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View from the top: "Serve like a champion today!"

(Courtesy Photo)

(Courtesy Photo)

BUCKLEY AIR FORCE BASE, Colo.- -- As many of you know, I am a rabid Notre Dame Irish football fan. I have spent many a Saturday huddled around the television cheering my Irish to victory. However, the winning tradition to which I have been accustomed over the past 40 years has changed quite a bit. The wins are a little less frequent and the championships, well quite frankly non-existent. However, the one thing that stays a constant with Notre Dame Irish football is a simple wooden sign.

It is this simple wooden sign, painted blue and gold, that is mounted on a brick wall at the bottom of a stairwell. On this sign you will find the words, "Play Like A Champion Today." While the exact origin of the slogan is unknown, the sign that currently hangs in Notre Dame Stadium came courtesy of former coach Lou Holtz.

Holtz, a great believer in motivational tools, has spoken to his team at various times about what being a champion means.

"The word 'champion' means you're the best, the very definition of it," Holtz said. "You're a bar above the rest. When you play that way, you're going to be the best and if you give your best, that's all you can ask of a person."

Soon, the tradition of hitting the sign before every game developed.

To Holtz, hitting the sign comes with a solemn commitment.

"Regardless of the win-loss record, regardless of the problems you have, when you walk out on that field you have an obligation to your teammates and the fans to play to the best of your ability -- to play like a champion and to think like a champion," Holtz said. "But, I also asked my players that every time they hit that sign, to think about all the sacrifices your family has made; your teammates made in high school; the sacrifices your teachers have made; and you also think of the thousands of people who would love to be in your position. Just think about how fortunate we are.

"All of these thoughts should go through your mind when you hit that sign - `Play Like A Champion Today'."

Now, you are probably wondering why you should care about Lou Holtz, Notre Dame Irish football, or better yet an old wooden sign with a slogan on it.

Quite honestly, I know I will not be able to convince each of you to jump on the Notre Dame Irish football bandwagon, though I promise to make room for each of you if need be. But what I do hope is that I can convince each of you to see how a college football slogan, when applied to our lives, can not only make us all more effective Air Force leaders, but also more effective leaders in life.

For starters let's merely interchange a single word: "serve" for "play."

Our life slogan will be "Serve Like A Champion Today."

Are you ready to make a solemn commitment to serve?

The word "serve" shouldn't come to anyone as a big surprise, as it has been part of our Air Force heritage for years. We all joined the "service." Many people refer to us as servicemen or women. One of our core values is "Service Before Self". But what is truly meant by committing to serve?

Making a commitment to serve should not be taken lightly. To serve is the "act or acts of extending yourself for others by identifying and meeting their legitimate needs and seeking their greatest good." This comes with a personal price as we must sacrifice many times our own priorities, wants, needs, desires and time. However, I would challenge anyone wanting to be a leader that they must first be a servant. If you choose to lead... you must serve. If you truly commit yourself to servant leadership you will not find a more fulfilling path in life.

A question I always get is "But how do I know if I am an effective servant leader?" Here I will provide you a simple tool that I hope will be helpful as you serve and lead throughout your life.

One process that has proven extremely helpful in my career is what I call my "post-day" report card. It starts with a short list of questions that I ask myself at the end of each day to gauge how I served not only my Airmen, but everyone that I encountered. I use this report card to identify where I did great and where I can do better--to determine how I can be a stronger servant leader. The beauty of it all is that with each day comes a new beginning. I get to learn from my previous days, reaffirm my commitment to serve and inevitably take another step toward being a champion servant leader.

Here is a short list of questions I ask myself at the end of each day to prepare me for the new beginning that comes with each sunrise. Keep in mind this list is personalized; feel free to add or subtract as necessary as you develop your own "post-day" report card.

Before I lay my head on my pillow at night, I answer the following questions:

1. Did I "walk the walk" and not just "talk the talk" when it comes to our AF core values, standards and commitment to serve?
2. Did I honor and respect the partnership between leader and team member?
3. Did I put my people first and myself last?
4. Did I take the time to stop and listen, to show care to all people?
5. Did I respect those around me enough to provide answers to their important questions and close their concern loops?

Of course, my "post-day" report card results vary, as will yours, from day to day and week to week. Some days I do better than others, but as I stated earlier this "post-day" report card is not to be used to break your spirit but as a tool to reinvent yourself with the coming of a new day.

Are you ready for your solemn commitment to being a champion?

I challenge each of you to approach each day to be a champion and that you expect the same out of your Airmen, to do your very best and to raise the bar of service higher and higher every single day. Each of us needs to create a culture that exudes the mindset of a champion. When you lay your head on the pillow each night, will you be able to say you gave 100 percent and served like a champion today?

Hmmm, sounds like something Coach Lou Holtz would say.

Now are you ready to hit our "Serve Like A Champion Today" sign?

As with the Notre Dame Football team hitting the sign before a game you should understand the responsibility that comes with hitting, both figuratively and literally, our "Serve Like A Champion Today" sign before the start of each and every day.

Regardless of the personal problems in our lives we have an obligation to our fellow Airmen and the citizens of the United States of America to serve to the best of our ability--to serve like a champion and to think like a champion.

Each of us, each morning when we commit to this idea, we need to think about the sacrifices our families have made, the servicemen that have paid the ultimate sacrifice for freedom and also the thousands of people who would give anything to be in our position, to serve the greatest country on the planet.

All of these thoughts of service and what it means to be a champion should go through your mind when you reaffirm your commitment each morning and hit that sign.
Please join me and "Serve Like A Champion Today."
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