Category Archives: Gerry Sandusky

The Team Myth: The Five Steps of Successful Team Building

Gerry SanduskyBy Gerry Sandusky

The NFL has 32 teams, not groups. Teams. All teams are groups, but not all groups are teams. Calling a group a team doesn’t make it one. That’s the team myth. Too many business owners and executives think of “team” as a label. It’s not. A “team” is an achievement; a dynamic process that includes talent, focus, motivation and sacrifice. It has a personality, preferences, and a unique culture.

The team myth leads businesses to think they can borrow a word or a label from sports that can replace or expedite a process. Sure, you can call the people on the second floor your marketing team. That doesn’t mean they’ll act like one. Neither will your leadership team, your operations team, or your production team until they commit to the five steps needed to form a team.

Step one – Assemble a talented group of people: Talent matters. Every NFL head coach knows that the more talent he has on his roster the smarter he becomes. Identifying and recruiting talent is only the first step. Talent alone is never enough. Every year in the NFL, talented teams fail to make the playoffs. It works that way in your business, too. Talent is the starting point, not the finished product. Identify the talent you need. Bring that talent together. But don’t even think about calling that talent a team yet.

Step two – Build everything around a clearly defined goal or series of goals: All teams organize around specific objectives. In the NFL, every team builds around the goal of winning the Super Bowl. To do that, teams map out a series of goals, with each goal moving the team farther along in the direction of the one major goal:

  • Win each week’s game
  • Qualify for the playoffs
  • Win their division
  • Earn a bye week to start the playoffs
  • Earn home field advantage throughout the playoffs
  • Win their conference title
  • Win the Super Bowl

On successful teams, every member knows the primary goal or goals. It is communicated thoroughly and consistently. The goal provides a direction so powerful team members know when they have drifted off course. Everything a good NFL team does—from its practice schedule to its travel itinerary to its off-season conditioning program—should push the team in the direction of increasing its chance of winning the Super Bowl. Everything. And everyone on the team should understand that singularity of focus. What is the clearly defined goal or goals that will help reshape the talented individuals you have brought together into a team?

Step three – Create a clearly defined and shared success benefit for each team member: No one on an NFL team shows up to practice every day focused on earning the head coach a new contract. In your organization, no one shows up every day hoping to earn the CEO a bigger bonus. Everyone arrives motivated by his or her wants, desires and hopes. Harnessing that broad spectrum of ambitions and motives requires clarity.

Every member of the winning Super Bowl team gets a ring; a big, shiny ring unique to that team and that season—a ring they can’t buy anywhere. They have to earn it—together. There are plenty of other more vague benefits to success: endorsement deals, a new contract, national recognition, etc. But vague doesn’t galvanize individuals into teams. Ironically, neither do salaries. Salaries are part of step one, attracting talent. The success benefit for a team has to extend beyond each team members salary and each member’s individual motivations. Salary is a personal benefit. Successful teams revolve around shared benefits. What is the shared success benefit for your team members?

Step four – Every team member buys in with a specific and shared sacrifice: A team has members who sacrifice something important, something they all surrender. That surrender creates a buy in, the foundation of a merit system. No one gets to play right tackle for the Cleveland Browns just because his father played right tackle for the Cleveland Browns. The right tackle earns his job both on his individual merits and on the price he pays as part of the team. Every NFL team holds training camp, a month long grind of long days, hot practices, intense competition, and meetings that stretch into the night. Every team member gives up free time, pleasure, family for the duration of camp.

As the season progresses, every NFL team has a leader in rushing yards, receiving yards, tackles, and sacks. On the best teams, those distinctions take on considerably less weight because the individuals who lead those categories see their efforts as a way to bring their team to a higher level of shared accomplishment. Ironically, on losing teams the statistical leaders often draw more attention to themselves. It becomes an individual focus. And that tears a team apart into a group, a group of individuals.

Have the members of your team paid a price to belong? Name the price. Make it a high price. People value what they pay the most for.

Step five – Hold the team to a specific time period: Groups, associations and organizations are open ended. Teams are not. Teams have a specific start and end date. The first four steps help your team reach the start date. The fifth step, the end date helps push the team with sense of urgency, purpose, and focus. Following this year’s Super Bowl, every one of this season’s NFL teams will cease to exist. Sure, the Baltimore Ravens, Chicago Bears, Philadelphia Eagles, Seattle Seahawks, and Green Bay Packers will all continue on as organizations. But the 2014 Philadelphia Eagles will end. That team ends the minute it plays its final game—and every team member knows it.

After the season, many of those 2014 team members will try to position themselves back at step one: becoming part of the talented group the organization assembles for the 2015 team. Your team needs a specific time period that drives it toward achieving excellence. Is it a month? A quarter? Half a year? Two years? You decide. Make sure your team knows the date of its Super Bowl.

These five steps will transform your groups into teams, and your teams can transform your organization into an industry leader. But just because you embrace the team approach doesn’t guarantee success. That’s the last part of the team myth. Thirty-one teams in the NFL fail to win the final game of the season. All thirty-two set out to build a stronger team the next year.

Gerry Sandusky is the play-by-play voice of the Baltimore Ravens, and a speaker, corporate trainer and author of The New York Times bestseller, Forgotten Sundays. He is the recipient of two regional Edward R. Murrow and Emmy Awards for his accomplishments in broadcast journalism. Gerry’s energetic and insightful presentations will impart the value of effective leadership techniques and communication on your audience. For more information on Gerry, please visit

The Crooked Yardstick: Redefining Success

Gerry SanduskyBy Gerry Sandusky

Take inventory of your successes. What comes to mind? The title of your position in your company? How much money you make? The value of your home? An award you won? If you had to measure your success, would you place yourself in the top ten percent? Top five percent? Did your company or your team meet this quarter’s sales goals? Regardless of which success percentile you stand in, does the nagging sensation that something isn’t quite right tug at you? You’re not alone.

A recent Harris poll shows a downward trend in happiness in America. Only thirty-five percent of Americans say they’re happy—two percent fewer than five years ago. A Gallup poll taken last year shows only thirteen percent of employees in the world feel engaged and invested in their jobs.

Abraham Lincoln had a keen insight into happiness. He said, “I reckon most people are about as happy as they make up their minds to be.” The same can be said of success.

Ruth McClain, a talented seamstress who grew up an orphan in Philadelphia, used to lose track of time standing at the metal racks in fabric stores that held wooden yardsticks. To the casual observer they all looked the same. Not to Ruth McClain. She examined them, observing a curve in one, a bow in another, a nick in another.

Asked about her fixation with the yardsticks she explained once, “If you measure garments with a crooked yardstick, the garment will look right when you finish making it. It will come out the right size, but the person who wears it will feel like something isn’t quite right. They won’t know what it is, but they’ll feel it. When you measure with a crooked yardstick the finished product never feels quite right.”

Goals and benchmarks others set for us create a similar effect as measuring garments with a crooked yardstick, because even if you hit the benchmarks something still won’t feel quite right. Eventually, like running into the wind, that feeling will fatigue you, overwhelm you—burn you out.

Sales goals, income levels, and possessions never fully satisfy us when someone else sets them as a standard of success. Who said you had to become a multi-millionaire, or that your company had to grow by seven percent a year? That the unemployment rate had to go down? If it wasn’t you, then stop using those data points as measurements! They’re crooked yardsticks. Sure, they reflect something, but they may not reflect what matters to you.

Here are four questions that will help straighten out your yardstick:

1. Who are you? – Not just your name or your logo but your essence. What are the essential things you want people to remember about you or your organization long after you’re gone? What do you stand for? What really matters? What makes you feel special and fulfilled?

2. Where are you, and how long have you been there? – That’s your present and your past. Know it and honor it. Make peace with it. Now stop letting it limit you. It’s just your starting point for the future. To get accurate directions you need to know a starting point and an ending point. Your starting point doesn’t define you.

3. Where are you going? – A lot of people and organizations can’t answer this. Stop until you can. If you don’t know where you want to go how will you know if you’re on course or off course? You won’t. Instead, you’ll fall for the trap of using goals and measurements set by other people to define your success.

Imagine outcomes that feel true, authentic, that feel like wearing a perfect fitting jacket while you walk through the woods on a chilly, fall afternoon. There’s no one else around to see you in that jacket. Just you. Does it feel tailored for your body, warm, just enough to keep you comfortable with your hands tucked into the pockets but not too much to bog you down? Someone made that jacket using a straight yardstick! That’s what success feels like. It can look like a thousand different things. That’s your choice. But make sure your vision of it feels right.

4. How will you get there? – Probably the same way Ruth McClain did: measuring everything with a straight yardstick. You will remain the product of a crooked yardstick until you have the courage to define success on your terms and measure it only by your terms. No matter how good everything looks, it won’t feel quite right, and achieving more won’t change that.

Answer those questions honestly at an individual level and you will quiet the noise caused by exterior expectations or crooked yardsticks. Answer them at a company or organization level and you will unleash purpose and commitment beyond anything you have experienced before because these answers come from a place deeper than the bottom line.

Ruth McClain had fewer than five hundred dollars in her checking account when she died at the young age of fifty-eight, but she died happy and she died fulfilled. She died knowing she had given the world something the world didn’t give her: the gift of a mother. She raised a good family, loved her husband and five children. She died knowing the shirts and blouses, the dress and the drapes she made brought beauty and joy to the lives of others. And she died knowing her life, like those garments, was measured using a yardstick she carefully selected.

By many measurements—income, assets, fame, power—Ruth McClain’s life may not look like much of a success, but by her measurement it was as true as a perfect yardstick; a yardstick I keep to this day to remind me of her—my mom—a genuinely happy, successful person.

Choose your yardstick carefully. Your success and happiness depend on it.

Gerry Sandusky is the play-by-play voice of the Baltimore Ravens, and a speaker, corporate trainer and author of The New York Times bestseller, Forgotten Sundays. He is the recipient of two regional Edward R. Murrow and Emmy Awards for his accomplishments in broadcast journalism. Gerry’s energetic and insightful presentations will impart the value of effective leadership techniques and communication on your audience. For more information on Gerry, please visit

Probortunities: The Four Pillars of Seeing Opportunities in Problems

Gerry SanduskyBy Gerry Sandusky

Standing on the football field in the fall of 2011, hours before a Baltimore Ravens game against the Pittsburgh Steelers, I reached out to shake the hand of former NBC Sports President Dick Ebersol and introduced myself. “Nice to meet you. I’m Gerry Sandusky.” He snatched his hand back, a flinch reflex as if my hand were on fire. Before I could say, “Gerry with a G, no relation to the former Penn State coach,” Ebersol had disappeared into a nearby crowd of people, a safe distance from the awkwardness caused by the sound of my name, an identical sounding name as a convicted child molester. Problem.

Several months later, I stood along the rail at Belmont Park racetrack in the middle of a dozen reporters preparing to do live TV reports. Holding the microphone in my right hand I stared into the TV camera and delivered a live-tease to an upcoming story. “Triple Crown hopes arrive at Belmont. I’m Gerry Sandusky. That story, next.” I could feel the other reporters gawking at me. A conspicuous silence hung along the track rail. Problem.

A year later, I took my family on a trip to Manhattan. At the check-in counter, the agent asked my name. When I told him, his eyes unlocked from mine and scanned the room. He later admitted his instincts led him to look for police. Problem.

The sound of my name has caused plenty of problems. Still does. But it has also given me something marketing experts call “stickiness.” People remember my name. It catches people’s attention. It may have led you to read this article. Opportunity.

Look at the word “opportunity” and focus on the end of the word. The final five letters spell unity. My experience has taught me to believe in and look for the unity between problems and opportunities—even if it takes a little while for the opportunity to present itself. I call that probortunity thinking.

The inventor of 3M’s Post-It Notes used probortunity thinking. In 1968, Dr. Spencer Silver set out to create a super glue to improve the adhesive used on 3M tape products. Instead, he ran into the problem of developing an adhesive that worked on paper only until someone pulled on the paper. The problem of an adhesive that didn’t quite work evolved into the opportunity to create a product that has filled office cubicles ever since.

The nature of the problem of my name changed dramatically once I saw the opportunities it could lead to. Along the way, I discovered four pillars that will support anyone’s search for opportunities in the realm of problems.

Probortunity Pillar #1: Don’t Run; Don’t Hide – Accept the problem. Don’t ignore it. It’s there. So is the opportunity it will give birth to. But you can’t begin to see the probortunity until you stop denying the problem.

Probortunity Pillar #2: Choose Your Response – We always have the power to choose. You don’t have to like the problem–who does? But you don’t have to lash out at problems, whine about them or feel treated unfairly by them. You can choose to respond in a way that makes you feel better. It’s hard. I know. I chose not to fight everyone who called me a rapist. I chose not to return profanity to everyone who used it with me on social media. It was hard, very hard. Then I experienced a transformation: I learned the more I exercised power of choice, the stronger it becomes, and the stronger I become. Gradually, I became more powerful than my problem. You can too.

Probortunity Pillar #3: Change the Angle of Your Approach – If you keep staring at the problem you’ll never see the opportunity. You’ve made your peace with the problem; now ask yourself what you can change to see the situation differently?

In the third quarter of Super Bowl 47, the electricity went out in the New Orleans Superdome. Problem. We had no power for the radio equipment in our broadcast booth. Problem. My quick-thinking producer handed me a cell phone that he had dialed into the call-in number. That got us on the air. Opportunity. For the next 34 minutes while the TV booth remained in the dark, our radio ratings soared. Probortunity. When the lights came back on the problem went away—so did the opportunity. Our ratings went back down. Sometimes, when your problems go away, so do your opportunities.

Probortunity Pillar #4: Be a Lighthouse, Not a Courthouse – Once you’ve identified the problem, stop wasting time figuring out whom to blame. That’s the domain of courthouses, the domain of judges. Instead, ask what this problem can teach you and how you can use it for good. By choosing not to respond to every one who made an offensive comment to me, I ended up having a positive impact on people in ways I could have never imagined—and they did the same for me. A young man struggling with terminal cancer sent me a message on Facebook thanking me for showing him that he didn’t have to lash out at his problem. He said it helped him make peace with his cancer and enjoy the end of his life instead of fighting it. When he shared that with me, my notion of problems changed. What problem did I have? I hoped I might lift someone else and someone else lifted me. That’s the power of probortunity thinking.

Here’s the ultimate power of probortunity thinking: It’s available to everyone—just like problems. There is one big difference between problems and probortunities. Problems always find you. It’s up to you to find the probortunities.

Gerry Sandusky is the play-by-play voice of the Baltimore Ravens, and a speaker, corporate trainer and author of The New York Times bestseller, Forgotten Sundays. He is the recipient of two regional Edward R. Murrow and Emmy Awards for his accomplishments in broadcast journalism. Gerry’s energetic and insightful presentations will impart the value of effective leadership techniques and communication on your audience. For more information on Gerry, please visit