Coach’s Wisdom Still a Guide Decades Later

by Aaron Phillips

I became the owner of Decision Associates January 1, 2020 and had a ten-week honeymoon. Our team was extremely busy for most of the first quarter. The projects we were working on and quoting as a firm were engaging. I was working as hard as I ever have in my career and it could not have felt more fulfilling. Week eleven is when everything changed. The signs were all around me, but I refused to believe them. The pandemic was wreaking havoc and the world was shutting down. Yet I felt this would only be a temporary setback. Eight months and counting into the pandemic, and I think everyone realizes temporary is relative.

I certainly wish it were a different first year of business ownership, however, operating the business during a pandemic has reinforced some very valuable lessons I learned several years ago. At Penn State, I walked on to the football team. I had the opportunity to play under Coach Paterno. Coach Paterno was extremely disciplined, and his program was extremely structured. He was very particular about every detail in all facets of the program. I learned a great deal from him, and his leadership style has influenced me in many ways throughout my life. Coach Paterno was known for sayings and quotes. There are so many that have helped guide me over the years, so I wanted to share a couple that I feel are relevant for 2020. First and foremost, he always stressed to pay attention to the little things because if we did, the big things would take care of themselves. He also stated, “the minute you think you’ve got it made, disaster is just around the corner.”

The first ten weeks of 2020 were relatively easy for me and the team. Our business was thriving and the projects were plentiful. I almost felt that we had it made. That is a dangerous feeling and getting shocked back into reality with the impact of the pandemic on our business and many others’ was a healthy reminder of Coach Paterno’s quote. It’s the same reason that Coach always hated when he saw players try to showboat. He wanted his players to stay grounded, stay focused on the next challenge that lie ahead. That was what really mattered. We had a great first quarter, but that doesn’t mean anything. We had to stay grounded and focus on the next challenge.

As businesses were shutting down and many were fighting to stay open, the team at Decision Associates did not sit back and feel sorry for the situation – we all dug in.  We paid attention to the things that would help our clients.  We focused on the details.  We did weekly webinars and a peer group with business owners.  Each consultant worked diligently trying to speak with all our clients.  We helped them think through the challenges they were facing, and we shared perspective from our conversations with other businesses.  This focus led to strengthening the relationships with our clients.  It reinforced that Decision Associates was a business partner and a support system for the owners and key executives at a time when they needed it the most.  I believe in the end it ultimately led to an overall strong performance for the firm in a very difficult year.

2020 has proven to be challenging in ways that at times seem beyond our wildest imaginations. A significant amount of uncertainty remains as we get ready to flip the calendar. We know that 2021 will not be easy. We may face a few similar challenges, but rest assured there will be new ones as well. One thing is certain, the lessons I learned years ago from one of the finest leaders will continue to serve as a guide for me and our team at Decision Associates.