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Coach Lou Holtz’s Simple Success Formula That Works Every Time

The famed football coach had three simple rules for life, both on and off the field.

It’s interesting how two little words can have such a big impact on people’s lives. Often, it’s the simple things that stay with you and can have an ongoing influence on your life. I know this was true for me.

Lou Holtz, a leading head coach for 34 years, both at the college and pro levels, is best known for the 11 years he spent as head coach of Notre Dame where he won a National Championship in 1988. Holtz is the only college football coach to have led six different college football teams to bowl games and the only coach to have led four different teams to the top 20 national rankings. He was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2008 and he also earned National Coach of the Year honors. After retiring from coaching, Holtz became an analyst for ESPN Sports TV. The Washington Speakers Bureau has called him one of the best speakers in the world, and I completely agree.

But more important than all of those accomplishments, Holtz is a great human being with a strong faith in God, and is a shining example to countless people around the world.

The author with Coach Lou Holtz after a chance meeting.

Many years ago, when I was living in Chicago, I discovered a corporate training program created by Holtz called “Do Right.” It was very expensive, but the company whose sales force I was managing at the time decided to invest in it to benefit our managers and salespeople. I loved the program and even took home a recording, which I watched over and over again with my children. I wanted to expose them to his simple, yet very important philosophies of life. That was almost 30 years ago, and I still remember much of it today. His simple philosophies have been a powerful influence on my life.

Coach Holtz passionately shared these same rules with his football players over the decades. I’m positive they were instrumental in the amazing success that he achieved over all those years. I love the fact that Coach Holtz was such a big believer in not just teaching his players about football, but also teaching them key life lessons that could stay with them for a lifetime.

Below are Coach Lou Holtz’s three simple rules:

Rule #1 – Do Right.

When you’re confronted with any decision you have to make in life, “just do the right thing,” as Coach would say. It doesn’t matter if it’s easy or hard, just do the right thing. It’s like a compass reading that will always show you the right way. Of course, we all make mistakes and have poor judgment on occasion, but when we do, we can’t go through life carrying that burden. Just say you’re sorry, make amends, and move on. “I think it’s wrong to be bitter,” Holtz said. “We all have a reason to be bitter. We’ve all had injustices done to us by society, by a spouse, by a friend, but you can’t go through life being bitter. We’re always blaming someone else. Whenever we are, it’s because of the choices we make.”

So, whenever you’re trying to make a decision, try and remember these two simple words and let them guide your decisions: “Do Right.”

Rule #2 – Do everything to the best of your ability with the time allotted.

Lou would often say, “Not everybody will be an All-American. Not everyone will be first team. Not everybody will be great. But everybody can do the best they can with the time they have allotted.”

Everyone has been blessed with different abilities. We can’t always expect the same outcomes from different people. If you compare yourself and your results to those with superior abilities, you will likely be disappointed in yourself all the time. All you can do is the very best you can, with the abilities you have been given, and do it within whatever time may be allotted. If you always truly give it your very best, then you should be satisfied with yourself and your efforts.

Rule #3 – Show people you care.

How easy is this, right? Coach Holtz was known for always asking people, “How can I help you? How can I assist you?” He was serious about this. He had a passionate desire to truly help people, and they in turn could feel it from him and knew he sincerely cared about them.

Always show the people in your life that you care about them. Don’t save this only for those in a position to benefit you. Do it for all. If someone holds a door open for you, waves you through in traffic or simply smiles at you, acknowledge them. Let them know you appreciate them and their gestures. It will make your day as well.

If you encounter someone on a more meaningful level who interacts with you and you sincerely want to help them in some way, do it. You will be amazed at how powerful this is. So few people actually do this. If you go out of your way to help people, you will often be amazed at what an impact this makes on their lives. They will likely remember it forever. Additionally, when you go out of your way to help someone else, it will often come back to you manyfold.

These rules may sound simple, but Coach always said they work because they resonate with all of us. Most people you meet have just three basic questions.

1. Can I trust you? If you don’t have trust, you have nothing. As Holtz would say, without trust, there is no relationship. Without trust, you don’t have a chance. People have to trust you. They have to trust your product. The only way you can ever get trust is if both sides do the right thing. How simple is this, right?

2. Are you committed to excellence? As Holtz would explain, when you call on a customer, you send a message that you are committed to certain standards. How much do you know about your company and what opportunities your company offers to satisfy people’s needs? The only way that can ever be answered is if you do everything to the best of your ability. People can tell if you are giving it your all or not.

3. Do you care about me? Do you care what happens if your product doesn’t do what it’s intended to do? As Holtz said, caring about people is not making their lives easy. Caring about people is not being their friend. Caring about people is enabling them to be successful.

I believe most people can tell or feel if you truly care about them or not. Some people look at others as just a sale or a commission. Humans have an innate ability to sense if someone truly cares about them. Keep this in mind and don’t be afraid to let people know you care about them.

When Holtz would deliver this message, he would conclude with a simple exercise to drive home his point. He would ask everyone to pick two people. Pick someone you love, admire and respect. Next, pick someone you’ve got a problem with. Then ask yourself these three questions about both people you picked. Just answer with a simple yes, or no.

The coach then said, “I guarantee you, the person you love, admire and respect, you answered yes to all three questions. Then he followed up with, “The person you’ve got a problem with, you pinpointed a problem. Either you can’t trust them, they aren’t committed or they don’t care about you.”

For the people you have a problem with, you have to decide if you can change it or live with it. If you can’t do either, your only other choice, and probably the right choice, is to divorce yourself from the problem or the individual. Holtz then followed up with, “I never said it was easy.”

What simple words of wisdom and rules to live by.

I had the good fortunate to run into Coach Holtz at the Orlando airport years ago. I introduced myself and told him about the influence that his “Do Right” program had on both me and my children so many years before. He broke out into the biggest smile you’ve ever seen. He then went into full coaching mode right in the middle of the airport, sharing how important it was to have goals and a commitment to excellence.

True to his reputation, he then gave me his personal business card and told me to call him if there was ever anything he could do for me. I still have his card in my desk and fondly remember that experience. He took his time to connect with a complete stranger and do what he could to inspire me. I am blessed to have met him—and hope his three rules will be a blessing to you.


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