What I’m Learning from House of Cards

I’ve recently gotten hooked on the Netflix series House of Cards. If you haven’t seen it, I highly recommend it.

While I’m enjoying the series as something to relax and shut the brain off with, I am also fascinated by Kevin Spacey’s character Frank Underwood.

Frank is as Machiavellian as they come, seeing life as something to be manipulated in your favor and every interaction as a win or a loss. He is ruthless in his pursuit of power and willing to win at any cost. His ability to manipulate and use people is something you don’t see every day, and he freely discards people when they no longer serve his purpose.

While Frank’s morality and ethics leave a lot to be questioned, there are some traits about him that I appreciate and can learn from.

First and foremost is his ability to plan. Everything he does has a purpose, especially his conversations with his colleagues. He anticipates how people are going to react to the things he does and says. His actions and words are done to prod, provoke and bring out a reaction. While it is never explicitly stated, he has an endgame and an objective in mind at all times.

As coaches, it is very easy to fall into the trap of acting according to how you feel/reacting to what others do or say. The master coach is one who is always planning and looking to manipulate (in a positive fashion) the team to create the best conditions for success. Conversations with players, reactions in practice, decisions in games. The master coach is very precise and understands what will bring out the desired result.

Frank Underwood is relentless in the pursuit of his objectives. He is willing to sacrifice anything and anyone around him that might help him achieve his goals. He is ruthless and not afraid to make hard decisions.

Coaching is a people driven business. But it is also one that requires coaches to make hard decisions in pursuit of their objectives. Playing time, lineup, roster, recruiting – all areas that require a coach to say no or tell someone they aren’t good enough. While coaches should never discard people on their teams, they should be ready to make the hard decisions that will move them closer to their objectives.

Pardon the pun, but Frank has a lot of frank conversations in his job. While it is very much part of what he does, it seems as though he spends most of his day in a confrontation with someone. This is an unnatural human state – we can be hostile and confrontational for a time, but humans are programmed to be at ease for the majority of their day. Frank is not afraid of this aroused state and embraces most of the battles head on.

Confrontation, especially with a colleague or someone you like (friend, co-worker, spouse) is never easy. But it is a necessary part of life and when used properly can help to mend relationships and fix things that aren’t working well. Often, people try to avoid or hide from confrontation, ignoring people or ducking the problem. Facing issues head on, embracing the confrontation and looking to grow from it is the best way to handle it. Frank’s ability to be upfront, honest and blunt about what he wants is a refreshing reminder about the value of confrontation and how it can be beneficial when used properly.

While I just hit on a few key themes from Frank Underwood’s character, there are dozens of things in House of Cards that any leader can learn from. A fascinating drama that shows what the world of politics looks like and might also help you become a better coach.


The Value of Habits

Habits – they seem to be everywhere. Do you make your bed? Brush your teeth? Keep your room clean? The list goes on…

To me, habits are the little things that stand between success and failure. The little things that are the big things. Life is lived on the margins, the line between “making it” and not is so fine. Habits are what will ultimately separate the wheat from the chaff.

There are a lot of people in the world all trying to achieve things. Professionally, there are thousands of people who are trying to climb the ladder. A lot of people can do a lot of jobs, so what’s the difference between those who make it and those who don’t?

It comes down to habits – take care of your habits and you will take care of business.

What Does it Take?

Time. It takes time.

Success, achieving your goals, finding your way. It all takes time.

Long hours, short nights, early mornings.

If you want to achieve your goals, get to where you want to be, it takes time.

Time spent learning. Time spent growing. Time spent failing. Time spent exposing yourself to criticism. Time spent succeeding. Time.

Want to find success in life (however you define it)? It takes time.

James Clear: Average Speed

James Clear is a writer that I follow on Twitter. His blog is fantastic and I highly recommend it to anyone. He focuses on personal development and the path to becoming great. He published a great piece about Average Speed and how it’s about putting in work every day over time.

Read it here: http://jamesclear.com/average-speed

And follow his blog and on Twitter while you’re at it.

One Word 2016

For those of you that know author Jon Gordon, he has a book titled “One Word That Will Change Your Life

The premise is to create discipline through simplicity – find one thing to focus your energy on and use that as your guiding principle for the year. Every year, Jon has a new “One Word” for himself as a target area for growth. We all have areas that we can improve upon and ways that we want to do better in life.

Personally, my “One Word” for 2016 is punctuality. While this obviously refers to times for meetings, appointments and the like, I also believe it applies to other areas of life as well. I see punctuality including housework, grocery shopping, making my lunch every day, etc. I also see it as making sure I post to this blog every week (I think this is the first post since October???).

Punctuality requires diligence and a little more attention to detail in all areas of my life. Learning how to say no to something, or ask others for help when I truly can’t get something done. I know that focusing on my “One Word” for 2016 will help me become a better coach, husband, friend and person.

Stopping to Smell the Roses

The earth we live on is a truly amazing place. Think about it for a minute – it sustains life for hundreds of thousands of species of plants, animals and of course, humans. All while it is constantly changing and evolving underneath the surface. Pretty incredible when you think about it.

But how often do we do that? How often do we stop and see the earth and say “Wow!”?

Not nearly enough. We’re frequently too busy rushing off to the next man-made appointment, event, or to-do list, to truly appreciate all that the earth has to offer.

Who cares? Why is that important?


Taking time to look around, to just stare in wonder at the things around you broadens your perspective. It helps you to realize that the world existed before you did and will continue to exist after you’re gone. It gives you appreciation for the fact that we are guests on the planet, people who are sharing the environment with other people, animals, plants etc. That we aren’t quite as important as we think we are.

Developing your sense of wonder and appreciation for the world around you helps life to slow down. It keeps you from taking yourself too seriously, while encouraging a sense of creativity and adventure.

So the next time you’re driving down a road and see something cool, stop. Check it out. Wonder at the world around you – you never know what you might find.

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Unspoken Communication

It’s amazing what human beings communicate through body language. Think about the most recent face to face conversation that you had – how much do you remember about the actual words spoken vs the message that was communicated via body language and non-verbal cues? I’d be willing to put money on the latter of those two choices.

Think about what you take away from a conversation – think about how much you focused on/tried to read/judged the demeanor, engagement level and interest of the other person. Think about how you felt when you walked away from that conversation based on those three things.

If body language and non-verbal cues are so important, why don’t we think about it or practice it more? When was the last time you had a conscious thought about what your body language is saying for you? When was the last time you put focused effort on presenting yourself in a manner so that the person you were talking to left with the impression you intended?

As a recruiter, you become an expert in reading the body language and demanor of the person you are recruiting. How does he present himself? Does he look and act like someone I want in my program? How interested is he in my school? Is he merely going through the motions?

Right or wrong, you have to make judgement calls on your recruits based on your limited interactions with them off the playing surface. You make decisions on their character, personality, fit, interest level, work ethic, etc based on a few in-person conversations. If a person doesn’t give you the warm and fuzzies then he likely isn’t the right fit for your program.

Thinking about non-verbal communication in the recruiting process, the way you act and present yourself can dramatically alter your life. Thinking about it on a big picture level, how you act and carry yourself around other people has the ability to determine your friends, your career opportunities and much much more. Body language and unspoken communication could not be more important.

Think about it the next time you’re having a conversation – it could change your life.