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The 4 Marks of a Winning Leader

4 Marks Winning LeaderThe question made me squirm.

I was sitting in the right rear corner of the room, leaning back in the black leather office chair, stretching my arms above my head, when I suddenly snapped back to proper posture. I shot my glance toward the gentleman asking the question, then back to the screen of the video simulcast. This answer ought to be interesting.

I was in a live interview with a legendary collegiate coach who helped transform a Big Ten program from doormat to dominant in the 1980’s and 90’s. Most of the questions posed revolved around leadership, culture, teambuilding, secrets of success, and of course winning. Lots of questions came up about casting vision, setting direction, finding the right people (both players and coaches), and living by a set of core values. But this question was different and more pointed. The words seemed to hang in the air.

“Coach…what has your coaching career cost you?”

It was as if the inquiry came through the Skype camera like a Mike Tyson uppercut. The coach chuckled for a second—you know the type—the kind of half-hearted laugh we tend to exhale when we are caught off guard or surprised. After pausing for a moment, a distanced gaze came over this hall of fame legend’s face. After a few head shakes, the coach looked at us through misty eyes and said:

“Too much. It has probably cost me too much.”

Winning. Results. Success. It is what we recognize and glorify in our culture. It is what sells tickets and brings contract extensions and pay raises. It is the American Dream. But winning is hard. It is flat out, beyond a doubt, tough to win. Winning comes as the result of work, attention to detail, perseverance, and an unrelenting desire to get better. And sustaining winning over time is whole new level of habitual commitment and dedication.

In short, winning comes at a cost. And in our win-at-all-costs world, sometimes the cost is incredibly high. Consider the ways we’ve seen this desire to win manifest itself in the world of athletics in just the last 12 months:

  • Sports Illustrated found a growing concentration of young athletes using heroin has been linked to their use of painkillers to keep playing through injury.
  • The “Deflategate” controversy continues to stay in the news as the NFL hired one of the nation’s most prominent attorneys, Paul Clement, to challenge the reversal of Tom Brady’s suspension.
  • The demands, hours, and pressure to win take a heavy toll on coaches’ marriages and family lives, most notably and recently Florida State’s Jimbo Fisher and former USC coach Steve Sarkisian.
  • A recent survey published in the Boston Globe found 75% of youth sports coaches say parents put too much emphasis on winning and 95% of youth coaches report they have seen a parent yell at a referee during a game.

The expectation of any leader in any setting—athletics, business, healthcare, education, ministry, and more—is to get results. To produce progress. To win. Leaders must cast the vision, set the direction and then mobilize people to get it done. Why play, why lead, why even show up if you aren’t there to win? Winning is a good, dare I say, even a noble pursuit that is worth our best efforts. But if we leave a wake of damage and destruction behind us on the path to the prize…have we really won?

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Tim Hiller Book Signing Tomorrow!

MI News Agency 11.17.15

Join Tim at The Michigan News Agency (308 W. Michigan Ave., Downtown Kalamazoo) this Tuesday, November 17th from 6 – 8PM. Hear about the story behind Strive, hear a reading from the book, and get a signed copy.


November 17th, 6-8PM at The Michigan News Agency – 308 W. Michigan Ave., Kalamazoo, MI 49007

November 27th, 5-8PM at Christian Homestead Bookstore – 133 N. Main St., Orrville, OH 44667

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Tim Hiller Book Signing This Saturday!

B&N 11.14.15

Join Tim at Barnes & Noble (6134 S. Westnedge Ave., Portage) this Saturday, November 14th from 1 – 3PM. Learn about the story behind Strive, hear a reading from the book, and get a signed copy.


November 17th, 6-8PM at The Michigan News Agency – 308 W. Michigan Ave., Kalamazoo, MI 49007

November 27th, 5-8PM at Christian Homestead Bookstore – 133 N. Main St., Orrville, OH 44667

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Why I’m Rooting for Blake O’Neill

Unless you’ve been off the grid the past few days, you probably know that the University of Michigan football team’s punter is named Blake O’Neill and that he bobbled and lost the ball on the final play of the Michigan – Michigan State game. A play that cost Michigan the game, the Paul Bunyan Trophy, and bragging rights for one calendar year of the rivalry. Reports are that O’Neill has received death threats via social media for the blunder and that he has received much criticism on campus at every turn.

Before I continue, what you must know about me is that I grew up in Ohio. And every boy’s dream in Ohio is to put on THE Ohio State University’s scarlet and gray and to run out of the tunnel at The ‘Shoe to the tune of “Across the Field” in front of over 105,000 screaming fans. So needless to say, I was raised and trained to despise Michigan maize and blue. Typing the words “I’m Rooting for…” a Michigan player at the start of this post is no small feat for me.

So now that you understand both the difficulty and magnitude of what I’m writing here…let me ask you for some help…

Let’s encourage Blake O’Neill.

I know how Blake feels from my time playing quarterback at Western Michigan University. In fact, I was in a meeting with an athletic director I’d never met before, just two months ago, to discuss what our business Next Level Performance could do for his athletic department, and he said to me:

“I thought your name looked familiar when we set this meeting up. You were the WMU quarterback. I was cursing your name when you threw four picks on your senior night.”

While I’ve moved on from that not-so-great night in my football career six years ago, it will always be a part of my story. Why? Well…here’s the side of that story few people know:

A friend of mine had invited a 9 year old boy who I’d previously signed a football card for to come in the locker room after that fateful four interception game. I knew about my special visitor a few days prior to the game, but in the busyness of the week I had completely forgotten about it.

As I entered the locker room angered, dejected, and sorrowful that my college career had ended on such a sour note, I felt like throwing my helmet and breaking into tears. But as I turned the corner toward my locker, I suddenly saw two little blue eyes, wide as saucers. The boy’s jaw dropped as he peered up at me. And after a few moments of talking with him and giving him my wristbands and towel as a memorabilia, the sting of the loss had faded and I was quickly reminded of what really matters:

What we do for others far outweighs what we accomplish ourselves.

Yes, Blake O’Neill dropped the ball. But I’d venture to say, if we’ll all be honest with ourselves and each other, we’ve all dropped the proverbial ball a few times in our lives. We’ve let people down. We’ve hurt people. We’ve failed to make good on our promises and commitments. We’ve underperformed. We’ve said cold words.

We’ve dropped the ball in much worse ways than dropping a football before a punt.

The only difference between us and Blake is that millions of people saw his ball drop in a stadium and on television. And I’d also venture to say, we’re probably all glad millions of people did not see us drop the proverbial ball in our own lives.

Succeeding greatly requires being daring, taking a risk, and putting yourself out there. The courage to take the field and risk dropping a ball in front of 110,000 screaming fans is an accomplishment in and of itself, let alone performing at a high level. So let’s cut Blake a little slack. Let’s encourage him.

I’m rooting for you Blake. And I’m asking you reading this to root for him too. Why?

Because so called “failure” really isn’t about what went wrong. It’s about happens next.

Overcoming failure is all about two things:

  1. Reaction – How did you handle the adversity of life gone wrong?
  2. Response – So…what are you going to do now?

Blake, I’m rooting for you, because you have a golden opportunity before you. You handled step one well—your reaction—and I’m excited to see your response. It was Winston Churchill who said: “Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.” Blake, continue on…but continue well. Because this isn’t about what went wrong…it’s about what happens next. And you have total control over that.

Blake, Hebrews 10:35-36 has given me great confidence over the years in the face of failure. And I pray it would for you too: “So do not throw away your confidence, it will be richly rewarded. You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised.”

Stay the course Blake. We’re rooting for you.

Are you rooting for Blake too? I hope you are. And if you are, do him a favor:

  1. Click THIS LINK and go to his Twitter profile
  2. Tweet him a note of encouragement
  3. Share this post with others and encourage them to do the same

Overcoming failure is about what happens next. The response. And we’ll get to see that unfold in the weeks ahead. That’s why I’m rooting for Blake O’Neill.

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Strive: The Book

In Strive, former collegiate and NFL quarterback Tim Hiller leads you on a year-long journey, taking small steps each week on the path to making your life matter, developing into the person God designed you to be.

Our lives are short. Together, let’s pursue what matters.


From his platform as a champion, Tim has a natural gift for connecting with a wide range of audiences—from schools, youth groups, and churches, to student-athletes and business leaders. Submit a speaking request to invite Tim to inspire your group, team, or organization.

Next Level Performance

Co-founded by Tim Hiller, Next Level Performance develops the total athlete through elite sports performance training, club teams, and Beyond The Game™ Conferences. NLP’s proprietary leadership development process helps student-athletes succeed, both now and in the future.

Tim Hiller Live