Lou Holtz's 3 rules for success in business and in life

Coaching a football team is not unlike leading a hospital or health system. Leaders of both have to frequently adjust their strategy, navigate unexpected turns and motivate a group of people to work toward a common goal.

The most effective leaders have a clear vision about what they want to accomplish and where they want to take their organizations, according to Lou Holtz, legendary football coach and analyst, who shared his tips for success on and off the field in a roundtable discussion sponsored by Zotec Partners on Nov. 14 at the Becker's Hospital Review 6th Annual CEO + CFO Roundtable in Chicago.

Mr. Holtz said he always asks himself the following five questions when he's trying to meet a goal, and he said the same questions can help healthcare leaders achieve success at their organizations.

1. What sacrifices are you willing to make?

2. What bad habits do you have to get rid of?

3. Who do you have to work with?

4. What problems do you have to overcome?

5. What skills do you have to acquire?

Mr. Holtz said it's important to answer those five questions honestly and to work to check items off of the list. "It's not just a wish list," he said. "You have to have a vision of where you want to go and have a plan to get there."

By following through on that plan, it's possible to achieve both personal and professional success simultaneously. "I don't believe you have to sacrifice your personal life to be a success professionally, and I don't believe you have to sacrifice your professional life to be a success personally," he said.

Although achieving personal and professional goals is important, Mr. Holtz said helping others should be top priority. "We're born for one reason, to help other people," he said. "A lot of people can be successful. You're significant when you help other people."

Mr. Holtz emphasized that being a leader shouldn't be taken lightly, and to always remember those you're accountable to. Hospital and health system leaders have employees and patients counting on them every day to make the right decisions, and Mr. Holtz said that is something members of the C-suite should keep top of mind. "Just remember how fortunate you are to be in your position and how many people are counting on you," he said.

Mr. Holtz said there are three simple rules hospital and health system leaders can follow to ensure they're making the right choices in their personal and professional lives.

Rule 1: Do what's right and avoid what's wrong. "The greatest power you have is to choose," said Mr. Holtz. Although being a leader of any organization can be difficult at times, he said it's important to be grateful for the experience you're given. "Enjoy the problem. Enjoy that people need you. Enjoy your opportunities. Enjoy your challenges," he said.

Rule 2: Do everything to the best of your ability. "Most people don't know how good they can be. Most people don't want to get out of their comfort zone," said Mr. Holtz. However, he emphasized that stepping out of your comfort zone is vital to success. Mr. Holtz shared a story from his time coaching football at Notre Dame to illustrate this point. "I'm at Notre Dame, we're ahead of Stanford 16-0, and we lost the game. We were so used to winning we started to let things slide," he said. At the team's next practice, Mr. Holtz apologized to the players. He told them, "We lost that game because I lowered the standards for you." As a leader, Mr. Holtz said it's absolutely critical to understand the obligations you have to other people. "You do not have the right to cause others to fail because you don't live up to your obligations," he said.

Rule 3: Show people you care. Mr. Holtz said there is no time as good as the present to share a kind word or a smile. "Why do we have to wait for someone to have a catastrophe before we reach out to them?" he asked. "Don't wait for a catastrophe to show your employees you care."

Although those three rules may seem simple, Mr. Holtz said they've helped lead him to success in both his professional life and personal life. "I've never needed a fourth rule," he said.

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