Start with being blessed beyond all measure. Part of those blessings include the people I have met along the way. People who gave me a chance even though the only quality that I had was my passion and my relentless approach to work and learning. I didn’t have the glitzy education, the family tree of financial success and its accompanying network, or a professional athletic career. As it turned out, I had something decision-making leaders respected: work ethic, accountability, and integrity.
None of those leaders were scholars. Of the ten prominent leaders in my career, only four were gifted as professional baseball players: One of those leaders pitched eight years in the major leagues and won just 20 games; two others batted less than .200 during their careers, a fourth never won a game in the big leagues and one never played a day in the Major Leagues. Just two of the ten graduated from college; in one case English was the person’s second language, and only one had an advanced degree.
They all had worked hard and paid attention to detail. And when the competition in their careers took a breath, complained about the hours or the management, or the pay, or all of the above; they saw an opening and forged through it. They, like my parents, also used failure, disappointment, or struggle as a motivator, not as an excuse.
They mentored, they taught, and fought through adversity. And they provided me their time and life lessons of wisdom. Invaluable. They took pride in helping others realize their goals.
Make no mistake, not everyone I worked for held the same standards to help the next generation. But I learned from them as well.
I learned that I would never want to manage in a way that my staff did not know or understand expectations; that my silence would cause unnecessary angst, doubt, or a lack of confidence; that my refusal to know who the people were would be the proper way to run a business or department; that I would terminate employment on a whim without so much as a detailed warning and reminder about expectations, that the only success I cared about and sought was my own. No, I not only learned what to do; I learned what not to do.
Three years ago, I was the recipient of the Northern Illinois University Alumnus of the Year. This past October, I was inducted into the Chicago Sports Hall of Fame. Earlier I was honored with special alumni recognition at East Leyden High School and Triton College. I have watched my children graduate with three advanced degrees.
In these times of uncertainty, I encourage leaders to communicate — and not always use the easy way through text messages and emails. Leaders should provide clear expectations and opportunity. Grade point average is important but so is handling life. Making money is always a goal, but most successful executives can make more money. It’s pretty much impossible to make more time. So, use it wisely.
The effort it takes to learn who people are and what makes them perform to their utmost, is so important. I would hope someone else’s success that was nurtured by genuine leadership would bring the leader genuine joy.
I’ve knocked on the door and I’ve listened for the knock. Leaders are the people who answer the door when there is a knock. I’ve met many. I needed them all.