sticker that says, “EGO’s Don’t Win Championships, Teammates Do!”

Jim Collins’ in “Good to Great” says: “EGO’s = “Eases Greatness Out.”

In our playbook in 2003, our cover sheet stated, “Good is the enemy of excellence” followed by a list of motivational sayings, including, “If we are going to be great, we need to be great together!”

Another great quote from one of my favorite movies of all-time, Patton, is “All glory is fleeting.” If there are purely selfish motives, rarely does a team or an individual reach their goals.

“Surround yourself with people who will challenge you to be better.” - Bob Johnson, former head coach of the Pittsburgh Penguins, 1976 U.S. Olympic team. My own “team” of mentors has included:

Dr. Ray Lombra, Associate Dean Of the College of the Liberal Arts and Economics Professor;

Dr. Paul Cohen, Distinguished Professor of Industrial Engineering;

Charles “Vance” McCullough, Club Sports Director, Entrepreneur;

Ruth Hussey, Academic Advisor in D.U.S.;

Mr. Paul Fatur, retired Babcock Lumber Executive, Hockey Booster Club President;

Mr. Paul Cervellero, President of Inductotherm, Icer Endowment

Never Stop Learning

"Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”

- Albert Einstein

What are you willing to do more of, do differently, or stop doing in order to drive innovation through your life?

“Where you are five years from now is directly related to the people you meet and the books you read.” - Lou Holtz

Go Above and Beyond

Deliver more than you promised; Out-prepare, out-think and out-work the competition. Remember that you don’t have to be sick to get better. Success can mask a lot of things, so constant review and de-briefs are necessary tools for reaching your goals.

"Passion is the key to success. Passion is the difference-maker. You know why? Because people with passion go above and beyond. They do what they have to do to get it right. They do what has to be done." - George Bodenheimer, President of ESPN Inc.

Follow the “Golden Rule” (Be Nice!)

We have all heard the saying, “Treat others as you would want to be treated.” When dealing with people, be fair, firm and consistent and treat them with dignity.

“At the Margin” . . . What is the cost to you to be nice to people?

Develop “an attitude of gratitude.”

“There’s nothing I would change about my time at Penn State. The people — my coaches, teammates, classmates and the alumni and fans put all they have into supporting us.” — Paul Posluszny (’06 Business), two-time football All-American and Bednarik Award winner.

It’s not about you. It’s all about the team. It’s about the people. Remember, it’s a marathon, not a sprint. If you falter, it’s just a temporary setback.

Have passion, persevere, believe in your cause and be loyal to the program.

“At the Margin." Will you do what it takes?

Recent Columns:

From ice hockey to Intercollegiate Athletics and Smeal, Joe has been an integral part of the Penn State and State College communities since 1978. Battista was influential in the effort to bring varsity ice hockey to Happy Valley and in the building of Pegula Ice Arena. After a 2-year stint as VP of Hockey and Business administration for the Buffalo Sabres, “JoeBa” returned home to start “PRAGMATIC Passion”, LLC Consulting. Joe lives in State College with his wife Heidi (PSU ’81 &’83), daughter Brianna (PSU ’15), and son’s Jon (PSU ’16), and Ryan (State High Class of 2019).
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