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A moment of Greatness… that starts with being selfish.

Visualize Victory
They see victory before the game begins.

The next two days are my favorite of the sports calendar—the opening of March Madness. For the teams competing, this time of year is a culmination of goal-setting, continuous effort, and seamless teamwork. I have been consistently impressed by the Great culture of the Michigan State Spartans basketball team and Head Coach Tom Izzo – for 17 consecutive years, the 3rd longest current streak in the NCAA, the Spartans have been invited to this tournament, winning national championships in 1979 and 2000.

Izzo’s teams win consistently because of a culture that breathes accountability, envisioned success, and… selfishness.

Yes, selfishness.

Being classified as selfish normally isn’t a common step to Greatness. However, in a recent conversation with Izzo – I was interviewing him for my newest program for building a culture of Greatness my newest program for building a culture of Greatness – he shared that his players being selfish about specific goals and accomplishments can be key to visualizing victory. In order to see yourself successful, you must first be selfish enough to want it for yourself.

For the past 15 years, Izzo has held annual goal-setting meetings for his players, having each fill out a 3-by-5 card with their top five goals for the upcoming year. Izzo encourages the players to be selfish with their goals, and not to be concerned about their parents, girlfriends, teammates or buddies. Afterwards, he meets with them individually to discuss what they’ve written.

Most of the Spartan players write down some derivative of the same goals. They want to be an All-American, to win a national championship, and go to the NBA. Then Izzo rhetorically asks his players what it will take to accomplish these goals for the year, “Do you realize how much roadkill there’s going to be along the way to get what you want?” he asks.

By the end of this meeting, Izzo has helped his players evaluate their own values and aspirations, mapped out what it will take to achieve their goals, and then made his team accountable for reaching their envisioned success.

Izzo said the exercise gave him license to challenge each player every day in practice and after every game: If what you REALLY want is what you wrote on that card, did you do enough today to help you get there? Do you think previous All-Americans or National Champions who walked through these doors did more?

“If I can get them to work harder on their selfish goals,” the coach told me, “I can make them better contributors to the team.”

Tips from the Great ones

Great leaders know that every piece of the puzzle is important to the overall goal. Izzo’s hands-on toughness and accountability with his players is well known. He spoke at length about how he showed one of his star players, Kalin Lucas more than two hours of game and practice film that focused solely on his disinterested attitude in order to shake Lucas out of his complacency.

Izzo told me that often players cannot self-motivate because they cannot self-evaluate, but his approach sparked a change and churned new desires out of his once complacent player. After games Izzo would often go from player to player and ask them how they think they had played. He’d hone in on the players whose responses lacked at least a desire for Greatness. “You need to already think you’re great,” Izzo explained. “I think this is what is really needed for people to be successful.”

How can you use self-evaluation to maximize your vision of success? Have you taken the effort to build your own mental toughness? Great leaders know that focus is laser-effective to success. Are you holding yourself and your team accountable, and do you have others in your circle to do the same for you? By surrounding yourself with like-minded, driven individuals and learning how to properly use self-evaluation as a constructive tool to improve yourself, you can be a Great team leader, a Great parent, or Great in business.

Take some time out from your daily routine to fill out your own 3-by-5 card and list your goals and desires for yourself. What are you willing to do to achieve them? How much are you willing to suffer to achieve them? Share these with an accountability buddy and evaluate how you can grow in your problem areas. Today, your vision for yourself could equal tomorrow’s victory.


Read more about Coach Izzo’s team culture in my previous Chasing Greatness Blog article on the reinforced values of the Michigan State Spartans men’s basketball team.

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About Don Yaeger

Don Yaeger

Don Yaeger is a Certified Speaking Professional (CSP), longtime Associate Editor for Sports Illustrated, 11-time New York Times best-selling author, leadership expert and executive coach.

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