When it comes to personal growth and working towards maximizing my potential, I am a pretty simple person. The two things I put great emphasis on are reading and relationships, which is not altogether a unique approach. Here is where I separate myself from those who pay lip service to these two things: I do not just read, but I study. As far as relationships go, I intentionally add as much value to each developing relationship as possible. As chance would have it, both my reading and relationships intersected last week.
I am not going to ask how you read that word, because based on the fact that you are taking a minute (a productive minute at that) to read this blog means that you see that word to say, “opportunity is now here!”
How else could it read?
Well, for some it says, “opportunity is nowhere.”
Same words, different meaning. That goes hand in hand with a quote I have come to embrace which is, “the things I looked at began to change once I changed the way I looked at them.” This blog would never have happened had I not recognized an opportunity to leverage a couple of relationships and an already planned business trip to meet James Leath, the Director of Leadership at IMG Academy.
To be honest, when I got in the car at 5:45 am on April 26th to make the drive from Jacksonville to Bradenton, there was no guarantee how much time I would get to hang with James because of his schedule. On top of that, I had no clue that spending time with Jon Gordon was in the cards. Meeting with James and Jon was a major opportunity to learn from two outstanding leaders and thinkers.
This past December, I made a list of people I wanted to spend time with in 2017, so I could pick their brains on what makes them who they are. Jon and James topped my list, and I knew that these men had a great deal of leadership experience that I could gain from.
There was a key statement in the above paragraph that is one of the keys to success in any endeavor, and that was “ ….had I not recognized an opportunity to leverage a couple of relationships….” When I think about my meeting with James Leath and Jon Gordon, I immediately notice the power of deliberately seeking out positive, beneficial relationships, and leveraging those connections to increase your value.
In my experiences with leaders, I see the most successful individuals forging connections with other high-value professionals.
In fact, just yesterday morning I was having coffee with a potential client who is extremely successful in the logistics industry, and has a great story to tell about his journey. Eventually, the topic of discussion shifted to the value of relationships, as it always does when I am talking to value-driven leaders regardless of their industry. We shared stories of the business relationships we have developed and how sometimes the opportunity presents itself when we least expect it. That brings me to my story of how I came to meet James Leath and Jon Gordon last April, and how that experience illustrates the significance, and vast opportunities, of relationships.
Long Story Short
In 1992, I was fortunate enough to be hired by Jim Whitesell at Lewis University as the Grad Assistant for Men’s Basketball. 25 years ago as a Grad Assistant is where my opportunity to meet with James Leath began. Because of Jim, in 1993 I developed a relationship with someone who is, let’s say, tied to IMG in a way that got me an introduction to James Leath. Now, remember, James was on my list of the people I wanted to spend time with in 2017. James and I got to know each other during the month of March as we would Skype and talk about leadership and our journeys. I asked if I could spend some time with him at IMG as I was going to be in the neighborhood (Jacksonville is a little over four hours away, but a heck of a lot closer than Batavia, IL) and he agreed. However, there was a chance he may not be in town, so we had to play it be ear.
Once we confirmed that James was going to be in town, I could not get to Bradenton fast enough. Though I was amazed at the facilities and level of athletes at IMG, I was most excited to spend time with James to pick his brain, watch him interact with the student-athletes, and sit in on a class to see how the student-athletes responded to him. IMG is an amazing place which screams diversity, so it provided me the opportunity to study the engagement between James, the staff, and student-athletes from many different socio-economic backgrounds. While I was at IMG, I was as impressed not only by the state-of-the-art facilities, but also the cutting-edge leadership. While the sprawling weight room and sports complex offer the student-athletes tools to perform physically on the field of play, the leadership tools employed at IMG are what build truly remarkable athletes, and individuals.
The Power of Relationships
It is hard to know where these opportunities are hidden. Again, this opportunity only presented itself because of a relationship I had with a mentor of mine from a Grad Assistant job I began 25 years ago. When you understand the value of mentors and relationships, you will seek out mentors that can create opportunities where you least expect them. Mentors provide guidance and wisdom, but the really good ones can provide connections with others that you can learn from, as their experiences are greater than your own. Picking a mentor is critical to your success as you can learn from other’s mistakes, and how other’s saw the opportunity in adversity. One of the cooler moments at IMG was when James, Jon Gordon, and I were standing by the tennis courts and James looked at Jon and told him how fortunate we were for all of Jon’s struggles, and thanked him for sharing them in his books and talks.
Again, it is all about relationships and how you build them. Below are my keys to developing and building relationships with people I do not know, YET:
- Ask for the introduction
- Honor the introduction
- Be clear on why you requested the introduction
- Ask questions and listen
- Follow up and let the person know how much you valued your time together
- Be consistent in the relationship and continue to intentionally add value
If you do these things, you will begin to build solid relationships which will open doors for you regardless of whether you are introduced via email, in person, or on LinkedIn.
Meet one of the smartest men I know, John Clinton Rooker. Not just book smart, but “life-smart” as well. Last week, Clint received his B.S. in Political Science from the University of Michigan, where he minored in Writing and graduated with a 3.7 G.P.A. You might be thinking, “There are a plethora of smart kids that go to U of M, and they do that all the time, so no big deal, right?”
I am talking “you could not be further from the truth” wrong. Yesterday, I called him to see how life after college was going and what the big plans are, as I know he has options. 90 minutes later, I hung up a better person for having a conversation with the same person that played the violin at our wedding 11 years ago.
Clint comes from of family of four kids; Ashleigh, Patrick, and Grant. He grew up in Davison, MI and never had a lot of the things that many kids take for granted. But you would never know this, as he and his siblings just persevered. Clint loved school, and he loved football, and he was pretty damn good at both. Throughout high school, he was recruited to play Division III football at some incredible academic institutions, but he chose to attend U of M to focus on his academics. That is where the story begins to take off.
As I mentioned, Clint and his family did not have a lot, including money. He was bound and determined to make it work and filled out every financial aid form, applied for every scholarship, and jumped through every hoop necessary. Clint made a decision not to allow those circumstances to define his future, and it worked. Now, he is leaving U of M only a couple of thousand dollars in debt, which is insane. The very same drive, passion, purpose, and focus that got him to Ann Arbor are what carried him when he was there.
Listening to him talk about his experiences in political science and his love for writing was refreshing. During our conversation, I began to pepper him with questions. When I asked him what the keys to his success were, he gave me four that are golden.
Enjoyed the Process
Clint made it clear that he did not get caught up in focusing on only the result, meaning his grades. He loved the research, which brought him new knowledge and raised his value. It was not the end of the world if he got a B, nor was it that big of a deal if he got an A+. What mattered was appreciating the opportunity he had to grow and improve.
Made Sure to Be a Part of Something Bigger Than Himself
He may not have played football, but he was always a part of a team while at U of M. One of the highlights for him was working in the school’s writing center where he would tutor undergrads, graduate students, and a few that were going for their doctorates. He served as a literacy advocate and tutor for third graders at Roberto Clemente Elementary School in Detroit. Then there was his research position at the University of Michigan Pediatric Emergency Department. More on that later! Overall, being a part of these different teams allowed Clint to continually grow as a person.
Embraced Being Uncomfortable
Before moving to Ann Arbor, he only lived in the small town of Davison, MI. I loved visiting Davison growing up, but the only thing Davison and Ann Arbor have in common is the fact that they are in Michigan.
Years ago, we took him and his brothers to a White Sox game on the South Side, and the look on his face was priceless. So, you can imagine my shock when this same kid called to tell me he had decided to try out for the Michigan Cheer Team. Even greater was the shock of his Father (who is a die-hard Michigan State fan) when he got the call that Clint made the team and that yes, he would be on the field when they played in the Big House.
Another example that grabbed me was when he talked about applying for the research position at the hospital. There were seven finalists for the position; five pre-med students, a graduate student, and Clint! According to him he had no business being in their company, but he knew he wanted the job so “what the hell!”
By both joining the Cheer Team and applying for a competitive new job, he knew that his biggest growth would come in uncomfortable, challenging situations.
Told Himself That He Had Already Done Something Harder
This approach was a result of his playing days and the insane work ethic that drove him when he was into weight lifting. Clint would tell himself that no matter how tired he was or how much pain he was in, he had already done something more difficult. He mentioned how embracing difficulty only prepared him for bigger, more important challenges in the future, and Clint carried that mindset into his academics. That came in handy one night, well two nights, when he stayed up writing a 72-page paper for 36 hours straight. Needless to say, he got an A. While his procrastination was hardly the most effective strategy, Clint had developed a mindset to get things done no matter what the circumstances were.
I am not sure that Clint realizes the significance of his perspective and what a statement that is about him as a person, especially considering some of the challenges he faced. Every day we open the paper and look at social media and all we see is the negative crap. Like you, I am tired of all the negativity and the poor us/poor me attitude that is so pervasive. The finger pointing, blame game, and the lack of both integrity and honesty is everywhere. However, beyond the negativity, I see that there is a ton of good in this world and some amazing stories, just like this one. This story is not a feel-good story that tugs on your heart string. This is life; this is real. Doing things the right way works.
Please share this story with others whether it be your team, boss, co-workers, kids, or your friends. I believe that everyone, no matter where they are at in their life, can take one or two things away from this article which would add value to them.
Kids are funny…most of the time. E.J., our 2.5-year-old son, loves hoops. When I was watching Oregon’s unreal win over Kansas in the Regionals Finals, E.J., for some unknown reason, was ready to shut it down. Not once this year has he done the stroll over to the Comcast Box and turned off the power for a hoops game. Never. And now, this. Normally, he would shoot me the curious look with his palms up as soon as I raised my voice (not that I was raising my voice with four minutes to go in the game and Oregon hanging on for dear life), followed by the question, “Why?” Not this time though. E.J. must have sensed this was a much bigger violation of a father/son code of ethics than the usual, “mashed potatoes in his hair at dinner,” thing. Instead, he shot me a defiant look and said, “Why Not?!”