The Keys to Success (Interview with Matthew Gordon prior to the FINA Championships)

Ready for the Championships

Ready for the Championships

Despite his busy schedule, I recently had a chance to sit down with Matthew Gordon and discuss his upcoming World Championship, training, and how cocktails fit into all of this.

Kevin: So Matthew, it seems that you are always training for one event or another, what is the next event?

Matthew: I am currently training for the FINA World Masters event in Montreal, August 2nd -8th. Held every two years it’s an invite only event open to adult swimmers from across the globe. This is the long course championship and the first of hopefully two World Championship events that I will participate in this year. The other event is the short course in December in Doha. From early indications the long course event is expecting over 6,000 participants.”

Kevin: It sounds like an incredible event. When did you start training for this?

Matthew: After about 30 years out of the water, my dream was to be able to compete at this level after being dormant in the sport for so long. So I mentally started preparing for the event in January of 2014. I knew after nationals that I was going to qualify, but my body was worn out from over training, so I really committed to this event about three months ago. It’s been an intense journey to get here, from the overwhelming amount of information and advice on training plus running two businesses, community commitments, to keeping balance in my home life. I am just so privileged and proud to be here and able to compete at this level with this caliber of competitors.”

Kevin: What challenges has your body been giving you?

Matthew: I felt very worn out after the event in San Jose. Going into the event I knew I had over trained. Nothing was firing at 100%, and I just knew I wasn’t going to be able to perform at the level I had expected at nationals. It was my body telling me that if I didn’t slow down then something was going to crack. Back in May I was swimming 5x a week with weight training on top of that. I was overwhelmed by all the training advice I was getting and was pushing too many new techniques.

Kevin: How did you alternate your practices to overcome the over training?

Matthew: The simple answer was, I cut back on training. There was no way I could continue with the schedule from the first 5-6 months. I was feeling overwhelmed on my return to the pool. Obviously I can do more than I am currently doing and I know it’s taboo in the industry and a bit risky but I needed to slow down in order to compete.

Kevin: What is your new training plan?

Matthew: I cut down my swimming sessions from 5 times to 4 times per week. I really tried to be smart about maximizing my training so I started focusing on new techniques and positioning. I also dropped all the weight training from my regime and added a day of yoga per week. There are so many new techniques now that I really wanted to focus on training smart and strategically use my time in the pool.

Kevin: What do you mean by “strategically” training?

Matthew: I started focusing on three key areas this time: alignment, endurance, and a whip kick movement. The alignment and positioning is about how my body goes through the water. This is like an automobile test that sends air over the car to see where the drag is. I have been focusing on creating less resistance in the water by body and head alignment.

The next addition was endurance training. I am doing power sets 20 x 50m times butterfly sets repeats. Really trying to get the intensity up, think HIT training.

The third thing I started focusing on is the 5th stroke or kicking while incorporating a Whip movement during the kick, starting from the core, instead of so much hip movement. This whip like movement generates power and coming from the core gives much power than from the hips.

Between endurance, whip kick and head alignment, it’s been quite a bit of an undertaking in terms of incorporating it all in three months.

Kevin: So what have you learned during your training?

Matthew: The top two things are balance and nutrition. I feel most of us need to be more disciplined, there only so many minutes during the day and unless you are very focused on schedule training tends to fall off. You need to find a balance in order to fit in all personal, professional, and swimming obligations. What ends up happening is other things tend not to happen — social engagements diminish quite a bit. With a little more planning it is possible to get more out of your day. Balance what and when to eat. Scheduled it in advance – because without mapping this out, you will not have the right fuel for your work out or your career.

Kevin: What is the best supplement for training?

Matthew: I have been experimenting with branch amino acids, but have not seen results. To be honest, I find the best supplement to be eating clean and balanced nutrition. Also, I am a big fan of chocolate milk after a workout — half for the protein, half for my sweet tooth.

Kevin: What keeps you motivated to train?

Matthew: Knowing that I am still pushing forward at my age, not many people train this hard or have such high athletic goals after 50. I am love the feeling of competing, and of being in shape and fit. It always makes me happy to work towards good physical health.

Kevin: How do you see yourself ranking against the competitors in Montreal?

Matthew: I have only swam one race over this training period, this summer in long course. My time would have placed me 9th in world competition in 2012 in Italy. Now looking at the seeding of competitors on the heat sheets, I am currently a 20/21 seed. So it should be interesting to see how the times on the heat sheets compare to final times in the worlds. Many fast swimmers have come out in the last two years. I see this increasing the difficulty to break the top ten. Hopefully with slowing down, new strategies, and good planning I can make a good showing. At this level with the competitors from around the world I will be thrilled to have a ranking, let alone to come in the top ten. It’s just an honor to be among this field of swimmers.

Kevin: Best of luck In the worlds, we can’t wait to hear how you do.

 

Don’t Give Them The Answers: Putting Autonomy To Work

leadershipIf you’re a business leader but feel more like a schoolteacher, you’re doing something wrong.

When an employee comes to you with a question, it may seem counterproductive to tell him to figure it out on his own, but sometimes that’s the best thing a leader can do. If you hand out all the answers, you’re only promoting one perspective — yours — and innovation doesn’t come from people simply following directions; it comes from motivated, free-thinking individuals.

In this article, Matthew Gordon discusses strategies leaders can use to empower employees to think independently.

In Swimming and in Business, the Mental Game Is the Toughest


shutterstock_106533593 (1)This time last year, I promised myself that I would be back competing at a high level in swimming again. I kept that promise, and I plan to compete at the international level this December.

I was recently featured in a press release on PRWeb about my achievements in competitive swimming. I believe it’s important to take a breath and recognize achievements before moving on to the next goal, so I want to express my appreciation for being able to celebrate these milestones and illuminate one of our core values at Gordon Group: Anything is possible.

If you take the time and effort to gain a mental edge, you can accomplish anything.

You just need determination.

Training and competing have been part of my life since I was a young boy. I started off diving, and at 10, my coach thought I should switch to swimming. I was reluctant because I knew how intense swim practice would be, but the coach needed another body in the pool, so I agreed.

Just a few years later, I placed first in New York state competitions and went on to set a Division I record at Iona College that still stands today. I even traveled to Illinois to train with a coach who brings athletes to the Olympics.

Throughout the next 30 years, I kept training even though I wasn’t competing. I added yoga and triathlons into the mix. Yoga taught me mindfulness, and training for triathlons gave me tenacity. Both of these attributes made me mentally strong and gave me the prolonged determination and energy to come back to competitive swimming with vigor.

One thing I’ve realized is that once you get to a high level in swimming, your opponents are just as skilled and talented as you. In sports — and in business — you’re actually playing two games at once: one against your competitors and one against yourself.

The hardest battle is always the mental one.

If you can’t win the mental game, you don’t have a chance of winning against your competitors.

My most challenging days are the days when I just don’t want to go out and run 20 miles — when it’s raining or snowing or I’ve got a schedule packed with meetings. These are the days that separate the champions from the rest of the pack.

Take the example of Roald Amundsen, who competed against Robert Falcon Scott in the race to be the first man to reach the South Pole. Amundsen’s expedition was years in the making. He spent months living with indigenous populations, acquiring sled dogs and supplies, and planning the route. Scott spent relatively little time preparing but had motorized sleds and only progressed in fair weather. Unsurprisingly, it was Amundsen who reached the target on schedule by setting daily goals and making slow, steady progress.

If you’re able to go out and train every day consistently, then you have the mental edge you need to succeed. This is exactly what I found and what Gordon Group prides itself on.

Consistency doesn’t mean not pushing yourself, though. Once you reach a certain level, you have to expect that there will be no more “easy days.” In business and in swimming, if you’re having an easy day, you’re not competing hard enough. You have to put in everything you have if you want to win. If you can tell yourself every day to keep going and push harder to get to the next level, then you can win the mental game.

What are your secrets to staying consistent and maintaining determination as you work toward your goals?

 

Are You Spending Too Much Time Managing Instead of Leading?

shutterstock_172626641How much of your day is actually devoted to leading? Of course you’re a “leader,” but are you actually leading, or are you just managing?

Leadership is about more than just a title. It’s about believing in and establishing an overarching vision for an entire company. But many leaders get bogged down in their daily managerial duties and don’t leave enough time to strategize and communicate the company’s long-term vision.

In this article, Matthew Gordon describes the difference between managers and leaders and provides tips to help you develop a balanced leadership-to-management ratio.

Read the full article at CEO.

Interviewing at a Startup? Read These 5 Books First

shutterstock_125936990Working at a startup is like no other job in the world. You’ll be expected to wear multiple hats, learn on your own, and

Since every employee is so critical in a small company, its founders will want to ensure that you’re a valuable hire. And the best way to prepare for an interview at a startup is to brush up on some key principles of entrepreneurship and growth.

5 Books You Should Read Before the Interview

These books will teach you about the different aspects of running a successful company and arm you with the knowledge you need to take on the startup world.

1. “The Lean Startup” by Eric Ries: Ries uses business growth theory and the science of success to teach readers how to create a solid company in an environment of uncertainty. This is the blueprint for building a business that is ready for growth and a must-read for anyone considering entering the startup arena.

If you read only one chapter, don’t miss the chapter on innovation, which provides a great step-by-step model on how to nurture disruptive thinking.

2. “Predictable Revenue” by Aaron Ross: Here is your bible for lead generation, sales development, and consistent sales systems. Ross guides readers through the process of developing predictable success, creating self-managing systems, and establishing sustainability.

This is a short book, so you should read the whole thing and read it again a few months later.

3. “The Five Dysfunctions of a Team” by Patrick Lencioni: There’s an art to building a strong team. Lencioni walks readers through the process, from participating in self-assessments to identifying the tools needed to build a high-performing organization.

If you only read one chapter, I highly recommend the fable. But if you don’t have time for that, the overview will give you 80 percent of the information you need to know.

4. “Good to Great” by Jim Collins: Have grand plans to build one of the top companies in the world? This is the book you need to read. Collins highlights the differences between good and great companies and explains why “good” is the enemy of those businesses that go the distance. He’ll teach you how to hardwire great performance into a company’s DNA.

If you read only one part, make it the chapter about the Hedgehog Concept. Take it from hedgehogs: Sometimes, simplicity is best. Just as the hedgehog rolls into a ball to outwit the clever fox, every business should find one thing and do it extremely well.

5. “Mastering the Rockefeller Habits” by Verne Harnish: Want to get (and keep) your organization on track for explosive growth quarter after quarter? Read this book for a practical set of tools that will help you with everything from building your culture to securing financing.

If you only read one chapter, make it “Mastering a One-Page Strategic Plan.” You will never execute the steps you need to succeed without a plan, and Harnish provides one of the best one-page templates I have found.

How to Nail the Interview

Once you’ve done the requisite reading, you have to make all that fresh information work for you during the interview. Here are some natural ways to incorporate these concepts into your discussion:

  • If you’re drawing a blank on personal experiences when asked about the most important lesson you’ve learned, answer with one of the principles you read about and how it applies to you.
  • If the interviewer mentions a company that’s not doing well, use a relevant reference from “Good to Great” to analyze its downfall with more context.
  • If the interviewer mentions a specific challenge the company faces, offer ideas from your reading on ways you can help the business move forward.
  • Ask insightful questions based on the principles you’ve learned to glean more information about the organization.
  • Use the concepts in the reading to explain common workplace problems in a simple way.

Reading these books and being able to apply what you’ve read will help set you apart from other candidates by showing you have the knowledge to move the company forward. Educating yourself also demonstrates initiative, which will give any founder confidence that you’ll be a valuable addition to his or her startup team.

Which books have been vital to your entrepreneurial education? Leave a comment, or connect with me on Twitter to share some of your favorites.

Prove History Wrong: Why You Can Be Friends With Your Employees

shutterstock_178717799For years, employers and employees have accepted a universal mantra: “No fraternizing with the help.”

Millennials are challenging that norm. But that’s OK, and experts agree.

Now, bosses, we just need to get you on board. You’ll quickly discover that being buds with young, talented employees has the potential to boost productivity, improve retention, and make everyone in the workplace happier.

A Friendship Crisis

Traditionally, jobs were perceived as something that paid the bills. In fact, workers weren’t really supposed to like their bosses. Friendships between managers and employees suggested favoritism.

However, Millennials have grown up in a more connected world. Their parents, teachers, and other superiors double as Facebook friends. They no longer have the veil of privacy that past generations experienced.

Older generations need to understand that Millennials want to connect with colleagues on social platforms like Facebook and LinkedIn. But Millennials should equally understand that older managers usually aren’t as comfortable with that.

Perhaps you should rethink rejecting that friend request and seek opportunities to be more social with your employees.

What Millennials Are Looking For

It’s simple: Millennials want to make friends at work. So if your company’s culture doesn’t match their social expectations, you could lose some of your best talent. Consider these three questions that Millennials ask themselves when evaluating employers:

  1. What is the company culture like? If the culture doesn’t personally resonate with the Millennial employee, he’s probably going to move on to another company.
  2. Does the company have an accelerated advancement program? Many Millennials see themselves getting several promotions a year, so they’re probably not going to want to work at a company that’s had the same boss for 10 years, much less pursue a friendship with him.
  3. What are the boss’ interests? If the potential employee has similar interests to the employer, he will be more likely to want to work at that company and pursue a friendship with the employer.

While knowing what Millennials are looking for is great, it’s important to understand why the friendships that Millennials seek matter in the first place — and how to make sure those friendships don’t cross the line.

Setting Realistic Boundaries

Keeping home and work life separate is more difficult than in the past.

Employees who feel their workplace is a positive and social environment are usually happier and more successful. “The question isn’t really should we mix friends and work,” said Alia McKee. “That’s inevitable. The question is how do we get it right.”

While being friends with employees has its benefits, there are also risks to watch out for, such as romantic interests. So setting clear, firm, and realistic boundaries is vital to striking a successful work/friendship balance with employees.

  • Separate the lines of being a boss and a friend. Have frank discussions with employees about which behaviors are unacceptable.
  • Keep the relationship on a friendship level. Nothing destroys the work/friendship balance more than throwing a romantic interest into the mix.
  • Stay out of finances. Sure, you know how much your employees make, but that doesn’t mean you should tell them how to spend it.
  • Keep the booze to a minimum. Happy hour might seem like the perfect after-work social activity, but things can go downhill fast when too much alcohol is involved.

Good bosses understand that there’s a time to be a leader and a time to be a friend. They set the direction for the friendship and make sure employees are on the same page.

Millennials probably spend more time at the office than with their spouse, partner, roommates, or kids, so they want their workplace to be a home away from home. Knowing they’re going to interact with friends at work will make them more motivated to go (and stay) there.

Are you friends with your employees? If so, how does that affect the way you interact with them? If not, why not?

5 Business “Laws” You’ve Probably Experienced

shutterstock_160657787 (1)Murphy’s Law suggests, “Anything that can go wrong will.” Buy a house, the furnace goes out. Buy a car, the starter goes out. You name it, there’s always something that can go wrong. And it probably will.

 

But that doesn’t mean that we should avoid failure by not taking chances. Instead, it means that we should prepare for the worst and hope for the best.

Anything that can go wrong probably will, but we’ll be ready for it.

Anything That Can Go Wrong Is Laughable

Murphy’s Law doesn’t know any strangers. Every scenario has the potential for a downhill spiral.

In my business, we often find issues with inventory when planning for graduation season. We may decide one year to manufacture less of a certain color gown that’s been historically unpopular. Of course, that turns out to be the year everyone orders that color, leading to a rush of manufacturing. This type of hiccup is what we call a “black swan.”

Knowing we’re bound to come across the occasional black swan, we find it helpful to laugh at ourselves. Humor and planning are the keys to turning a catastrophe into a triumph.

Anything That Can Go Wrong Can Be Avoided

Although being able to laugh at yourself is important, you also need to know how to avoid falling victim to Murphy’s Law in the first place. If you implement rules to avoid black swans, they can:

  • Use humor to illustrate potential hiccups in your business.
  • Remind your employees to be well-prepared for black swans.
  • Keep potential issues top-of-mind.
  • Deflect negativity when problems arise.

Accidents happen, and mistakes are made, but your success depends on your ability to stay positive and effectively react to issues as they arise.

Preparing for Anything That Can Go Wrong

Now that we’ve established that rules should be embraced, here are a few “Matthew’s Laws” to help you survive Murphy’s Law:

  1. 1.     If you’re going to fail, do it early. That way, you learn quickly what not to do in the future. Not to mention, the sooner you fail, the cheaper it is to fix.
  2. 2.     Always have a backup plan. If you sell a product and order less than you need, you have to be prepared for demand. Consumers tend to want more of a product as soon as you begin producing less of it.
  3. 3.     Start before you’re ready. Don’t wait for all the stars to align. If you start today, you’ll have a better chance of finishing on time.
  4. 4.     Move up your due date. Setting a timeframe in this way allows for better efficiency and less procrastination. Murphy’s Law loves procrastinators.
  5. 5.     Try something new as often as you can. You don’t need to be an expert to complete a project. How do you think people become experts, anyway?

Anything That Can Go Wrong Can Go Right

Thanks to our rules, the culture at Gordon Group has grown substantially. We’ve used Matthew’s Laws to combat Murphy’s Law by:

  • Creating opportunities. We empower our employees to learn new skills and try new roles. For example, our e-commerce director started as a warehouse worker. We want our employees to explore new areas and experience failure early so they learn their limitations and abilities.
  • Being flexible. One thing that’s deeply ingrained in our culture is the ability to change a plan at any time. Even if you think you have the perfect production schedule, be ready to change it based on unexpected client demand.
  • Becoming multipliers. We live by the 80-percent rule. By completing at least 80 percent of each project, we’re able to tackle a larger number of projects. Once we’re at 80 percent completion for all projects, we can take the remaining 20 percent and work on completing 80 percent of that. This process amplifies our production and gives everyone a workable goal.

Look for opportunities to build a culture of black swan-crushing attitudes. Create rules that are fun and memorable. Your rules should protect your business, product, and employees with one goal in mind: to be the best, even at your worst.

Have you encountered any black swans in your business? What rules have you put in place to help your team avoid or successfully overcome them?

Encourage Your Employees to Work When They Are Most Effective

shutterstock_119956342Do you ever feel your eyes start to droop in the middle of the workday? Do you slog through the afternoon without getting any real work done?

It’s not your fault. Productivity isn’t constant. It oscillates throughout the day, and it’s nearly impossible to maintain a continuously high level of focus from 9 to 5. To make your team more productive, you should allow some flexibility in the workday so your employees can work when their energy and focus are at their peak.

In this article, Matthew Gordon discusses how to boost your startup’s productivity by encouraging your employees to work when they’re most efficient.

 

Read more at Overdrive.

Is A Big Company Or Small Business Best For You?

imageWhether you just graduated college or you’re simply looking for a positive life change, searching for a job is stressful. The decisions you make will directly affect not only where you work, but also your long-term career path. You have to determine if you want to be a big fish in a small pond or a minnow in the ocean.

The good news is that there are advantages to each. With a little guidance and introspection, you can find the best fit for you.

In this article, Matthew Gordon discusses how to decide if you would thrive best at a large corporation or a small business.

 

Read more at Careerealism.

5 Unexpected Lessons From the Part-Time Jobs I Survived

shutterstock_138628442 (1)I’ve had my fair share of part-time jobs. Some were fun, some were terrible, and others fell somewhere in between.

When I was still in school, I worked mornings, evenings, and weekends organizing a team of neighborhood kids to help shovel snow and rake leaves. Later, when I was working full-time as a teacher, I flipped houses, tackled remodeling projects, and sold everything under the sun.

While many people view part-time jobs as stopgap measures to make ends meet or to supplement their incomes during college, you can learn many valuable personal and professional lessons from these opportunities that will help define your life.

Part-Time Worker, Full-Time Learner

I learned my first lessons working part-time with my neighborhood clean-up crew and continued to learn new and valuable lessons with each job I tackled:

  1. Hard work doesn’t necessarily mean great pay. My raking and shoveling enterprise quickly taught me that it takes real effort for a kid to shovel piles of snow or rake a big yard clean. I soon realized the value of having employees and being the leader. I could motivate my crew and not end up with aching muscles at the end of the day.
  1. Earning your own money is a good feeling. I liked having my own money so I could buy things without asking my parents to spot me some cash. This reward for jobs well done also encouraged me to practice my financial management skills, a trait I continue to instill in my employees today.
  1. Reward those who work especially hard for you. When I was shoveling snow, I had a client who always gave me a little extra money for the job. Logically, I started shoveling this neighbor’s driveway first! I implement this lesson today by ensuring I always compensate employees for extra effort. Whether it’s a surprise dinner treat or a cash bonus for particularly effective sales work, rewarding extra effort can increase motivation and create a personal connection with those go-getters.
  1. Efficiency rules. During my years as a fifth- and sixth-grade teacher, ordering school supplies was always a big pain. It meant dealing with the administration and district and filling out forms in triplicate just to get the necessary supplies for my classroom. Nothing will convince you to commit to running your own (efficient) business faster than dealing with red tape. In my business, we employ a system of getting what you need with as little oversight and paperwork as possible.
  1. You can only make so many personal sales contacts. When I was first selling educational products, I realized I could only shake so many hands. To expand my sales reach, I incorporated telesales to conduct business on an international scale. In addition, my company was one of the first 10,000 businesses worldwide to offer e-commerce options. While personal relationships are the bread and butter of any business, you should always be looking for ways to expand your reach on a national or global scale.

With each part-time job, I gained valuable skills and tools to help me succeed. These experiences also showed me who I was and who I didn’t want to be. It can be almost impossible to figure out what you want to do with your life without first realizing what you don’t want to do.

You need failure. There is no better lesson than failure. I live and breathe the idea that failing fast and failing early is the best education you can get. The more bad ideas you endure, the more likely you are to strike gold with a winner.

While those odd hours and low-paying jobs may not seem like much, they can and will help shape your life. Focus on what you do and how you do it today. You’ll likely use those lessons when you’re in a line of work that truly ignites your passion. Experiences instruct us for the future, even if you’re learning them by the hour.

What odd part-time jobs have you held, and what lessons did you learn?

 

Matthew Gordon is President and CEO of The Gordon Group, a holding company that primarily managesGraduationSource andAvanti Systems USA. Gordon strives to foster positive corporate culture and empower young minds.