Turtle Tales: The Liberals Arts in (Football) Practice

BRIAN SHOBE, Turtle Tales Columnist 

Oscar Cardona'82. Photo courtesy of Oscar Cardona.

For the past thirteen years, Oscar Cardona’s’82 job as the Vice President of Human Resources was to create and manage talent for the number one sportswear company in the world: Nike, Inc. Long before he was recruiting and training the world’s most talented business executives, however, he was recruited and trained to play football at Strong Stadium.

Cardona did more than just play though; he reflected on his sport and his classes, and the lessons he learned between the two served him well throughout his career. Below are three of those lessons.

1. Be a team player

Cardona says, “The biggest issue surrounding [executives’] failure has nothing to do with their intellect. It has to do with their interpersonal and relationship-building skills… their understanding of team dynamics.”

Asked for an example, Cardona provides his own from the time Nike sent him to Europe.

“I knew intellectually the challenges I faced–different economic systems, nationalities, and languages–but I still struggled.  For my first six months I tried to apply a U.S. mental model to a European culture and system, and it didn’t work. I wasn’t being a team player.”

“But I had a good shot of adjusting and applying myself in different ways in the liberal arts setting, so once I recognized my problem, I started being reflective about and adjusting my behavior.”

2. Outcome over intent

Cardona says people can think about their behavior in terms of its intent or its outcome, and argues we should always focus on the latter. “Focusing on intent is making an excuse, but focusing on outcomes means that you’re in reflective mode, and that you really understand your impact on the individual that’s receiving it.”

This mentality was inherent on the football team. “Each individual person has an assignment and needs to execute and be held accountable for that assignment,” he says. “If you all do it in unison, there’s success. If one person breaks down, then the play doesn’t work, and we fail… Coach DeGeorge always expected more out of us. It just wasn’t good enough that you wanted to win.”

3. Love your people

Love isn’t a word you typically hear in the business world, but Cardona’s a strong advocate of it, in part because he believes it was so vital to his success at Beloit.

After receiving a ‘D’ on his first exam, for example, Cardona thought he wasn’t going to make it at Beloit. But Professor Davis, he says, “Literally sat down with me, tutored me through the exam and offered to help me get better at writing throughout the semester. I’ll never forget that.”

Likewise, Cardona says, “[Coach DeGeorge] would always call us into his office, ask us about how we were doing and make sure we were keeping up with exams.”

Today, Cardona says, “I have high standards and give people real hard feedback, but I do it because I deeply care for them and want them to be successful… just like Professor Davis and Coach DeGeorge did with me.”



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