Your Whole Other Level©

If you’re 40 years old or older and I ask you what’s most famous about the 1980 Olympics, you will immediately say “the U.S.A. hockey team beat the Soviets and won the gold medal.” Likewise, if you’re 50 or older, you can probably recite where you were when you watched the U.S.A. vs. U.S.S.R. game (which was actually the semi-final game) and the way you celebrated as Al Michaels shouted out his famous phrase, “Do you believe in miracles?” If you’re younger, you may know the story, but perhaps it’s just ancient history. Whether you remember it or not, there are many powerful lessons to be learned from this seemingly impossible sports victory.

For quick context, at the time of the game, relations between the United States and the Soviet Union were terrible, and the Cold War had escalated to dangerous levels. In fact, the Soviet Union had threatened to boycott the Olympics in Lake Placid, NY. The Soviet hockey team was considered not only to be favorites for the gold medal, but to be literally unbeatable. Their average age was 26, while the U.S. team’s average age was 21. Many of the Soviet players were effectively professionals. While the U.S. hockey team was talented, it was largely considered a David vs. Goliath or men vs. boys match up. And yet the U.S. hockey team beat the Soviets 4-3 in the semi-final game and then went on to beat Finland 4-2 in the gold medal game. Al Michaels called it a miracle, but many including me believe it may be the greatest collaboration in the history of sports. If you want to get a great perspective on the 1980 U.S. hockey team, watch the 2004 movie Miracle (starring Kurt Russell), which does a great job of capturing the essence of the team, coach Herb Brooks and the unlikely gold medal achievement.

There are so many lessons to be learned from the U.S hockey team’s efforts, strategy and victory (including Herb Brooks’ sometimes brutal style of leadership), but I want to focus on one key element and one key player in the historic outcome. Jim Craig was the U.S. team’s goalie, and he was a fine goalie. After selecting his team members, Coach Brooks required every player to take a psychological test, but Jim Craig refused and Coach Brooks did not require him to take it. I always wondered why, but when I saw the movie Miracle I realized the reason during the scene when Coach Brooks says, in response to Craig’s refusal, “you just took it.” What Coach Brooks was brilliantly doing was pushing Jim Craig (and all of the other players) to a whole other level inside themselves, which manifested in Jim Craig in his refusal to take the psychological test.

Fast forward to much later in the story (as told in the movie Miracle) when Coach Brooks tells Jim Craig that he’s thinking about sitting him on the bench. Read the following exchange between Coach Brooks and Jim Craig and listen carefully to what is said (because there’s a message in there for you as well). If you’d like to watch this short video clip, click here.

Jim Craig:        Wait a second, I’ve given you all I’ve got, and now you’re pulling the plug on me?

Herb Brooks:   Have you? Given me your very best? Because I know there’s a lot more in you, a whole other level, that for some reason you just don’t want to go to! … Aww, what the hell, you don’t understand what I’m talking about.

Jim Craig:        No … you know what I don’t understand, Herb? I don’t understand you, nobody on this team understands you. You, with your ridiculous sayings, and your drills and those stupid psychology tests that you had everybody take-

Herb Brooks:   Everybody? [Herb Brooks walks away and up the stairs]

Jim Craig:        What, so that’s what this is all about? Because I didn’t take your test? Fine, you want me to take your test, I’ll take your test. Is that what you want?

Herb Brooks:   No, I wanna see that kid in the net who wouldn’t take the test.

The kid in the net who wouldn’t take the test! Herb Brooks was once again brilliantly challenging and inviting Jim Craig to tap into a whole other level inside him: the level that earlier caused Jim Craig to stand for something despite the risks when he refused to take the psychological test.

What are you standing for in your business, relationships and life? What stands are you taking despite the risks? What are you doing to tap into your whole other level? I ask because I assure you – you DO have a whole other level! And once you hit that other level, you can go looking for the next level and the next because there is no limit to what you have inside you. Yes, there are potentially limits in our skills and natural gifts, but there is no limit inside you when it comes to belief, potential, passion, commitment and willingness to go beyond what you believe is possible.

This is one of the most important lessons of Herb Brooks’ leadership. He helped this team of young men find their whole other level, and that is your role as a leader too—in your business, in your family, in your relationships, in your community, and in your life. It’s up to you to tap into your own whole other level, to surround yourself with people who will lovingly push and challenge you to find it, and to model the courage and commitment it takes to live it. After you find your own, then it’s up to you to use your leadership gifts of authenticity, integrity (walking the talk) and encouragement to help others discover, uncover and unleash their whole other level.

The 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team’s gold medal experience was not just a great moment in sports, it was not a miracle, and it most certainly was not a fluke. It was the outcome of Coach Brooks’ leadership, his ability to help every player on that team tap into their inner leader, and his ability to help every player discover and unleash their whole other level.

What are you waiting for? Refuse to follow someone else’s rules. Refuse to take someone else’s “test.” Stand for something and dare to explore uncharted territory. I know it might be scary, and it will certainly be uncertain because your whole other level is by definition a place you’ve never been or lived before. But it’s worth it. You’re worth it, and the world needs a whole lot more people to unleash their whole other level. What’s yours?

Whole Other Level


  1. Margie Rowe-Puchalski says:

    This one really speaks to me, Jeff. Thank you for your insight and eloquent writing style. I’m a big fan.

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