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Leadership Lessons from Costa Rica

“Last year my wife, Mary Kay, and I realized we couldn’t stop the clock and we were actually going to both turn 60. We decided to celebrate in a big way and take the kids to a place we have never been before and one they would love for a variety of reasons—a trip to Costa Rica to an all-inclusive resort for five days in 2014.

We invited friends from 30 years ago, friends from today and, most importantly, three adult kids and their spouses. We chose the Allegro Papagayo resort in Liberia, Costa Rica. I learned many leadership lessons in those five days.

Proper Planning

I learned this phrase many years ago: “proper planning prevents p- – – poor performance.” It is true. After landing we looked for the Avis rental car desk. Other companies had desks but Avis didn’t. (Try harder, Avis!)  I asked another company where Avis was located. I learned it was way off property, and they made me a better offer I couldn’t resist. The instant we walked outside I saw the Avis sign. Oh, well. I was now going to save $40.

After we got to the rental car location I assured them that I had full insurance coverage. They called USAA and it was then I found out that I didn’t have coverage in Costa Rica. To be expected, they offered insurance for the low cost of more than my rental car was going to cost me. I’m sure if I had called USAA before the trip we might have found another alternative. Too late. Oh well.

I also didn’t take into consideration that a seven-passenger van really couldn’t hold eight of us—with the luggage. After a few minutes of studying the situation, including input from my daughter-in-law, the engineer, my son was standing on top of the van tying all the luggage to the top. We felt like we were in a scene right out of the movie National Lampoon’s “Vacation,” with three feet of luggage tied on the roof with 50 feet of rope. I’ve never been more careful driving in my life as we crept to the resort making sure nothing flew off the top. To add insult to injury, it rained about 5 minutes on the drive to the resort and the adventure continued—wet suitcases and all.

Communication … and You Get What You Pay For

Each year I take my two sons and son-in-law on a golf weekend. This year, we rolled our annual event into the Costa Rica celebration. Thursday was to be our golf day. There were a couple choices close to us—the Four Seasons and the Papagayo Golf and CC. ($100 cheaper!) I’d made reservations, but didn’t know how to get to the Papagayo Golf and Country Club. We got there, thanks to our dinner waiter who taught us how to ask “Where is the cemetery” in Spanish. The course it is next to the cemetery. As we pulled up we didn’t really see a “Country Club”—at least none that I had ever visited before.

The country club had a special. Only $120 for tee times, clubs, ice and memories we’ll never forget. The club manager came out and asked us who we were. Apparently the owner of the golf course was out of the country and didn’t tell the club manager that he confirmed two 8:30 tee times. There was room for us but they didn’t have enough rental clubs so we had to share.

I’ve never, before last week, played on a course where the yardage makers are written in spray paint. I’ve never rented clubs, until last week, that were new, probably, at some point, and had virtually smooth grips. I’ve never played golf on greens that should have been called the green/brown stuff greens.

The next day we went to a beach a few miles away and low and behold it was adjacent to one of the most beautiful golf courses I’ve ever seen. Later that afternoon two in our group played it. The next day three in our group played it. What course? Four Seasons. I was told that it was one of the nicest courses some have ever played with views comparable to Hawaii courses.

I could have booked advance reservations from the States at the Four Seasons course but, after all, it was $220. I was much too frugal to spend the extra $100 (especially since I was paying for four of us), and did not understand the value difference. If I had done my proper research, I would have made a different decision.

Ask for Reviews

On Saturday a dozen of us went to the Papagayo Floating & Canopy Company to go zip lining. Amazing experience. Mary Kay negotiated a great rate and, for many, it was the highlight of the trip. Great staff. Great training. Incredible fun—several zip-lined like superman with one of their staff hooked on behind them (including my son and daughter).

Many of us had zip lined before and this experience was like, uh, the difference between the Four Seasons and the Papagayo Golf and CC.

I will go on each of the websites of every place we visited and share some thoughts. Hey, it happens to each of us, right? If you deliver the same experience as Marvin and his team at the Papagayo Floating & Canopy, wouldn’t you want your customers to post their experiences for others to see?


Have you ever come back through customs only to find you are in this non-ending line of people? The Dallas airport has eliminated this with technology. There are now machines where you swipe your passport, answer several questions online, and eliminate the process of filling out the “customs form” when you come back into the country. It was amazing and sped up the process thus shortening the time to get through. Wow!

Reward Yourself

Yes, leaders plan properly, they communicate well and they aren’t worried about being the cheapest; rather they provide quality goods and services, and they get great reviews. Finally, they reward themselves for a job well done. Those rewards include involving their loved ones.

We made a lot of mistakes last week but the best thing we did was include our loved ones. This will be one trip that provides a lifetime of laughs, a lifetime of stories and a lifetime of memories. Leaders learn to celebrate the wins and forget the losses.

Leadership Lessons with Just One More Degree or 1 More Percent Difference

I first started reading motivational books in the mid-1980s. I had just gone through a divorce and was having huge pity parties. The problem was that no one was attending these parties and I was getting tired of playing ‘I don’t care anymore’ by Phil Collins 100 times a night.

I decided to pick myself up by the bootstraps and start reading motivational books. In retrospect I’m so glad that the divorce happened and I learned the art of self-motivation. One of the first books I read, being a sports fanatic, was one by Pat Riley—then coach of the Los Angeles Lakers.

In one of the chapters he talked about his one-percent rule. The Lakers lost to the Boston Celtics for the NBA championship in 1986 and Riley convinced his team of 12 they each simply had to get one percent better in five different categories that summer. He made the team track everything they did in those five categories—again with a goal of only increasing by one percent of their personal best. He knew by multiplying this by 12 players it would work.

The result? The Lakers beat the Celtics four games to two for the NBA championship. Most of his players increased their personal bests by five percent because it became a focus of theirs. It was then I started to understand the one percent rule.

Twice recently I was reminded of this. Last week the Miami Heat was one game away from this year’s NBA final. After game five, Lebron James was interviewed and he said the Heat has just one goal—to get a little better each game. Is it irony that Pat Riley is the president of the Heat?

The second time was when I was reading the Zappos book by Tony Hseih called “Delivering Happiness.” Tony talked about how his goal for his Zappos team is to get better by one percent per day. He cited the example of what happens when you have $100 and it increases by just one percent per day. After a year that $100 is worth $3,778.34. So getting better by one percent daily will yield a more than 37-percent increase over the course of a year—37 percent.

Here Is This Week’s Question:

Can you get one percent better every day as a leader? Can you lead your team to get one percent better each day over the course of a year? Just think of the difference that can make in your business and for your team!

Just one percent per day seems so achievable, doesn’t it?

One challenge is that, for some reason, some of us believe that an employee with 10 years of experience is 10 times better than a person with one year experience. I challenge you on that one! It may mean they simply have 10 years in a row of one-year experience—meaning they aren’t any more valuable than they were at the first year.

In your next meeting ask your team if they believe they can get one percent better every day for the last half of the year. Then find out what you can do as their leader to make that happen.

If you want to give a great illustration of one degree of difference, show them the following video—it is one of my favorites: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7F38pkwZgXw.

If the link doesn’t work, you can go to YouTube and type in “one degree difference.” In just three minutes you may see the 1 degree of difference your team needs to have a great back half of the year.

It’s just one percent a day! I know you can achieve it—should you make the decision to do so. That’s what great leaders do.