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:

  1. Ask for the introduction
  2. Honor the introduction
  3. Be clear on why you requested the introduction
  4. Ask questions and listen
  5. Follow up and let the person know how much you valued your time together
  6. 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.

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