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Making a difference with 3 rules and Vince Lombardi

Our attitude determines whether or not we will be successful or mediocre each day

By Rory Thelen

When people ask me what I do for a living, I give a pretty generic response. I tell them I work for the Wisconsin Department of Corrections and then tell them the capacity I am currently working in (as Security Director). Then they usually ask me, “What the heck for? Have you ever been in that spot? Have you ever really thought about it?”

I believe we draw our motivation to go to work every day from the people we’ve worked with, the places we’ve worked at and the experiences we’ve acquired over our years of service. How well we do our job each day is determined by the training we’ve had and the experiences — good and bad — we’ve had and continue to have each day.

My goal when I go to work is to survive physically, legally and mentally. The first two usually happen routinely, but surviving mentally is not always as easy as it seems. Surviving mentally means we have to prepare ourselves each day before we go through the gates.

Our attitude determines whether or not we will be successful or mediocre each day. Our attitudes control our motivations, which dictate how we perform and, thus, determine whether we will be successful or not.

So, do you want to make a difference?
Being successful and making a difference sometimes means we have to subjugate our welfare for the welfare of the team, the institution and our peers. One of the messages I try to give to staff when I’m instructing is to apply three simple rules to do business by:

1. First of all, always try to do the right thing. Do it in good faith and under the color of law.
2. Secondly, do the best you can without accepting mediocrity. No one will ever be perfect at what they do; however, if you strive for perfection all the time, at some point you may obtain excellence. To me, that’s something worth working for.
3. The third rule I have is to treat others the way you would want to be treated, under the same or similar circumstances. Easier said than done, right? Not if you make an attempt to treat everyone you contact each day with dignity and respect. You will be amazed at the response you get when you do this.

Taking a cue from Vince
There have been many positive influences in my life, one of them being Vince Lombardi. Growing up in Wisconsin and watching the Green Bay Packers during the 1960’s gave me the opportunity to watch how Lombardi directed and coached his players. He was a no-nonsense man with a simple plan and a passion for carrying it out and he instilled this passion in all those around him.

So how does this apply to what we do? It comes back to how well we prepare ourselves to survive each day. To win and be successful should be our number one goal. One of Lombardi’s most famous quotes came from one of his speeches titled, “What it takes to be number one.” Lombardi said, “Winning is not a sometime thing it’s an all the time thing. You don’t do things right once in a while, you do them right all the time. Winning is a habit. Unfortunately, so is losing.”

You and only you can determine whether you will be successful or not each day. Being a winner doesn’t mean looking up at the score on the scoreboard. It means how well do I handle myself when things don’t go according to plan? How well do I accept responsibility for my actions, the actions of my peers and the actions of those that work for me? What do I do to make things better when mistakes have been made? Can I handle adversity and can I lead people through that adversity with my head held high?

I think we all need to look in the mirror and ask ourselves these questions. And if we come up with an answer we’re not comfortable with, fix it.

Can you mentally prepare yourselves for the bad day at work or at home? The answer is simple: You bet you can, if you choose to.

In part two of this article, I will discuss what it takes to practice crisis rehearsal and to mentally condition ourselves each day to survive.

Rory Thelen is a retired 32-year veteran with the Wisconsin Department of Corrections. His expertise is in creating and maintaining the safest and most secure environment possible for staff and inmates, whether as an instructor or an officer. To that end, Rory is a certified Verbal Defense and Influence Instructor for the Vistelar Group, a Verbal Judo Instructor and has been a Firearms and Incapacitating Agents Instructor. Rory is also a call staff instructor at Moraine Park Technical College teaching Emergency Procedures in the Criminal Justice Program.

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