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"Surround Yourself with Greats"

Updated: Sep 14, 2021

Life Lessons Series: Six of One Dozen of the Other- "Surround Yourself with Greats"


I love the acronym GOAT, the Greatest Of All Time. The term was first popularized for legendary boxer Muhammad Ali when his wife Lonnie set up G.O.A.T. Inc. in 1992. Sportswriters have been referring to the best players as the greatest of all time as far back as the 1920’s.

I remember first hearing this acronym used to describe Michael Phelps in 2008. Let’s face it, the guy is a GOAT. Phelps is the most decorated Olympian of all time, earning 28 medals. It is easy to see that Phelps’ six-foot seven-inch wingspan gave him an advantage in swimming. But he did not just wake up, jump in the pool and start winning gold medals. He practiced, trained, and dedicated his life to swimming. His family, friends and coaches very publicly encouraged Phelps and celebrated in his vast accomplishments. He made his luck and earned his GOAT status.

Seriously who does not want to be a GOAT at something in their life? Despite the common definitions for GOAT that include “not a title that should be easily given out” I am of the firm belief that we can. I don’t think this term has to be limited to people who are universally accepted as a GOAT. We should nurture and help develop greats both personally and professionally to surround ourselves with them in our lives. I have from the beginning of my life worked to surround myself with GOAT’s. I continually migrate toward people that work hard, are fun, smile at life and have a moral compass that reflects mine. I trust my gut and am comfortable enough in my own skin to know when someone does not meet my standards. Both personally and professionally I want to be in a field with GOAT’s. It makes me a better person and makes my life that much richer.

The Platinum Rule

As a child my mom taught me the Golden Rule which was to “do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” I remember this as a child with everything to sharing toys, snacks and being a friend someone would want to have. She would call me out if I was not living up to the Golden Rule with my sister or any of the neighborhood kids. My mom was a legend in the neighborhood with her “Joan Look” which stopped anyone in their tracks. Needless to say, when I failed to live up to the Golden Rule I got the “Joan Look” which quickly and effectively corrected my behavior. I still follow the Golden Rule through to this day. Mom did not mess around!

When I began managing people, I told my mom I wanted to apply the Golden Rule. My mom stopped me and said I really should be working to employ the Platinum Rule “treat others the way they want to be treated.” Yet again, mom was right. I have seen it over and over and over again.

The most effective Platinum Rule lesson for me surrounded an employee recognition event a few years back. The company I worked for had an employee of the year award. The recipient one year was a younger employee who worked in IT. He was amazing in his rapid response, willingness to help and go over and above for everyone that opened a ticket for service to be sure they were quickly and effectively resolved. We all wanted “Don” to be assigned to our cases. Don was a GOAT.

Don’s employee of the year award was a $5000 bonus which was given to him at an all employee event where the entire campus population of 2000 employees were in attendance. Don was to go up on stage and pick up his $5000 check. I was standing by Don when he was named employee of the year. Literally I saw firsthand his expression change from jubilation at having won the award to one of sheer terror.

Don was an IT guy. His amazing service was never face-to-face or even over the phone. His entire delivery of service was through email. Don was terrified to go up on stage and accept his award in front of 2000 people. Clearly the manager in charge of that celebration never learned the Platinum Rule. I think of that experience often when reward and recognition events are being planned. Always “treat others the way they want to be treated.”

Promote Employees to their Level of Incompetence

I have high standards for myself and tend to have high standards for others. I have had to learn over the years that I cannot expect everyone who works with and for me to have the same standards I do. There is a reason I sit in the chair I do at the office.

To be the best I can, I want to continually get the best performance possible out of each employee. To achieve this, I listen to what motivates and drives people- family, faith, money, advancement, recognition. My goal is always to promote employees to what I jokingly refer to as their level of incompetence based on their goals and performance. This results in getting staff continually into a place for their highest and best use. This is mutually beneficial- it benefits the employee, the company and allows me to build a team of GOAT’s.

Remember the 1980 movie Caddyshack when Ted Knight says to his Caddy “the world needs ditch diggers too son?” (Ok clearly I am aging myself again here with this movie reference!) Truer words were never spoken. Going to college is not for everyone…and that is ok. The same holds true in corporate America. Not everyone wants to be a CEO (or even a manager)…and that is ok. Some employees want to come in, work an 8-hour day -hopefully- and go home. When they leave they do not want the stress and hours that come with being the CEO (or a manager). They just want a job. My goal is to get every employee in the best possible job for them. They will feel good about themself which will allow them to perform optimally which benefits the company and me as their manager with my team of GOAT’s.

To do this, I start by knowing what goals my employees have for themselves and help them achieve them. I get to know each employee. Every day I am in the office, I set aside time to walk around with a full cup of coffee to say good morning to each person. I look at what they have on their desks and comment on them to get to know each person better. I want them to respect me as their manager, yet always be comfortable coming to me when they need to. When I call them into my office for a discussion, I don’t want them to feel like they are being sent to the principal’s office.

I prefer to sit beside employees and not always in an office. When I am in my office, the door is open as much as it can be. During weeks of hectic meeting schedules, I schedule time to be sure I am present, my office door is open and I walk around with brief “stop and chats” to stay connected. I purposefully fill up my water bottle in the kitchen during lunch hour. I say hi to everyone I pass in the halls to and from meetings, in the lobby and even in the ladies room. I don’t want to only focus on those that are my ‘work friends’. I want to connect with every employee. Those people that I know the least are the ones I want to talk to most!

I don’t ever want an employee’s review to be a surprise to them. I celebrate what they do well together with them, usually publicly, when it happens. When something needs correction, I have a private discussion and address with the employee. (I only share negative employee feedback to those that have a need to know. I see this as a sign of respect for the employee. I don’t want the employee to believe they cannot overcome performance that requires correction based on what becomes “water cooler” talk. It will limit them.) Employees constantly know where they are doing well and where they need to focus efforts for improvement. Annual employee reviews are easily accomplished both on my end given the on-going meetings and the employees never walk away surprised or upset.

This kind of management earns a great rapport with staff. They know you will have their back. They know you will celebrate their successes- both personally and professionally, with them. They know you care about them as a human being not just as a number on the balance sheet. They know you will work with them on areas in which they need to improve. Employees thrive under this type of leadership. They will work harder for you. They will become a GOAT.

I say this confidentially having managed like this for more than 25 years. I know this works and have effectively created an environment where employees can become a GOAT and surrounded myself with them.


Everyone has the potential to become a GOAT at something in life. Not all GOAT’s are born with advantages. Even with advantages, being great at something requires work- usually hard work.

Both personally and professionally, making a concerted effort to "do unto others as you would have them do unto you" is a life lesson in paying things forward. Taking this effort to the next level and "treating others the way they want to be treated" helps people feel better about themselves. This is mutually beneficial- it benefits the employee and the company with happier employees and results in better performance.

Making the time to sit beside people, connect with and understand them enables helping to identify the highest and best place for each employee. In short, it allows getting employees to the best position where they can succeed and shine. Maintaining on-going relationships with just in time candid feedback is one of the greatest investments in time a manager can make. Remember there is always a better choice to make and path to take. Go the extra mile to connect with people. This leads to a great rapport with others. It will lead to being surrounded in the field by GOAT’s. GOAT isn’t just an acronym; it’s a title that carries significant weight that at every level must be worked hard for and earned in any environment.

What is Your Life Lesson….

1- Do you follow the Platinum Rule at work? Do you follow the Platinum Rule at home?

2- Do you make time every day for “stop and chats”?

3- Who is on your list of GOAT’s?

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