Mackay: Lou Holtz coaches you all the way to No. 1

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Lou Holtz

Photo: CRAIG RUTTLE, Associated Press

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Do you have what it takes to be successful?

One of my closest friends, Lou Holtz, the Hall of Fame college football coach, believes there are four things any person or organization needs to be No. 1.

Few people know more about success than Lou. He led six different programs to bowl games, and he was the only coach to take four different programs to the final top 20 rankings. Along the way, he guided Notre Dame to the 1988 national championship.

“First,” he says, “you have to make a commitment to excellence.”

Second is complete attention to detail. “It is the teams that pay strict attention to little things that win,” says Holtz.

Next, you need sound fundamentals. “You can’t be bored with such basic things as blocking and tackling.”

The fourth requirement is discipline. “Virtually nothing is impossible in this world if you just put your mind to it and maintain a positive attitude.”

Let me give you my take on all four of these tips:

Commitment to excellence. When you are interested in doing something, you do it when circumstances permit. When you’re committed to something, you accept no excuses, only results.

Commitment is a prerequisite to success. Commitment is the state of being bound — emotionally, intellectually or both — to a course of action. It starts with a choice and is sustained by dedication and perseverance. Actions speak louder than words.

Everyone wants to be No. 1. Those who actually achieve it are those who are willing to put the blood, sweat and tears into their effort.

Attention to detail. I like to add one word — fanatical attention to detail. The difference between failure and success is doing a thing nearly right and doing it exactly right.

Having a fanatical attention to detail must be an obsession. It has to be part of a company’s culture or an individual’s mind-set. You can’t just talk about it. You have to practice it every day for years.

It is not enough just to do the best you can. You also have to do everything you can. If it were easy to become the best, everyone would do it.

Sound fundamentals. Look at the great athletes and musicians. There are no walk-ons at the Super Bowl or in Carnegie Hall — or in corporate boardrooms, for that matter. The level of performance in those exalted places is only partly a reflection of talent.

It’s kind of like a stonecutter hammering away at his rock, perhaps 100 times without making a dent in it. And yet on the 101st blow, the rock splits in two. And it was not that blow that did it, but all that had gone before. If you’re not willing to practice until you get it right, you will never make the 100 blows that make the breakthrough on the 101st.

The minute I persuade myself that I have learned all there is to learn about a subject and can relax, my competition will hand me my head and slam me into the pavement.

Discipline. Most people aim to do right, but for whatever reason, they just don’t have the wherewithal to finish the job.

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