NFL Player Lou Holtz on the Three Rules to Apply to Life—Personally and Professionally

The Southern Thoracic Surgical Association (STSA) 65th Annual Meeting & Exhibition provided attendees insights on how to be successful with tips applicable to personal and professional life.

STSA invited Lou Holtz, a former NFL player and coach, to deliver an address on leadership and success. Over his lengthy career, Holtz served as head coach for The College of William & Mary, North Carolina State University, the New York Jets, the University of Arkansas, the University of Minnesota, the University of Notre Dame, and the University of South Carolina.

Holtz shared what he considers the most important rules to follow when building a team. “I’m not a doctor, but if I was, I’d insist these three rules be followed. The same three rules I use in my personal life,” he said.

Rule number one: “Do what’s right. There’s never a right time to do the wrong thing, there’s never a wrong time to do the right thing,” he said. When doing what’s right, attitude plays a key role.

Choice is a powerful tool. “The most important word, by far, is ‘choice,’” Holtz said. Choices guide people through life, so the most important thing we can do is make sure people make good choices, he said.

Second, Holtz said, “Do everything to the best of your ability.”

Strong leaders have a vision of which they never lose sight. The two most important mandates for surgeons, he said, are to “help the patient and make a profit.”

Caring for a patient is a team effort—nurses, anesthesiologists, surgeons, and other players all have a critical role in successful patient management. “You have a role, and we have a goal,” Holtz said. The only way for the entire team to be successful is for every member to perform to the best of their ability. And more complex situations require greater teamwork. Those who do not want to achieve a certain outcome enough “will find an excuse,” he said.

“Embrace change,” Holtz said, but only when it is for the greater good. “Don’t change for the sake of change,” he said, and told attendees to consider, “How can we help the patient, and how can we make a profit?”

The third and final rule for success, according to Holtz, is: “Show people you care.” He said people have a tendency to wait until it is too late to show appreciation for someone, often waiting until they are sick or dying. Make it known how much you care for a person while you still have the opportunity, he said.

Holtz shared a story about his wife, a survivor of stage four cancer. She has undergone surgery and radiation treatment. During an interview, Holtz’s wife said that having cancer taught her how much her family loves her. “But we didn’t love her any more [than usual]; we [just] showed it,” Holtz said. “Why do we have to wait … before we reach out to let someone know we care?”

Holtz also shared three questions that everyone should ask others during their life, questions patients will also inevitably have for their surgeons and vice versa.

The first question is, “Can I trust you?”

“Without trust, there can be no relationship,” Holtz said. Trust is key in patient-surgeon connections, professional interactions, and romantic relationships. Transparency is a key part of trust, and Holtz credits as the secret to his more than 25-year marriage.

“There’s only one way I know that you build trust: both sides do the right thing,” Holtz said, circling back to his first rule.

The second question is, “Are you committed to excellence?”

Holtz said he asks people to do everything to the very best of their ability “with the time allotted.”

The third and final question is, “Do you care about me?”

“If you can build the trust, commitment, and love in the surgical room and in your family,” you will live a successful life, according to Holtz.

The Southern Thoracic Surgical Association (STSA) 65th Annual Meeting & Exhibition provided attendees insights on how to be successful with tips applicable to personal and professional life.

STSA invited Lou Holtz, a former NFL player and coach, to deliver an address on leadership and success. Over his lengthy career, Holtz served as head coach for The College of William & Mary, North Carolina State University, the New York Jets, the University of Arkansas, the University of Minnesota, the University of Notre Dame, and the University of South Carolina.

Holtz shared what he considers the most important rules to follow when building a team. “I’m not a doctor, but if I was, I’d insist these three rules be followed. The same three rules I use in my personal life,” he said.

Rule number one: “Do what’s right. There’s never a right time to do the wrong thing, there’s never a wrong time to do the right thing,” he said. When doing what’s right, attitude plays a key role.

Choice is a powerful tool. “The most important word, by far, is ‘choice,’” Holtz said. Choices guide people through life, so the most important thing we can do is make sure people make good choices, he said.

Second, Holtz said, “Do everything to the best of your ability.”

Strong leaders have a vision of which they never lose sight. The two most important mandates for surgeons, he said, are to “help the patient and make a profit.”

Caring for a patient is a team effort—nurses, anesthesiologists, surgeons, and other players all have a critical role in successful patient management. “You have a role, and we have a goal,” Holtz said. The only way for the entire team to be successful is for every member to perform to the best of their ability. And more complex situations require greater teamwork. Those who do not want to achieve a certain outcome enough “will find an excuse,” he said.

“Embrace change,” Holtz said, but only when it is for the greater good. “Don’t change for the sake of change,” he said, and told attendees to consider, “How can we help the patient, and how can we make a profit?”

The third and final rule for success, according to Holtz, is: “Show people you care.” He said people have a tendency to wait until it is too late to show appreciation for someone, often waiting until they are sick or dying. Make it known how much you care for a person while you still have the opportunity, he said.

Holtz shared a story about his wife, a survivor of stage four cancer. She has undergone surgery and radiation treatment. During an interview, Holtz’s wife said that having cancer taught her how much her family loves her. “But we didn’t love her any more [than usual]; we [just] showed it,” Holtz said. “Why do we have to wait … before we reach out to let someone know we care?”

Holtz also shared three questions that everyone should ask others during their life, questions patients will also inevitably have for their surgeons and vice versa.

The first question is, “Can I trust you?”

“Without trust, there can be no relationship,” Holtz said. Trust is key in patient-surgeon connections, professional interactions, and romantic relationships. Transparency is a key part of trust, and Holtz credits as the secret to his more than 25-year marriage.

“There’s only one way I know that you build trust: both sides do the right thing,” Holtz said, circling back to his first rule.

The second question is, “Are you committed to excellence?”

Holtz said he asks people to do everything to the very best of their ability “with the time allotted.”

The third and final question is, “Do you care about me?”

“If you can build the trust, commitment, and love in the surgical room and in your family,” you will live a successful life, according to Holtz.

His final comment was on the key to lifelong happiness: “If you want to be happy for now, eat a steak. If you want to be happy for a day, play golf. If you want to be happy for a week, go on a cruise. … If you want to be happy for a month, buy a new car. If you want to be happy for a year, win the lottery. If you want to be happy for a lifetime, make sure people would miss you if you didn’t show up.”

His final comment was on the key to lifelong happiness: “If you want to be happy for now, eat a steak. If you want to be happy for a day, play golf. If you want to be happy for a week, go on a cruise. … If you want to be happy for a month, buy a new car. If you want to be happy for a year, win the lottery. If you want to be happy for a lifetime, make sure people would miss you if you didn’t show up.”

Kaitlyn D’Onofrio is a digital medical writer. She is interested in musculoskeletal health, the effect of exercise on health, and mental health awareness. When she’s not writing for DocWire, Kaitlyn is teaching yoga classes in her community, promoting wellness to her students.